REVIEW: Article

Bilateral Strength and Global Challenges in a Changing World

It is my pleasure to accept this opportunity from The Ambassadors Review to offer my thoughts on the nature of the relationship between Japan and the United States, and the great issues facing us now and in the future. 

I believe it is accurate to say that relations between Japan and the United States are closer now than they have ever been. Our interests and views on a wide range of political, economic and security issues are increasingly shared ones. Japan is now engaged in the fascinating process of reemerging as a genuine world power, meeting its responsibilities on the international stage. How Japan proceeds with this process, and how the alliance adapts to the changing situation, are two of the most important issues facing us at this time. The relationship, like Japan, is evolving.

When I was a boy, most of us still stayed pretty close to home, marveling at the adventures of aviation barnstormers, transfixed by the miracle of radio. The world my grandchildren inherit is much smaller, even as their possibilities have grown beyond my imagination. We live in a time of instantaneous communications, and almost instantaneous transportation. This has the inevitable effect of bringing the world closer together.  Whether we like it or not, we grow more similar, we have closer relationships, and we face conditions that change faster than the world has ever known. The Internet is a remarkable force that has transformed business, politics, diplomacy, art and culture. Moreover, I would argue that the jet airplane is probably the greatest change agent that has occurred in modern civilization. What once took weeks or even months now takes hours, and almost any place on earth is accessible within a day. And that’s not an extraordinary adventure available to a privileged elite, but something available to millions of average people on a regular basis. 

These forces will continue to bring us closer together, but that does not necessarily produce ready solutions. It sometimes produces greater and more intense conflict. But that is something we need to learn to live with. We need to find ways to accommodate a wide variety of viewpoints, interests and ideas, because civilization itself will change. Trade is at the center of this change. Globalization is a fact of life, and it will continue to be so.  Japan and the United States are working closely to settle our differences and reach agreement on policies that will benefit everyone. I’m disappointed that we did not make progress on this front at the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial in Cancun, but there is no doubt that the need for this is as compelling now as it was before. I don’t think, however, that we should think of Cancun as a failure. It was perhaps an unsuccessful beginning. But the talks will go forward, and we will go forward with our efforts to open markets and minds worldwide. I firmly believe that together we will find solutions to our economic and environmental challenges. Of course we have some differences with Japan on certain issues, notably in agricultural products, exemplified by the unjustifiable burden on Japanese consumers and American business imposed by the recent “safeguard” tariff on beef imports. On the positive side, Prime Minister Koizumi’s commitment to double Foreign Direct Investment in Japan within five years is an example of the initiative the Government of Japan can provide as we break down the barriers to prosperity. Japan’s economic achievements in the past fifty years are amazing. Its recovery from the devastation of the Second World War, an economic and cultural transformation of remarkable adaptability and determination, should serve as an inspiration for developing nations lifting themselves into the 21st century. The United States and Japan, by far the two largest economies in the world, must lead by example so that we all can move forward together. We will find a way for all of us to embrace the future while maintaining the traditions and values we cherish.      

As always, much of the world is confronted with threats from within and without.  In the Middle East, we all must help Israel and Palestine overcome a troubled history to resolve their historic problems, and in Iraq, we must enable its people to make a new history for their country. Some choose to focus on the problems that remain in Iraq. But let’s not forget who had been the face of that nation. For years Saddam Hussein invaded his neighbors and oppressed his people, using chemical weapons on his enemies, including his own countrymen. We clearly took a multilateral approach to convince Saddam Hussein to stop his aggression and open his nation to the international community.  He had 12 years to respond to the will of the United Nations, expressed in one United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution after another, but he unilaterally chose the path of personal power over the path of peace. I think the critics sometimes forget what the alternative to liberating Iraq really was. And they forget that only one year earlier another country in that part of the world was freed from despotism and terror. Ask the people of Afghanistan if their lives are better today because an international coalition took decisive action to liberate them from an outlaw regime. They would answer with a resounding yes. So let us remember that the beneficiaries of international resolve and action will be the Iraqi people. The United States, Japan and all the nations of the world must demonstrate the same resolve in winning the peace that the coalition displayed in winning the war. Give the people of Iraq time to rebuild their society so they too can savor the fruits of freedom.  

Japan has played a leadership role in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, hosting the Afghan Reconstruction Conference last year and hosting the Consolidation of Peace in Afghanistan Conference earlier this year. It is an expert in the field of humanitarian assistance. As we move forward now with the rebuilding of Iraq, hopefully including the United Nations, the world looks to Japan to share its vast experience in development matters and provide leadership in this great endeavor. Let me reiterate the United States’ appreciation for the help and friendship that Japan has shown in the struggle to free Iraq, and commend Japan once more for their commitment to have personnel on the ground in Iraq. I feel this is an extremely important contribution by Japan, not only in terms of numbers, but also in terms of symbolism. Japan is a world leader, and a force for peace, stability and rehabilitation in Iraq. As I write, Japan is planning to send its Self Defense Forces (SDF) to Iraq. I’m confident that the SDF dispatch will go forward, and I certainly support that. How Japan chooses to participate is, of course, entirely up to Japan to decide.  But I believe that Japan is committed to full participation in the effort, not only to restore stability to that beleaguered nation, but also to help in the rebirth of Iraq as a great country.

Here in the Pacific, North Korea is a shadow on the region.  As always, it’s difficult to understand what Pyongyang has in mind, what their objectives are, but I think the six-party talks were a positive sign. It’s too early to be optimistic, but we are certainly a step ahead of where we were a few months ago. While many doubts and concerns remain, I am encouraged that we can make progress with North Korea and convince them to abandon their nuclear ambitions and to join the community of nations.

But it won’t be easy. We must continue working together to resolve the issue of the Japanese who were abducted by North Korea, a great human tragedy, and persuade the DPRK to stop its irrational and irresponsible development of nuclear weapons that threaten the entire region. The negotiation stage is not over. It is the stated policy of the United States government, repeated more than once by President Bush, that we seek a diplomatic solution to this problem. The President has also said, however, that while we seek a diplomatic solution, no options are off the table. I’m afraid the North Koreans don’t understand what a dangerous game they’re playing. We will stand firm with our Japanese and South Korean allies in the face of the serial provocations of Kim Jong Il.  But I am by nature an optimist, and I am convinced that we will find a peaceful, multilateral solution that we all can live with.    

North Korea, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, are indicative of the kinds of problems that have confronted the world since the end of the Cold War. Today, our security is threatened not so much by conquering states, such as the former Soviet Union, as by failing states led by dictators who oppress their own people. Here in Japan, the US military bases are vital elements in maintaining the peace and security of Japan and the region against such threats. Of course we will always have minor issues with our generous hosts concerning the American presence, and we continue to work together to solve those differences and reduce our footprint in the local community. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that governs the legal standing of American forces in Japan is an enabling document required by the bilateral security treaty that both sides have agreed to, and that both sides benefit from. The strength of our relationship is our flexibility within an unwavering commitment to our mutual security. Japan is currently engaged in an unprecedented national debate on the interpretation and possible revision of its Constitution regarding its self-defense and its participation in international peacekeeping operations. It is a serious question that deserves serious examination, and it is Japan’s decision to make. But however Japan decides to fulfill its national and international security responsibilities, our relationship will grow stronger and closer.             

Japan is changing.  It is assuming a new role on the global stage worthy, not only of a business leader, but of a world leader. It is adapting to economic and technological innovation, political and security challenges and social and cultural influences to recreate itself, yet again. I often wonder what Japan will be like in ten years, but confess that my powers of prognosis fail me.  There seem to be such limitless possibilities that I hesitate to predict the shape of things to come. But whatever form the future assumes, I have complete confidence that Japan will be an even greater force for peace and prosperity in the region and the world, and a true friend and ally of the United States.