June 23, 2010

Iran & the U.S.-Japan Alliance

Alex and I were both out at a thing Wednesday evening so we’re going to take it easy today and  just give you all a little food for thought. I’ll call it my Ode to Will since he’s still in Japan. Last week I finished reading Richard Samuels’ Securing Japan (I know, way long overdue) and was struck by the vivid descriptions of how energy colors the U.S.-Japan alliance. Of course I knew well Japan’s resource vulnerabilities and the importance of secure energy supplies to its leaders. However, I did not know that Japan did not cease importing oil from Iran during the hostage crisis. Says Samuels:

[T]errorist links to the Middle East have more immediacy for the United States than for Japan. These are precisely the sorts of differences, born in part from different geopolitics and different resource endowments, that contribute to the growing gap in threat perceptions even when interests are shared. The original energy-based divergence in U.S. and Japanese interests was in 1973…A second, well-remembered divergence occurred in 1979-80, when Japan continued its purchases of Iranian oil even after U.S. hostages were taken in Tehran.

The case of Iran in the 2000s is potentially the most consequential, because Japan’s commitment to nonproliferation and its alliance with the United States collide head-on with threats to its energy security.

Samuels proceeds with a few more pages of description how the Iran/enrichment/energy issue has affected relations between our two countries over the past decade. It wasn’t until late 2006 that Japan agreed to elevate Iran’s nuclear program to a higher priority above deals on Iranian oil fields. If you haven’t yet, skim through it here or on your favorite reader. As much as I’ve concentrated on Iran, I’ve paid far more attention to the China and Russia angles than Japan’s role, as I bet many of us do. I know I’m going to dig more into this, but start with Samuels as a good overview if you’re in the same camp as I was.