Updated: 15-Apr-2002 NATO Review

No. 3 - Jun. 1992
Vol. 40 - pp. 18-22


Yukio Satoh

Director General of the North American Affairs Bureau of Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo. This article represents his personal views and does not necessarlily represent the views of the Japanese Government.

The Action Plan of the Tokyo Declaration on the US-Japan Global Partnership, which President George Bush and Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa announced in January 1992, underlined the importance of political dialogue between Japan and NATO. This contrasts sharply with the low priority hitherto given to a security dialogue between Japan and Europe.

In the course of the 1980s, Japanese and European officials came to realize that they shared some common security concerns, the advent of the Soviet SS-20 missiles and the unsettling Gulf situations in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, underscoring the commonality of security interests between Japan and the then Western Europe. It is against this background that Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone joined the North American and European leaders at the 1983 Williamsburg Summit in declaring that, "the security of our countries is indivisible and must be approached on a global basis". The Gulf War later confirmed the validity of this notion even outside the context of East-West relations.

The process of the Economic Summits has provided venues for trilateral discussions on security issues between the United States, Europe and Japan, and there has been some progress in bilateral politico-military dialogue between Japan and certain European countries, particularly Britain. There were also occasional exchanges of visits of high officials between Japan and NATO Headquarters. But, except in the case of the Economic Summits, these dialogues and contacts to date have not gone beyond a general exchange of views serving only to enhance mutual understanding.

Expanding common interests

The end of the Cold War has nullified the need to emphasize the indivisibility of Western security. Yet rather paradoxically, the elements of uncertainty and instability, which characterize the post-Cold War world, are serving to expand the scope of the security interests and concerns which Japan and Europe share in common. A broad range of perceived risks which might derive from the collapse of the former Soviet Union are, for example, implying similar, if not identical, degrees of danger to both Japan and Europe. Accordingly, the democratization of Russia and the other newly born republics, and the introduction of market-oriented economies in these countries, are matters of common interest for both Japan and Europe. Central and Eastern Europe count upon Japanese financial support for the efforts to reconstruct their economies. And, among many others, the so-called trans-national issues which range from the questions of non-proliferation and arms control, to the problems of refugees and the environment, require close international cooperation involving both Japan and Europe.

On questions with more direct military implications, too, a broader range of cooperation involving both Japan and Europe is now required. How to reduce the excessive military power left in the hands of the new republics born from the former Soviet Union is a case in point. The proliferation and stockpile of nuclear weapons and the possible outflow of the related technologies are also particularly important in this context. Yet the remaining large stockpile of advanced conventional weapons, as well as the industrial technologies to produce them, are also a source of concern.

This makes it even more important to prevent the revival of authoritarian regimes in the former Soviet Union. But, given that the process of democratization will take a long time and involve elements of unpredictability, it is essential for both Japan and Europe to remain vigilant and to sustain their defence efforts (albeit at lower levels), while extending technological and humanitarian assistance to these countries. For Japan and Europe to exchange information concerning the recipients' military capabilities, and to share risk calculations with regard to them, are important in this context.

The unsettling situations of the Gulf region and the Middle East are another subject of common security concern. The independence of the Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union is going to complicate further the already complex political conditions of these strategically important regions.Regional conflicts in other areas might also have a destabilizing impact on post-Cold War situations. Growing inter-state and inter-ethnic rivalries in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe would have serious implications for European, and, after all, global security. There are still many conflicts and disputes in the Asian-Pacific region which could have broad regional impacts.

Japan has sent mine-sweepers of its Self-Defence Forces (SDF) to the Persian Gulf for the POST-WAR mine clearance operations. And the Japanese Diet (Parliament) has just passed, a bill which permits the participation of the SDF in peace-keeping operations (PKO). But even with the passage of the PKO bill, Japan will not use the SDF for combat operations overseas. It is broadly accepted in Japan that Article 9 of the present Constitution, which renounces "the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes" prohibits the use of the SDF for combat operations beyond the limits of self-defence. Consequently, Japan's reliance on American and, to a lesser extent, European forces for the maintenance of security in strategically important regions will remain little changed so long as Japan holds to the present Constitution.

However, Japanese political involvement in, and financial support for, international efforts to bring peace to regional conflicts, to reconstruct the countries concerned and to prevent the recurrence of instability, have been increasing globally. Japan is also trying to expand the scope of so-called physical participation by the Japanese themselves in international efforts to serve the common cause of international peace and stability. PKO and other risk-taking efforts to aid refugees or to protect the environment are fields in which Japan is now trying to expand its people's participation. How to incorporate these Japanese resources into broadly framed burden-sharing arrangements for regional security and stability will be an important subject for trilateral policy cooperation between the United States, Europe and Japan.

Continued US engagement

Another important point of common concern which Japan and Europe share in the post-Cold War era is the increasingly introverted disposition of the American body politic. America will never be able to return to a position of absolute isolation. The mechanism of mutual interdependence with the outside world has already been built into the structure of the American economy. Yet politically, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pressure of the US budget deficit and growing demands for an improvement in domestic conditions are, together, working to make Americans increasingly inward-looking.

On the other hand, it is evident that an American commitment and engagement will continue to be essential to any international cooperation, particularly concerning Asian-Pacific and European security. Hence, how to go on engaging the United States in the process of international cooperation is a matter of common interest to both Japan and Europe. Needless to say, the modality of American involvement would vary between the Asian-Pacific region and Europe.

In the Asian and Pacific region, an American military presence is regarded as an indispensable political, let alone military, stabilizing element. An American naval presence neutralizes any threatening implications of the Russian or other navies in the area. The United States is the only guarantor of nuclear deterrence for her allies. And Japanese dependence upon American military support is reassuring to many Asians who are worried about the possibility of a Japanese resumption of a greater military role in the region. These situations will remain unchanged at least in the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, as with NATO in Europe, the US-Japan alliance has been, and will continue to be, the key to an American commitment to security in the region. Beyond defending Japan, the alliance provides an important basis for the security assurances the United States extends to many countries in Asia and the Pacific.

Yet burden-sharing by America's allies is essential to the maintenance of an American commitment to the security of the region. In this context, the host-nation support which Japan provides to the United States is of pre-eminent importance. The so-called home-porting in Japan of an American aircraft carrier and other naval vessels facilitates the American naval presence in the Western Pacific and the Indian Oceans. Japanese financial support amounted to 3.7 billion dollars in the 1991 Fiscal Year. Tokyo will be paying 4.4 billion dollars (at 1991 Fiscal Year rates) by the 1995 Fiscal Year, which will be more than "73 per cent of the non-salary cost" of the US presence in Japan.(1) Increased Japanese defence spending worries some Asians but the increase, which includes the host-nation support, is vital in order to attain Congressional support for a continued American commitment.

Differing geo-political conditions

The end of the Cold War has also shed light upon the differences between Asian-Pacific and European security conditions. The differences made little impact on Western strategies against the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Then, Europe was the primary theatre in the East-West context, although two hot wars (Korea and Vietnam) were fought in Asia under the pressure of the Cold War. Furthermore, the security of the then Western Europe was the major, if not the sole, preoccupation of American strategy to contain Soviet expansionism. Consequently, Western security debates had been framed by the policy priorities and preoccupations of the Atlantic Alliance.

The differences in the geo-political situation of the Asia-Pacific region and Europe are in fact manifold. In sharp contrast to Europe, where the reduction of military tension involving a possibility of nuclear war has long been a major preoccupation of many countries, the primary concern for Asian and Pacific nations has been, and remains, economic development. Unlike Europe, East-West relations had only a limited bearing on regional security; China has stood outside the East-West context and many countries in this region, with a deep-rooted suspicion toward big powers, have been inclined to avoid involvement in what they regard as superpower rivalry. Moreover, threat perceptions held by countries in the region are diverse, the structure of alliances being basically bilateral, and the American strategy of forward deployment is the major, if not the only, stabilizing element.Besides, there are sub-regional conflicts and disputes which require urgent political attention. Peace in Cambodia is as yet fragile. The suspected North Korean attempt to possess a nuclear capability has cast a dark shadow over the otherwise more hopeful prospect for North-South reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, and there are volatile territorial disputes in the South China sea.

Moscow's reluctance to admit the Japanese claim over the Northern Territories remains an obstacle to the full normalization of Japan-Russia relations. The Soviet occupation of the Northern Territories is the result of Stalin's expansionism and it was in recognition of this fact that the G-7 leaders expressed a hope at the London Economic Summit in July 1991 that the new spirit of international cooperation (the so-called new thinking in Soviet policy) would be as fully reflected in Asia as in Europe. The Chairman's statement on that same occasion pointed out that, "the full normalization of Japan-Soviet relations, including a resolution of the Northern Territories issue, would greatly contribute" to this new spirit. The Russian approach towards the issue is seemingly more realistic and conciliatory than the old Soviet one. Nevertheless, the question is yet to be resolved and continued support of European countries for the Japanese position would undoubtedly help prompt further changes in the Russian approach towards this issue.

The implications for Asian-Pacific security of the collapse of the Soviet Union also remain to be fully absorbed. And with the exception of Japan, the way Asian nations perceive the implications can differ from the views held by Americans and Europeans. The economic deterioration in Russia and the other republics, the political confusion in these newly born states and inter-republic and inter-ethnic rivalries and struggles are all worrying to Asian-Pacific countries. But to many of them, the worsening conditions of the former Soviet Union are somewhat remote from their immediate concerns, the geographical distance from the troubled area reducing the relevance of the issue.

The possible loosening of central control over weapons of mass destruction as well as the potential outflow to some aggressive countries like North Korea of the technologies and engineers related to these weapons are also the subject of concern to many Asian-Pacific countries although here again, the concern is not felt by all among the countries in the region.

On the other hand, the perceived prospect of American force reductions in the region is a matter of common concern to many Asians. The American and European preoccupation with problems relating to the former Soviet Union is also worrying to the Asian and Pacific countries while the lower level of American political attention has already been felt acutely in the region.

These differences between the Asian-Pacific and the European security conditions must be taken into account when considering any international security cooperation involving Japan since Asian-Pacific security is a matter of primary concern for Japan. Although the country has been engaged in global issues, it has always been a difficult though important task to harmonize requirements stemming from two, often opposing, identities; that is, membership of the group of Western industrialized democracies and of the Asian-Pacific community. And this dilemma attributable to Japan's dual identity will remain until a number of other Asian countries become further industrialized and democratized.

The post-Cold War world will need international cooperation to bring about peace and stability, reconstruction and development at all levels, whether global, regional or sub-regional. Of all these efforts, trilateral cooperation between the United States, Europe and Japan is bound to be important, and political dialogue between Japan and NATO must be a part of any such process. Japan-NATO political dialogue would help broaden the security perspective of the participants of the trilateral cooperation and would help expand the scope of their concerted approach towards common security interests and concerns. Needless to say, it would also facilitate an exchange of information with regard to these matters of common concern.

The end of the Cold War has reduced the danger of a global war. Yet many elements of instability and uncertainty remain. It is therefore important for the industrialized nations to take bold initiatives at the political level in order to broaden further the prospect for global peace. Hence it is timely to deepen the political dialogue between Japan and NATO through more regular meetings, meetings which could possibly be at the level of foreign ministers.


(1) James Baker "America in Asia: Emerging Architecture for a Pacific Community", Foreign Affairs, Vol.70, No.5, Winter 1991/92 pp.1-40.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1992.