The Schizophrenic Superpower

The Schizophrenic Superpower

Mini Teaser: Japan would prefer to be an ecnomic giant and a political pygmy. Neither circumstances nor its neighbors will allow it that luxury.

by Author(s): Alan Dupont

While the alliance once had been likened to dosho imu--lovers sharing the same bed but dreaming different dreams--Tokyo and Washington are increasingly sharing the same dreams. However, the administration needs to recognize that for all Koizumi's reforming zeal in foreign affairs and defense, domestic and regional realities will continue to circumscribe Japan's capacity to support the United States militarily. For its part, Tokyo must accept that a regression to the lackluster economic performances of the previous decade and a perceived unwillingness to pull its weight militarily could one day force a hard-headed reassessment of Japan's strategic and economic value in Washington and elsewhere. A weakened U.S.-Japanese alliance and the beginning of a long-term decline in Japanese power could foreshadow an extended period of uncertainty and destabilizing strategic change that would be detrimental to both countries' interests. A diminished, less-influential Japan would weaken Washington's voice in Asia's affairs.

The best way to preclude this outcome is for the administration to keep relations with Japan at the top of its Asian policy agenda, in recognition of Japan's centrality to the alliance and to East Asia's stability. However, in his eagerness to enlist Japan in the War on Terror and in support of U.S. global security interests, President Bush must be careful not to be too prescriptive or to pressure Tokyo into decisions on military acquisitions and deployments that raise the specter of a resurgent Japanese hegemon. At the same time, Bush must make clear his opposition to Japan acquiring nuclear weapons or major power-projection capabilities such as long-range bombers or aircraft carriers. This would be inherently destabilizing and ultimately antithetical to Japan's own security interests.

Finally, Chinese insecurities will have to be addressed. Although the old adage that two tigers cannot live together peacefully on the same mountain no longer holds true in today's global village-where tigers of all kinds coexist to mutual benefit--amicable Sino-Japanese relations cannot be assumed. Some creative new security architecture is required to help manage and alleviate the inevitable tensions ahead. U.S. policy has to be mindful of China's legitimate security concerns but strike an appropriate balance between kowtowing and needless hostility, to Asia's rising power.

Dr. Alan Dupont is senior fellow for international security at the Sydney, Australia-based Lowry Institute for International Policy.

Essay Types: Essay