November 04, 2010

Go Japan! And CNAS!

On Monday, we mentioned the successful conference on the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, held in Japan through last week. While I haven’t yet had time to read the details of the new Nagoya Protocol, it is worth highlighting an important foreign policy aspect of the conference: It was a big win for Japan, a long-standing and critical U.S. ally. In an editorial, The Asahi Shimbun sounded off with well-earned pride: “Agreement has been reached on the second major environmental treaty bearing the name of a Japanese city.” (See this article for a tight summary of what the conference accomplished, as well.)

Also last week, in what’s sure to be an important step in sculpting a renewed partnership with Japan, our fellow CNASers Patrick, Abe, and Dan released a report appropriately titled “Renewal: Revitalizing the U.S.-Japan Alliance.” This report follows on collaboration between CNAS and the Tokyo Foundation, which culminated last week in the release of a joint statement on the future of the alliance

We had a hand in the natural security section, which outlines areas ripe for cooperation, which I thought I’d post here in light of Japan’s environmental negotiations success:

With two of the world’s leading science establishments, the United States and Japan acting in concert have a unique capacity to create a “green alliance” that addresses environmental and natural resource challenges. Together, Washington and Tokyo should address their dependence on scarce or insecure natural resources. This means above all reducing reliance on oil. The two allies can cooperate on advanced biofuels, energy storage technologies and infrastructure, including smart grid adoption. U.S. and Japanese companies have merged or established relationships that extend to wind, solar, nuclear and other non-petroleum energy sources. Both governments should supplement the private sector’s ongoing efforts by emphasizing cooperation to design demonstration projects for critical emerging technologies that are ready for testing and evaluation.

The two governments should also promote cooperation on the basic sciences and biotechnology critical to clean energy commercialization. Working together to process nuclear waste more safely constitutes another area ripe for bilateral cooperation and, like the other initiatives outlined above, would help the United States and Japan forge a path away from oil.


Energy cooperation between the two allies should extend to the military sphere. Building on the


November 2009 Japan-U.S. Clean Technologies Action Plan, which focuses heavily on energy, carbon storage and materials science, both countries should cooperate to develop and expand the use of non-petroleum military fuels. The American private sector and the U.S. Defense Department are already flight-testing and certifying nonpetroleum jet fuel blends. The U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force have set extremely ambitious goals for integrating synthetic fuels into their logistics systems. Major questions remain, however, over how to certify fuels produced outside the United States and develop the transport capabilities and infrastructure that may accompany non-petroleum military fuels. A bilateral working group should address these questions in order to prepare the alliance to operate in an age where militaries can no longer take affordable petroleum for granted.


China’s current chokehold on the production of rare earth elements poses a challenge to the United States, Japan and the international community.  Officials from the United States and Japan have already exchanged visits and begun sharing information about critical minerals. On the government side, one major component of managing minerals issues is simply forming good relationships and sharing information with private businesses. This seems to happen much more fluidly in Japan. A bilateral forum encompassing Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Japanese corporations and their American public and private sector counterparts is in order.


With water scarcity looming across much of Asia and threatening not only the internal stability of some states but also the region’s capacity to sustain economic growth, the United States and Japan ought to pursue a “blue revolution.” This will require a concerted commitment to making water security a priority in Asia, a commitment that currently ranks well below other national concerns. Looking inward, the United States and Japan will need to break down the bureaucratic barriers and constraints that hinder greater scientific research, technological innovation and active cooperation. Only then can they truly unleash a “blue revolution.”


Consuming natural resources generates a host of challenges, most prominently, climate change. As the world moves to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases, earth monitoring capabilities become increasingly important. Without earth observation satellites, a nation cannot determine whether other countries are complying with climate treaties. Japan maintains robust earth monitoring capabilities while American earth observation satellites are already long past their expected life spans and will go dark in the coming years. In this case, Japan can leverage its technical strengths to fill holes in America’s own capabilities.


More frequent and deadly natural disasters constitute one of the most troubling consequences of climate change. Because the U.S. Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces possess the capability to rapidly deliver relief supplies throughout Asia, they have been called upon in past natural disasters such as the May 2008 Cyclone Nargis and the August 2010 flooding in Pakistan. They are sure to be called upon in the future as well. The two services should explore opportunities to enhance cooperation with Japanese civil society, which is keen to contribute more to relief operations in Asia and brings a wealth of technical expertise. For its part, the Japanese government should amend a law governing the JSDF’s missions so that Japanese troops can participate more broadly in relief activities such as repairing schools.


The prospect of a “green alliance” holds considerable appeal in Tokyo, particularly among members of the DPJ. Although a new emphasis on environmental cooperation should not substitute for or diminish traditional security collaboration, it can help both the United States and Japan to deal with emerging challenges and, in the process, strengthen support for their alliance.

A pull quote in the report declares the following: “Over its lifetime, the U.S.-Japan alliance has proven a resounding success. If Washington and Tokyo can fully tap the alliance’s potential, its best days will lie ahead.” Cheers to that, and here’s hoping analysts on both sides continue efforts to strengthen this partnership.