It is particularly important for Washington to tear up the perceived blank check that leaves a decision for war or peace with Tokyo. Backed by America, the Japanese government has less incentive to negotiate with the PRC over the Senkakus or anything else. Yet Japan is not ready for a military confrontation. This creates a dangerous dynamic.
If Tokyo still feels comfortable with its existing SDF, so be it. More likely, Japanese officials would be forced to debate their nation’s security objectives, potential threats and military requirements. The discussion would have to include the Japanese people. And Japan would need to consider a forthright revision of Article 9.
America’s step back also would force Japanese pacifists to confront the implications of their position. Today, antiwar activists insist that Japan avoid conflict with the comfortable assurance that Washington will protect Japan from any bad consequences. However, true pacifists shouldn’t expect others to fight on their behalf. Are those resolutely against an active Japanese military ready to leave their homeland defenseless?
Retiring the U.S. security guarantee to Japan would be good sense, not “isolationism.” Washington has cause to work with Tokyo in such areas as aid, relief, environment, terrorism, proliferation and more. Americans and Japanese should and would trade even if the United States ended Tokyo’s defense dependence. Also important would be continuing military and intelligence cooperation, though based on a relationship of equals for both parties’ benefit.
Of course, with or without the United States, events in the region could go badly. The fact that peace is in every nation’s interest does not ensure that every nation will preserve the peace. However, the possibility of war should cause Washington to stay out, absent a compelling justification otherwise that is not provided by generic worries about “stability.” When it comes to games of naval chicken over worthless rock piles, America shouldn’t play.
The United States would remain interested and involved in Asia, ready to act as an “offshore balancer” if a dangerous hegemonic power threatened the region. But China isn’t there yet. And it might never get there.
After seven decades, Washington should finally shift responsibility for defending Japan to Japan. The United States can no longer afford to play globocop. And it need not do so, since its prosperous allies, such as Tokyo, can afford to do much more militarily. An American withdrawal would not leave a void if its friends and allies stepped forward, as Japan has begun to do.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books, including Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World (Cato Institute) and The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea (co-author, Palgrave/MacMillan). You can follow him on Twitter: @Doug_Bandow.
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