Commentary Magazine


Topic: Yukio Hatoyama

Re: Naoto Kan’s Foreign Policy

Given many of the statements once made by the new Japanese prime minister, his comments yesterday about the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance are welcome. Naoto Kan must have learned from his predecessor’s mistakes, at least on the Okinawa base; he has promised to uphold the bilateral agreement that Yukio Hatoyama established before resigning last week.

However, the real test of Kan’s foreign policy will be how effectively he works with the United States on critical shared interests, not the statements he makes. Domestically, that means quickly pinning down the remaining details of the U.S. military base, as unpopular as such an endeavor may be among the Japanese. Internationally, that means continued U.S.-Japan security and defense collaboration, especially as North Korean bellicosity is on the rise. It will be interesting to see how much Kan’s outlook on foreign policy changes now that he is prime minister and not an opposition leader.

Given many of the statements once made by the new Japanese prime minister, his comments yesterday about the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance are welcome. Naoto Kan must have learned from his predecessor’s mistakes, at least on the Okinawa base; he has promised to uphold the bilateral agreement that Yukio Hatoyama established before resigning last week.

However, the real test of Kan’s foreign policy will be how effectively he works with the United States on critical shared interests, not the statements he makes. Domestically, that means quickly pinning down the remaining details of the U.S. military base, as unpopular as such an endeavor may be among the Japanese. Internationally, that means continued U.S.-Japan security and defense collaboration, especially as North Korean bellicosity is on the rise. It will be interesting to see how much Kan’s outlook on foreign policy changes now that he is prime minister and not an opposition leader.

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Naoto Kan’s Foreign Policy

U.S.-Japan relations have been on the rocks since the Democratic Party of Japan overtook the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party last August. On Wednesday, the bedraggled prime minister resigned, leaving the U.S.-Japan relationship mired in even more uncertainty.

But Naoto Kan, the man chosen today to replace Hatoyama as Japanese prime minister, has made statements in the past that suggest cause for further concern. If Kan meant what he has said in the past, the United States can expect him to pursue a foreign policy of diminished U.S. military presence in Japan, low Japanese support for U.S. war efforts in Iraq, and further Japanese outreach to allies other than the United States.

Kan has ridden to power on a rapid change in Japanese public opinion. In August, the DPJ won after over half a century of LDP ascendency. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had played to populism, running his campaign partially on promises to reduce American presence in Japan. That backfired. Hatoyama initially tried to backtrack on an agreement with the United States about a military base in Okinawa, undermining American confidence. He eventually bowed to U.S. pressure, meeting public uproar. That concession, along with economic mismanagement and funds scandals, finally ended in Hatoyama’s resignation from office.

But Kan holds what Americans would perceive as a mixed record about the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Like Hatoyama, Kan seems to support the reduction or withdrawal of U.S. troops from Japan. In 2001, he said that “a pullout of the Marines ‘should not have a major impact on the US strategy for the Far East. We should perhaps formerly propose through diplomatic channels that (the Marines) return to US territory.” Likewise, in 2003, Kan said that “security in the Far East can be maintained without U.S. bases in Okinawa and the marines stationed there. We are eyeing having them moved out of Japan.”

Furthermore, Kan has a history of outspoken statements against the U.S. war in Iraq. He made his strongest statement in 2001. Kyodo News Service reported:

Japan’s opposition parties strongly criticized the US-led war on Iraq as well as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for backing the attack, saying the government’s position is antagonizing the voice of people in the international community.

“I cannot allow mass murder simply because Iraq did not fully comply with UN resolutions in the past,” said Naoto Kan, president of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

However, in September 2002, Kan insisted that the United States retain the ability to use its bases in Japan for the war in Iraq:

“If Japan refuses to allow the United States to use its bases here, we would have to risk breaking the very basis of the Japan-US security treaty,” DPJ Secretary-General Naoto Kan said. “We have never questioned the US use of bases in this country before,” he said, referring to the US forces’ use of facilities in Japan during the Vietnam War and other wars.  “We should keep this precedent intact,” he said…

That does not appear to mean that Kan supported the war effort. In 2003, Kyodo News Service reported that regarding Iraq, Kan “urged Washington to return to the framework of the United Nations to resolve international issues through dialogue.” Other news reports said that Kan considered the use of American force in Iraq a violation of the UN charter. Later in 2003, Kan criticized then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi for “a foreign policy of merely following in the footsteps of the United States like in the case of the Iraq bill.” Kan has consistently argued that sending Japanese troops into Iraq combat zones would violate the Japanese constitution. In 2004, Kan said, “Hasn’t this Iraq war contributed to an expansion of terrorism, rather than leading to its prevention?”

Finally, Kan has consistently advocated for stronger relations with alternative allies besides the United States. That constitutes a significant shift in Japanese foreign policy, which has considered the United States its primary ally since the aftermath of WWII. In 2003, he said, “Our ties with the United States are vital, but our relations with Asian countries are equally important.” In 2006, he criticized Japanese foreign policy for “lean[ing] too much toward the U.S,” as the Japan Times reported. Kan said: “Our relations with the United States are definitely important. But at the same time, we also have to build relations with Asian countries and resume top-level dialogue with them.” It is encouraging that today he said: “I believe the Japan-U.S. relationship is the foundation of Japan’s diplomacy. … The course we need to take is to maintain a trusting relationship with the United States and at the same time to consider China as equally important. I think that’s the right course for Japan’s future as well.”

Japan has every right to pursue the policies that best fit its interests. And Naoto Kan the prime minister might be much more measured in his statements and actions than Naoto Kan the opposition leader. But many of the statements Kan has made in the past suggest more contention between the United States and Japan regarding security and defense issues.

Hatoyama left many defense and security issues unresolved, although his concession to the United States was one of his last acts as prime minister. Among broader Asian security concerns, Kan will have to work with the United States immediately to determine many details about U.S. military placement in Okinawa; yet to be determined is the configuration of the base, the exact location of its placement, and how to mitigate its possible environmental impacts, to name a few.

Kan would do well to learn from Hatoyama’s failure, acknowledging the controversial nature of these discussions but establishing a consistent and moderate foreign policy before addressing them. He will have to clarify his position on the issues he has in the past made statements about. Otherwise, he risks disapproval both in Washington and among his people.

U.S.-Japan relations have been on the rocks since the Democratic Party of Japan overtook the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party last August. On Wednesday, the bedraggled prime minister resigned, leaving the U.S.-Japan relationship mired in even more uncertainty.

But Naoto Kan, the man chosen today to replace Hatoyama as Japanese prime minister, has made statements in the past that suggest cause for further concern. If Kan meant what he has said in the past, the United States can expect him to pursue a foreign policy of diminished U.S. military presence in Japan, low Japanese support for U.S. war efforts in Iraq, and further Japanese outreach to allies other than the United States.

Kan has ridden to power on a rapid change in Japanese public opinion. In August, the DPJ won after over half a century of LDP ascendency. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had played to populism, running his campaign partially on promises to reduce American presence in Japan. That backfired. Hatoyama initially tried to backtrack on an agreement with the United States about a military base in Okinawa, undermining American confidence. He eventually bowed to U.S. pressure, meeting public uproar. That concession, along with economic mismanagement and funds scandals, finally ended in Hatoyama’s resignation from office.

But Kan holds what Americans would perceive as a mixed record about the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Like Hatoyama, Kan seems to support the reduction or withdrawal of U.S. troops from Japan. In 2001, he said that “a pullout of the Marines ‘should not have a major impact on the US strategy for the Far East. We should perhaps formerly propose through diplomatic channels that (the Marines) return to US territory.” Likewise, in 2003, Kan said that “security in the Far East can be maintained without U.S. bases in Okinawa and the marines stationed there. We are eyeing having them moved out of Japan.”

Furthermore, Kan has a history of outspoken statements against the U.S. war in Iraq. He made his strongest statement in 2001. Kyodo News Service reported:

Japan’s opposition parties strongly criticized the US-led war on Iraq as well as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for backing the attack, saying the government’s position is antagonizing the voice of people in the international community.

“I cannot allow mass murder simply because Iraq did not fully comply with UN resolutions in the past,” said Naoto Kan, president of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

However, in September 2002, Kan insisted that the United States retain the ability to use its bases in Japan for the war in Iraq:

“If Japan refuses to allow the United States to use its bases here, we would have to risk breaking the very basis of the Japan-US security treaty,” DPJ Secretary-General Naoto Kan said. “We have never questioned the US use of bases in this country before,” he said, referring to the US forces’ use of facilities in Japan during the Vietnam War and other wars.  “We should keep this precedent intact,” he said…

That does not appear to mean that Kan supported the war effort. In 2003, Kyodo News Service reported that regarding Iraq, Kan “urged Washington to return to the framework of the United Nations to resolve international issues through dialogue.” Other news reports said that Kan considered the use of American force in Iraq a violation of the UN charter. Later in 2003, Kan criticized then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi for “a foreign policy of merely following in the footsteps of the United States like in the case of the Iraq bill.” Kan has consistently argued that sending Japanese troops into Iraq combat zones would violate the Japanese constitution. In 2004, Kan said, “Hasn’t this Iraq war contributed to an expansion of terrorism, rather than leading to its prevention?”

Finally, Kan has consistently advocated for stronger relations with alternative allies besides the United States. That constitutes a significant shift in Japanese foreign policy, which has considered the United States its primary ally since the aftermath of WWII. In 2003, he said, “Our ties with the United States are vital, but our relations with Asian countries are equally important.” In 2006, he criticized Japanese foreign policy for “lean[ing] too much toward the U.S,” as the Japan Times reported. Kan said: “Our relations with the United States are definitely important. But at the same time, we also have to build relations with Asian countries and resume top-level dialogue with them.” It is encouraging that today he said: “I believe the Japan-U.S. relationship is the foundation of Japan’s diplomacy. … The course we need to take is to maintain a trusting relationship with the United States and at the same time to consider China as equally important. I think that’s the right course for Japan’s future as well.”

Japan has every right to pursue the policies that best fit its interests. And Naoto Kan the prime minister might be much more measured in his statements and actions than Naoto Kan the opposition leader. But many of the statements Kan has made in the past suggest more contention between the United States and Japan regarding security and defense issues.

Hatoyama left many defense and security issues unresolved, although his concession to the United States was one of his last acts as prime minister. Among broader Asian security concerns, Kan will have to work with the United States immediately to determine many details about U.S. military placement in Okinawa; yet to be determined is the configuration of the base, the exact location of its placement, and how to mitigate its possible environmental impacts, to name a few.

Kan would do well to learn from Hatoyama’s failure, acknowledging the controversial nature of these discussions but establishing a consistent and moderate foreign policy before addressing them. He will have to clarify his position on the issues he has in the past made statements about. Otherwise, he risks disapproval both in Washington and among his people.

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Fear and Loathing in the Far East

Conspiracy theorists would imagine that the Americans engineered the sinking of South Korean ship Cheonan – and pinned it on North Korea — as a means of pressuring Japan to agree to relocate the disputed Marine Corps air base on Okinawa. But conspiracies don’t work that well; only the natural course of events produces such ironies.

Shortly after Seoul announced its findings last week on the Cheonan sinking, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama publicly reversed his position on relocating the U.S. base. Vocal Okinawan activists have long wanted the U.S. Marine Corps out of their archipelagic prefecture entirely. Hatoyama promised during his 2009 campaign to revisit the previous government’s agreement to move the air base from its current position at Futenma to a new location in the Henoko district. And late last year he did just that, producing a months-long standoff with the U.S. over the fate of Marine Corps basing in Japan.

The Obama administration’s stance has been unyielding and less than cordial: December saw a painfully undiplomatic sequence in which President Obama refused a request for a sidebar with Hatoyama at the Copenhagen environmental summit; the Hatoyama government announced that it would not move on the basing matter at all until May 2010; and Hillary Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador to lecture him on his government’s obligations under the previous agreement.

In spite of this unpromising history, however, the Hatoyama government has now agreed to continue with the plan to move the air base to Henoko. The move remains deeply unpopular in Okinawa, but Hatoyama is quite explicit about his reason: his concern for Japanese security in light of the tensions on the Korean peninsula.

This is a pyrrhic victory for Obama’s diplomacy. The alliance with Japan is worth tending better; it might have been possible to achieve this or a similarly advantageous outcome without leaving Japan’s government and the Okinawans feeling cornered and resentful. But our “smart power” administration didn’t even try.

Events will not always yield blind luck and drive our allies to do what we want. With events likely to begin piling up faster than we can react to them, greater care is called for. Observing with our allies the basic norms of courtesy, access, negotiation, and compromise would go a long way toward cementing our commonality of purpose as the challenges to our global security arrangements accelerate.

Conspiracy theorists would imagine that the Americans engineered the sinking of South Korean ship Cheonan – and pinned it on North Korea — as a means of pressuring Japan to agree to relocate the disputed Marine Corps air base on Okinawa. But conspiracies don’t work that well; only the natural course of events produces such ironies.

Shortly after Seoul announced its findings last week on the Cheonan sinking, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama publicly reversed his position on relocating the U.S. base. Vocal Okinawan activists have long wanted the U.S. Marine Corps out of their archipelagic prefecture entirely. Hatoyama promised during his 2009 campaign to revisit the previous government’s agreement to move the air base from its current position at Futenma to a new location in the Henoko district. And late last year he did just that, producing a months-long standoff with the U.S. over the fate of Marine Corps basing in Japan.

The Obama administration’s stance has been unyielding and less than cordial: December saw a painfully undiplomatic sequence in which President Obama refused a request for a sidebar with Hatoyama at the Copenhagen environmental summit; the Hatoyama government announced that it would not move on the basing matter at all until May 2010; and Hillary Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador to lecture him on his government’s obligations under the previous agreement.

In spite of this unpromising history, however, the Hatoyama government has now agreed to continue with the plan to move the air base to Henoko. The move remains deeply unpopular in Okinawa, but Hatoyama is quite explicit about his reason: his concern for Japanese security in light of the tensions on the Korean peninsula.

This is a pyrrhic victory for Obama’s diplomacy. The alliance with Japan is worth tending better; it might have been possible to achieve this or a similarly advantageous outcome without leaving Japan’s government and the Okinawans feeling cornered and resentful. But our “smart power” administration didn’t even try.

Events will not always yield blind luck and drive our allies to do what we want. With events likely to begin piling up faster than we can react to them, greater care is called for. Observing with our allies the basic norms of courtesy, access, negotiation, and compromise would go a long way toward cementing our commonality of purpose as the challenges to our global security arrangements accelerate.

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Obama’s Appeal Is Lost on World Leaders

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

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The Indifferent Ally

We were told during the campaign that Obama was a worldly man. He had lived overseas. He understood America’s “proper” place in the world. (Yes, there’s American exceptionalism, but also Greek and British exceptionalism. In other words, America’s not exceptional at all.) He “got” the Muslim World. And he just adored multilateralism. So he was going to repair all the damage done by the cowboy who preceded him. But it seems not to have worked out that way. And the number of aggrieved allies is considerably higher than it was when George W. Bush left office.

Jackson Diehl explains:

I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued. … His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Diehl chalks most of this up to disinterest on Obama’s part. He is, after all, consumed with reinventing America. And frankly, he’s been an unreliable ally (ask the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Honduras) and an unfaithful friend. (“Obama also hasn’t hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.”) He’s been obsessed with ingratiating himself with foes who are indifferent to his overtures rather than forging solid partnerships with those whose help we could use. (“In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.”)

In all this one senses a certain insularity. Obama reminds us he isn’t one for open-ended commitments. (Too bad, then, that our enemies wage open-ended wars.) The serial rudeness to the Brits and constant carping at Israel suggest not merely tone-deafness but also indifference to the concerns and sensibilities of our allies. Where is all that vaunted internationalism and supposed sophistication? Well, he’s got other concerns, but perhaps once ObamaCare and cap-and-trade go by the wayside, he’ll look for other ways to spend his time. Restoring our alliances would be a place to start. It seems they were in better shape when he arrived and could use some tending.

We were told during the campaign that Obama was a worldly man. He had lived overseas. He understood America’s “proper” place in the world. (Yes, there’s American exceptionalism, but also Greek and British exceptionalism. In other words, America’s not exceptional at all.) He “got” the Muslim World. And he just adored multilateralism. So he was going to repair all the damage done by the cowboy who preceded him. But it seems not to have worked out that way. And the number of aggrieved allies is considerably higher than it was when George W. Bush left office.

Jackson Diehl explains:

I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued. … His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Diehl chalks most of this up to disinterest on Obama’s part. He is, after all, consumed with reinventing America. And frankly, he’s been an unreliable ally (ask the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Honduras) and an unfaithful friend. (“Obama also hasn’t hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.”) He’s been obsessed with ingratiating himself with foes who are indifferent to his overtures rather than forging solid partnerships with those whose help we could use. (“In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.”)

In all this one senses a certain insularity. Obama reminds us he isn’t one for open-ended commitments. (Too bad, then, that our enemies wage open-ended wars.) The serial rudeness to the Brits and constant carping at Israel suggest not merely tone-deafness but also indifference to the concerns and sensibilities of our allies. Where is all that vaunted internationalism and supposed sophistication? Well, he’s got other concerns, but perhaps once ObamaCare and cap-and-trade go by the wayside, he’ll look for other ways to spend his time. Restoring our alliances would be a place to start. It seems they were in better shape when he arrived and could use some tending.

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Japan’s Flip-Flop

This has not been a good week for U.S.-Japanese relations.

Today, Japan ended its eight-year refueling mission that once supported the American war in Afghanistan. And on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton met with the Japanese foreign minister in Hawaii. The official remarks were awkward as both diplomats timidly addressed how to relocate the U.S. Futenma military base. The U.S. wants to move the controversial base to a different place within Japan, but the new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, campaigned partially on reducing U.S. presence and has considered removing the base from the country altogether. So evident were the differences of opinion between Tokyo and Washington that a Japanese reporter questioned whether “you really can have substantive talks [on any topic at all] while the Futenma issue remains unresolved.”

There are many similarities between Obama and Hatoyama. Both came to power on promises of change, overturning an established political party. And change they have delivered. But change is tricky in the foreign-policy arena.

The refueling mission was an eight-year show of Japanese symbolic support for the U.S. efforts in the Middle East — a precedent not to be reversed lightly. And the United States thought it had resolved the Futenma issue back in 2005 — but now Hatoyama wants until May to reconsider that decision. “We now have a change in government in Japan and there are different views within the coalition government,” Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Tuesday in defense of the hesitancy and delays.

In a way, Tokyo has given the Obama administration a dose of its own medicine. But Japan’s reconsideration has resulted in a decrease in American trust. If agreements can end or reverse from one executive to another, policy will be limited by terms in office — and, thus, it will inherently be shortsighted. That’s the danger of pressing the restart button too often.

Washington and Tokyo have cooperated closely for 50 years. But if the two nations want to see another 50 years of friendship, as Clinton suggested this week, short-sighted policy just won’t cut it. On the other hand, continuity in policy supports alliances and international confidence.

Obama may find his Asian reflection less than flattering.

This has not been a good week for U.S.-Japanese relations.

Today, Japan ended its eight-year refueling mission that once supported the American war in Afghanistan. And on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton met with the Japanese foreign minister in Hawaii. The official remarks were awkward as both diplomats timidly addressed how to relocate the U.S. Futenma military base. The U.S. wants to move the controversial base to a different place within Japan, but the new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, campaigned partially on reducing U.S. presence and has considered removing the base from the country altogether. So evident were the differences of opinion between Tokyo and Washington that a Japanese reporter questioned whether “you really can have substantive talks [on any topic at all] while the Futenma issue remains unresolved.”

There are many similarities between Obama and Hatoyama. Both came to power on promises of change, overturning an established political party. And change they have delivered. But change is tricky in the foreign-policy arena.

The refueling mission was an eight-year show of Japanese symbolic support for the U.S. efforts in the Middle East — a precedent not to be reversed lightly. And the United States thought it had resolved the Futenma issue back in 2005 — but now Hatoyama wants until May to reconsider that decision. “We now have a change in government in Japan and there are different views within the coalition government,” Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Tuesday in defense of the hesitancy and delays.

In a way, Tokyo has given the Obama administration a dose of its own medicine. But Japan’s reconsideration has resulted in a decrease in American trust. If agreements can end or reverse from one executive to another, policy will be limited by terms in office — and, thus, it will inherently be shortsighted. That’s the danger of pressing the restart button too often.

Washington and Tokyo have cooperated closely for 50 years. But if the two nations want to see another 50 years of friendship, as Clinton suggested this week, short-sighted policy just won’t cut it. On the other hand, continuity in policy supports alliances and international confidence.

Obama may find his Asian reflection less than flattering.

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Obama’s Japan Fumble

President Barack Obama is losing ground on all three points of controversy in the Japan-U.S. security alliance, and his meeting today with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama did nothing to improve the U.S. position.

Japan is one of America’s most important allies, geopolitically essential for U.S.-East Asian policy and security efforts. The American presence in Japan has, among other things, been a deterrent to North Korea, a guarantor for Taiwan, and a balance for China, all of which stabilize East Asia. But this summer, Japan’s politics changed as the Democratic Party of Japan overturned the Liberal Democratic Party for the first time in 16 years. And while the new prime minister has called the U.S.-Japan alliance “the axis of Japan’s foreign policies,” his goals suggest the contrary. Up for debate is Japan’s refueling mission to Afghanistan, the status of a U.S. marine base in Okinawa, and — most important — a nearly 50-year-old security treaty between the two countries.

Let’s start with the latter, and most troubling, of these possible changes: the review of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The treaty establishes U.S. protection of Japan in exchange for an American military presence on Japanese soil. Revising that treaty to decrease U.S. military presence would diminish American influence, capability, and agility in the region.

And if the ruling party’s attitude toward the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Base in Okinawa is any indication, the American military presence in Japan could eventually encounter an even larger threat. The U.S. agreed in 2005 to relocate the Futenma base to a remote coastal area. But Prime Minister Hatoyama might want the base outside Japan altogether — hardly a surprise, considering that he campaigned partially on promises to reduce the U.S. military presence in Japan.

As Tokyo considers what it will do about Futenma, Obama has announced “ministerial-level meetings to discuss” the situation. But the U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos, said America’s “hope and expectation [is] that, at the end of that process [of review], the government will be comfortable with that [original] agreement.” He added, “The United States believes that the agreement is vital, that after considering all the alternatives this is the best agreement for the stability, the security and the strength of the alliance.”

That brings us to the Japanese Indian Ocean refueling mission, which is important more symbolically than logistically. The mission is primarily acknowledged as an act of Japanese support for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, and it has continued nearly uninterrupted since its inception in 2001, pausing only for three months when the DPJ won control of the upper house of parliament is 2008. But by all accounts, parliament will allow the mission to expire by January, despite urges to renew from Pakistan, Britain, and especially the United States. Instead, Japan will send money and vocational training to Afghanistan.

These security questions between the United States and Japan remain unresolved. So what of the Toyko meeting? Obama warned Asia against reliance on U.S. consumers and talked about nuclear disarmament and climate change. (Well, he did also get on a first-name basis with Yukio Hatoyama — duly lauded in the joint remarks.) But he accomplished nothing on the security front. East Asia remains a dangerous neighborhood, and the increasingly precarious security holdings there deserve more of Obama’s attention. This is yet another instance where American delay could really hurt.

President Barack Obama is losing ground on all three points of controversy in the Japan-U.S. security alliance, and his meeting today with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama did nothing to improve the U.S. position.

Japan is one of America’s most important allies, geopolitically essential for U.S.-East Asian policy and security efforts. The American presence in Japan has, among other things, been a deterrent to North Korea, a guarantor for Taiwan, and a balance for China, all of which stabilize East Asia. But this summer, Japan’s politics changed as the Democratic Party of Japan overturned the Liberal Democratic Party for the first time in 16 years. And while the new prime minister has called the U.S.-Japan alliance “the axis of Japan’s foreign policies,” his goals suggest the contrary. Up for debate is Japan’s refueling mission to Afghanistan, the status of a U.S. marine base in Okinawa, and — most important — a nearly 50-year-old security treaty between the two countries.

Let’s start with the latter, and most troubling, of these possible changes: the review of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The treaty establishes U.S. protection of Japan in exchange for an American military presence on Japanese soil. Revising that treaty to decrease U.S. military presence would diminish American influence, capability, and agility in the region.

And if the ruling party’s attitude toward the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Base in Okinawa is any indication, the American military presence in Japan could eventually encounter an even larger threat. The U.S. agreed in 2005 to relocate the Futenma base to a remote coastal area. But Prime Minister Hatoyama might want the base outside Japan altogether — hardly a surprise, considering that he campaigned partially on promises to reduce the U.S. military presence in Japan.

As Tokyo considers what it will do about Futenma, Obama has announced “ministerial-level meetings to discuss” the situation. But the U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos, said America’s “hope and expectation [is] that, at the end of that process [of review], the government will be comfortable with that [original] agreement.” He added, “The United States believes that the agreement is vital, that after considering all the alternatives this is the best agreement for the stability, the security and the strength of the alliance.”

That brings us to the Japanese Indian Ocean refueling mission, which is important more symbolically than logistically. The mission is primarily acknowledged as an act of Japanese support for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, and it has continued nearly uninterrupted since its inception in 2001, pausing only for three months when the DPJ won control of the upper house of parliament is 2008. But by all accounts, parliament will allow the mission to expire by January, despite urges to renew from Pakistan, Britain, and especially the United States. Instead, Japan will send money and vocational training to Afghanistan.

These security questions between the United States and Japan remain unresolved. So what of the Toyko meeting? Obama warned Asia against reliance on U.S. consumers and talked about nuclear disarmament and climate change. (Well, he did also get on a first-name basis with Yukio Hatoyama — duly lauded in the joint remarks.) But he accomplished nothing on the security front. East Asia remains a dangerous neighborhood, and the increasingly precarious security holdings there deserve more of Obama’s attention. This is yet another instance where American delay could really hurt.

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