Key dates: October, and then November.

As suggested in the previous post the US-Japan alliance could go through some tough times this year given recent developments in regards to the domestic situations in both countries. Tobias Harris has kindly indicated that I was not seeing things in my previous post and went into more (probably needed in hindsight) detail on the issue. PanOrient news has labelled the original plan a “roadmap to nowhere” (Tobias went for “festering sore”). A sudden realisation of this state of affairs seems to explain U.S. officials lack of outrage on the Kan administration’s decision to push back again a decision on Futenma until after the November election for the Okinawa Governor.

The developments are not  necessarily strategic or diplomatic in nature in the “high politics” sense, but are more practical ones that seem intractable enough they might force some strategic rethinking anyway.

In light of this it may be worthwhile to keep an eye on discussions around the “new roadmap” for the US-Korea alliance set to take place later this year in October. The eventual outcome of these discussions could give us much more concrete insight into how the U.S. (or more so the Obama administration) sees the security environment in East Asia – which could have some implications for the seemingly much needed revision to the current force transition roadmap for Japan. Also, it might be a good time to pin the U.S. down on what they see an alliance in the modern age to be – a question that has for many Japanese strategic thinkers been a critical variable to consider in their analysis.

Many very sensible U.S. security experts, policymakers and academics have from time to time suggested that clunky Cold War era alliances are not necessarily in the interests of the U.S. long-term given the modern, fluid global security environment that it now operates within. There are also issues of matching strategic intent with power projection capabilities. With a possibly less “willing” America,1 and certainly for the time being a less capable America (in terms of ability to commit a large amount of resources to regional security – fiscal constraints will obviously exert pressure on this dynamic), U.S. foreign policy may not be as effective as it could be in terms of return on investment.

Some, like Nathan Freier, have suggested that in practice greater US influence may come from having  a plan (a “grand strategy” so to speak) which even if less ambitious adequately matches intentions and capabilities in a coherent way.2 Will any of this kind of thinking come through in future negotiations? I think  many East Asia experts would, not unreasonably, answer that this area is far too important to suggest the scaling down of any investment. But could certain political, economic and domestic realities (in all of the concerned countries) force their way anyway into the thinking of strategists and negotiators when push comes to shove?

1 Some have suggested that the 2000s foreign policy “misadventures” have contributed to a growing tendency towards isolationism within the US populace, and also that partisan instability in U.S. politics is undermining foreign policy consensus

2Freier, N., “Primacy without a Plan?”, 2006. See also Kupchan, C., and Trubowitz, P.,  “Grand Strategy for a Divided America”, 2007 for fuller discussion of this line of thought.


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