The United States and Japan have cooperated to address East Asian security issues for many years, and the relationship continues to evolve. Policymakers in Tokyo have grown more confident and assertive. By refining the concept of "self-defense", they have redefined the uses of military force that are considered legitimate under Japan's officially pacifist constitution. These are useful changes, but they have not fundamentally altered the character of the relationship as one between a dominant security patron, the United States, and a vulnerable client, Japan. Washington and Tokyo must work harder to establish Japan as a nation responsible for its own security and capable of assuming a wider strategic role in East Asia.
Outgoing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has set the stage for this transition, strengthening the ties between the United States and Japan, while also carving out a unique role for Japan that could expand in the near future. The prime minister has been one of the Bush Administration's most enthusiastic supporters. In the wake of 9/11, he dispatched Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) ships to the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In late 2003, Japan sent over 500 members of the ground JSDF to Iraq--the first such deployment of Japanese personnel to a conflict zone since the end of World War II. These two signature foreign policy initiatives enjoyed only lukewarm support among the Japanese public, but Koizumi's popularity provided him with the necessary latitude to largely define Japan's new security role. His successor will almost certainly lack Koizumi's charisma, and will therefore suffer by comparison; but notwithstanding this handicap, the next prime minister is likely to continue to move Japanese politics, and especially Japan's foreign policy, along the trajectory established by the flamboyant Koizumi.