January 20, 2009; Volume 05, Number 03

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Interview With Mr. Gregg Rubinstein on the U.S.-Japan Security Relationship During the Obama Administration
Enduring Security-Related Themes in the Bilateral Relationship
Japan's Likely Response
But Some Likely Changes in Tone ...
The Future of Gai-Atsu
Significance of a Weaker Kantei These Days
How Would an Ozawa Cabinet Affect Bilateral Relations?
Or a Fractionalized Party System Coalition?
Is Japan Taking a More Independent Role in Asia?
Concluding Comments

Good morning! From Beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Tuesday, January 20th, 2009. And you are listening to Volume 05, Number 03, of the Japan Considered Podcast.



090112EdistoBeachState Park
Click Above for Photos

Yes, Tuesday already. I’m recently back from five days camped in the Mobile Studio right on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. At one of the two campsites of Edisto Beach State Park. One of South Carolina’s most interesting Park facilities. One visit there will pull you back again and again. I’ll put a link in the program transcript to some photographs of the Park and surrounding Edisto Island. All up on my Picasa website. The pictures really don’t do justice to place, however. You’ll just have to go to see it. Scenery and activities to keep you busy for weeks!


Click Above for Photos

And nearby Botany Bay Plantation is another grand site. It’s maintained by South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources. I’ll put a link in this program transcript to the Picasa web album for that site as well. Don’t recall Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head, now, when you think of Edisto Island. Edisto is far different. And to my way of thinking, far more interesting.

Interview With Mr. Gregg Rubinstein on the U.S.-Japan Security Relationship During the Obama Administration

RCA: Last program we were able to persuade Dr. Skipp Orr to come on to explain in some detail the politics of the change in presidential administration in Washington from Bush to Obama. This week I’m hoping to ask Mr. Gregg Rubinstein to give us a little more detail on the policy side. Gregg, as you know, is a specialist in U.S.-Japan security relations. So let’s give him a call and see what he has to say.

[phone ringing]

GAR: Gregg Rubinstein

RCA: Good Morning Gregg.   This is Bob Angel in Columbia. Thanks for taking the call.

GAR: Good morning Bob. Good to hear from you.

RCA: As we discussed on e-mail a little earlier, I wonder if you could help us to better understand the U.S.-Japan security relationship these days. And how it’s likely to change under the incoming Obama Administration.

GAR: All right. Happy to help.

RCA: Let’s see, where should we begin?

GAR: Well, Bob, one point I’d like to make from the beginning is that there’s so much talk now about all of the obvious differences between the Bush period and what the Obama period promises to be. And I agree, in most areas of most policy issues, foreign and domestic. I certainly agree with a lot of the ideas predicting changes, and the desirability of changes. In the U.S.-Japan relationship, and particularly in security cooperation, though, I still emphasize the continuities more than the differences.

Enduring Security-Related Themes in the Bilateral Relationship

RCA: What specifically do you see as some of the enduring aspects of the security relationship that we’ll see continue under the Obama Administration?

GAR: Let’s go back a ways; past the Bush Administration, into the Clinton years. Even beyond that to George H.W. Bush, and the beginnings of post-Cold War reassessment of the U.S.-Japan security relationship. A lot of the milestones we talk about … the so-called Nye Initiative in the mid-1990s; the Nye-Armitage report that came out in 2000 that seemed to be an indicator of Bush policies then; and more recent assessments. Each of these milestones built up on a lot that already was happening before they ever surfaced to public attention. So you really do see a lot of continuity.

I wrote a memo on this recently in which I noted several issues that were brought up in the Nye-Armitage report of 2000. What they called “alliance transformation.” What were the objectives of the U.S. government then? They could be summarized, I think, as follows: Encouraging an expanded Japanese role in regional security affairs that covered peacekeeping, humanitarian relief operations, and a degree of more active presence in regional security that would finally get us over the hump of Japan’s long-standing ban on collective defense operations. That I think most of your listeners are all too familiar with.

Part of that is a redefinition of the roles and missions that U.S. and Japanese forces would undertake. Both bilaterally and in cooperation with third-country allies. Australia, for example. Even the Republic of Korea, and partners like Canada. Certainly there would have to be a major restructuring of the U.S. military presence in Japan. Not just tinkering with numbers. But even the rationale and basic approach to U.S. basing there.

And finally, more explicit emphasis on the industry acquisition aspects of defense cooperation. A subject that had not received enough treatment in earlier years. And yet was always a source of great benefit – or, as the FSX incident demonstrated, explosive confrontation between the two countries.

RCA: If I understand your position on this, you’re saying that even with an administration change, the new administration will face problems that were faced by the last. And indeed, previous administrations. And will have to cope with them nonetheless.

GAR: Absolutely. The agenda for the Obama Administration is going, in large measure, in overwhelming measure, I would say – be unfinished business, good or bad, from what’s occurred during the Bush Administration, and even a little earlier than that.

Japan's Likely Response

RCA: How will Japan respond to all of this? If we in the United States under an Obama presidency are asking for an expanded Japanese role in regional security? Are the Japanese now willing to do that?

GAR: I think, again, to answer that question you have to go back to see what’s happened over the last several years. There were a lot of positive developments. Especially during the years of Bush-Koizumi entente. A lot of the agenda I mentioned earlier was taken up in a fairly serious manner. Certainly there’ve been major developments in Japanese security policy. The latest defense guidance, the so-called National Defense Program Guidelines, the Mid-term Defense Programs that support it, the Japanese decision to take a more active presence in Indian Ocean operations. More regional security dialogue with other Asia Pacific partners. And, of course, the whole subject of missile defense which in many ways set the standard for developments in policy and operations, as well as acquisition matters, in alliance strengthening. The whole defense policy dialogue; the realignment roadmap for U.S. Forces in Japan which was the primary focus of the Security Consultative Committee, the so-called 2 + 2 policy statements (a series of four, which came out around 2005-07).

Now, a lot of that, as I said, was very positive. But I think, as we’re well aware, also, particularly in the last couple of years of the Bush Administration, as the credibility of that Administration declined, officials became increasingly focused on narrow process matters. And, of course, the post-Koizumi situation in Japan. A political confusion that’s persisted since. We’ve somewhat lost our way in the alliance. There’ve been a lot of points of friction. It shouldn’t be any surprise that ambitious agenda-building would be followed by a period of retrenchment.

But we’ve seen a lot in the way of sour feelings. Washington officials note a priority gap in implementing base realignment plans. They are frustrated with political squabbling in Tokyo over the renewal of the anti-terrorism legislation. Meanwhile, Japanese counterparts have criticized our approaches to North Korea that seemed to slight Japanese interests. They worry that U.S. fascination with China grows at Japan’s expense.

People who’ve been dealing with issues a long time recognize some familiar themes here. Japanese ambivalence towards entrapment in U.S. alliance matters on the one hand, and fear of abandonment on the other. None of this is new. We’re simply going through the latest cycle of this now.

Having said all of that, I think past shows of yours have covered pretty well the rather ambivalent reaction of Japan to Obama’s election, and how an Obama Administration would carry out its policy toward Japan.

RCA: That’s right. There’s been a lot of concern about that in Japan. Much of which, it seems to me, is misdirected. For reasons you describe.

GAR: Very much so.

RCA: Sure, there’s more continuity than there is dissonance. Even Skipp Orr mentioned that in the last program.

GAR: Right. Exactly. We’re all familiar with what you call misplaced expectations or assumptions – which is exactly the point. We’ve had decades now of Republican governments being seen as automatically more pro-Japan, less pro-China. As if those are zero-sum-game factors. Republicans have been thought to be more interested in security affairs; Democrats bash more on trade, etc., etc. I think those points of view are thoroughly out-dated. And it says much for what I would frankly call a lack of maturity in U.S.-Japan security dealings that these images continue to persist as strongly as they do.

RCA: How about some of the specific issues of concern? I hear some people saying, “Well, the Obama Administration will be all about Soft Power. So it’s unlikely that they will encourage Japan to do anything that might be constitutionally questionable.” And then other people say, “Well, the Obama Administration will be less sensitive to Japanese cultural differences and concerns, and therefore they may be more blunt with Japan.” Does any of this really matter, do you think?

GAR: Again, more nuance here than anything else. I think there’s going to be very little departure from the basic objectives of the alliance. Which is to encourage closer security cooperation. Generally recognize Japan as the lynchpin of U.S. security interests in the area. That’s something that’s going to persist. Not in a zero-sum relationship with growing involvement with China. That’s inevitable, given developments there. And, frankly, with other countries, given developments in the broader Asia-Pacific region. But the centrality of Japan, I think, is well understood.

But Some Likely Changes in Tone ...

Now, there may be some change in tone, and frankly, I think there has to be.

RCA: Hmmm. Like in what areas?

GAR: Let me give sort of a theme answer first. Then I’ll look at more specific examples. What I sense from some of the Obama-related people I’ve spoken to, and some of what I’ve seen in the various conference papers, and so forth. Less of an inclination to take a lot of the earlier alliance relationship baggage at face value. More of a tendency to want, and actually mean, a more up-to-date and constructive security relationship. Not just in defense. But in broader non-military terms as well. Less of a willingness, or perhaps I should say, a more skeptical approach toward stock answers.

Some issues are just going to have to be faced. The collective defense ban, for one thing. There’s going to have to be a more zero-based, and perhaps skeptical approach, to what we really want in base realignment. I think one criticism you could make of current actions is too literal a focus on some of the agenda issues worked out in the 2 + 2 statements. Over-focus on the problems of the relocation of the Futenma Base, for example. And maybe a need for a more holistic approach, looking again at what we really need in the way of a forward presence in Japan – number of facilities; number of people; more joint basing with Japanese forces, etc. That’s one side of it.

I would say there needs to be a much more thorough look at the industrial defense equipment and technology programs. Which can, if managed well, be a tremendous alliance strengthener, conveying economic as well as security benefits but as I’ve said to you a number of times, I think have not been managed very well. Certainly they have not been managed as strategic issues.

RCA: Do we have the political will on the Japanese side to go along with this? Or will we see this current Japanese domestic political scene, that I completely fail to understand ….

GAR: Oh well, who does? It’s an interesting question. Every conversation, it seems, I have with both government officials and business types and so on goes something along these lines: “Yes, we need to do this, this, and that. But the political situation is very difficult, and we don’t know if it can be done right now, and it may be a long time, and we don’t know how to proceed.” I listen to all of that, and then I ask: “When in the past – supply the number of years, depending on the age of the other person – When in the past 20, 30 or 35 years has the political situation ever been right for a change? When has it ever been the right time to do something? When haven’t there been good reasons to defer action?”

And, of course, there’s no answer to that question. Because the right answer is that there never has been. There’s always been a proclivity to quote constraints, to defer action, to say the situation is too delicate to deal with right now. I’m certainly not without understanding and a degree of sympathy with that point of view. I think part of the beginning of wisdom in any U.S. approach to Japan on alliance strengthening matters is to have a more finely attuned sense than we’ve often shown about where you really can put your foot down and press past a contrived excuse, as opposed to a truly genuine constraint. I think we’ve not been very good at knowing where the one ends and the other begins.

But to answer your question, obviously there is going to be a lot of political confusion, uncertainly. Certainly any transition from an LDP to a DPJ government, and all the issues that will entail, will cause a lot of turmoil and uncertainty. But as I pointed out to a group of Japanese Defense Ministry officials last week, maybe instead of saying the obvious, which is that these all are problems and concerns, maybe it’s time to view them as opportunities too.

I think, and have thought for a long time, that a lot of the Diet Members, the bureaucracy as well, and certainly among what you very aptly refer to as the attentive public in Japan, would welcome a more constructive debate on what are realistic security alternatives. But they still don’t get very much of that. They get very little in the way of real ideas, proposals, plans for action, whatever. Instead, things still remain very polarized. One would think that even today there’s hardly any choice between sticking to time-worn constitutional interpretations that often really aren’t constitutional matters at all. Like collective defense, or the three principles ban on arms exports, on the one hand, and lurching off toward some revisit to the militarist past on the other.

The Future of Gai-Atsu

RCA: I’ve always thought that Japan’s policy formulation process on defense – not implementation, but formulation process on security affairs, was driven by gai-atsu, or external pressure. And that Japan relied upon using the gai-atsu excuse in order to do things that most everybody in Japan knew had to be done, but for which they didn’t want to take the political blame.

GAR: I think there’s a lot to that. Having worked on trade negotiations as well as defense-related agreements, I see a lot of similarities in the Japanese government’s approach to both sorts of issues.

RCA: Is that going to continue? Or is Japan going to become more independent, or self-directed, in its security concerns? Perhaps because of the situation with China? Or even the Koreas?

GAR: The default answer is that it’s going to be very easy for the officials to do what they’ve done in the past. Who was it who came up with the phrase a long time ago: “As much as necessary, and as little as possible”? I saw that in the trade negotiations. I’ve seen it in more recent defense agreements – everything from base re-negotiations to production agreements for a given piece of defense equipment.

It’s a well-worn very well honed tactic that on the whole has served Japanese government interests quite well. But it’s obviously not good enough anymore. The world is changing. We see the issues with China. We see North Korea. Beyond that, many more trends from which Japan cannot remain aloof. So, you’re right. I think, like it or not, inevitably Japan is going to have to take a more pro-active, and somewhat more think-for-itself independent view of how to approach its security interests and deals with the U.S.

Now, of course, for our part, we say we want that. We say we want Japan to be more constructive, take more initiative, and so forth. But unfortunately we usually still do it with the patron-client baggage. “Do more, but continue to do what we want.”

RCA: Right. Do more of what we say!

GAR: Yes, and that’s reflected in the Japanese approach too – to want the status of an equal partnership, and to be acknowledged as sitting at the head of the table. The permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council is a good example of that. But, when put to the test, “Oh, please, understand our particular interests, and accommodate our unique needs. And treat us the way a good patron would treat a faithful client.”

RCA: Those days are over!

GAR: Yes, those days have been over for a while. But there’s a significant time lag here. We haven’t really caught up with, yet. I’m frankly hoping that some of the dialogue that will take place through the Obama Administration, whose people on the whole carry much less of this baggage than have their predecessors, will move us somewhat forward in this direction. It’s going to be bumpy and painful to some extent. There’s going to be a lot more, I suspect, candid dialogue. And maybe some hurt feelings. More than in the past. But it has to happen. To me, this is neither a good or bad thing. It’s inevitable. And better to deal with it sooner than to let such problems fester.

Significance of a Weaker Kantei These Days

RCA: I don’t disagree with you. But one thing concerns me on the Japanese side, however. And that’s the role of the Kantei, or Prime Minister’s Office. Since, or even before the Koizumi era, but especially under the Koizumi premiership, we saw the role of the prime minister’s office in the conduct of foreign relations strengthened. And that meant that the roles of other institutions, bureaucratic institutions, were weakened to some degree. Now, we see a Kantei that seems to be not as either willing or able to lead. And yet the rest of the Japanese bureaucracy remains waiting to hear the signals. Can you sort that sort of thing out for us on the Japanese side?

GAR: I agree with your view of the problem. I certainly welcomed the greater presence of direct Kantei involvement in major foreign policy and security issues. And a greater Diet involvement as well. The issues are simply too big to be left entirely in the hands of narrow and self-absorbed bureaucracies that often have more trouble working with each other than dealing with the outside world. This has been a critical problem. This is a critical problem for bureaucracies everywhere, but more so in Japan than most. The loss of direction of Kantei leadership has been very serious.

I don’t have a ready answer for that, Bob. Except, again, to hope that there will be promotion of a wider dialogue in the Diet, and with the attentive public. And the gaining of more confidence and competence among rank-and-file Diet members in asking questions and acquiring some more knowledge of their own on this situation.

How Would an Ozawa Cabinet Affect Bilateral Relations?

RCA: That makes sense. What if there were an Ozawa Administration or Ozawa Cabinet? I’m not saying there will be. I don’t make predictions on this program. I don’t get paid enough to do that. But, what if there were? How would that affect the way Tokyo will cope with the new administration in Washington?

GAR: It goes back to a point we made earlier; that there’s going to be a great deal of dislocation in moving from the old and worn LDP methods to a group of people that are unknown. Well, somewhat unknown. Obviously, in the case of Ozawa and some other key people, known. But most largely unknown to us, and largely inexperienced in what it takes to be government, rather than snipe at government, and the policies they engender. This is going to be a huge transition, and it is going to be very messy.

If I were on an Obama Japan team more directly I would advise them to figure out their agenda, press it to the extent it’s constructive, but expect a lot of messiness in dealing. Expect consultations and negotiations that are often as much exercises in teaching as they are in give-and-take horse-trading. I think that’s the way a lot of our negotiations have worked in the past, and probably will be more so in the future as this new group finds its way. Whatever the posturing now, in the sense that Ozawa has done over issues like Indian Ocean operations and satellite policies, I suspect this will fairly quickly go by the wayside when the realities of government confront them. Something which always makes people roll more toward the pragmatic center.

Or a Fractionalized Party System Coalition?

RCA: I’m not the only one who thinks so. Many political analysts in Tokyo now say it’s not likely that either the LDP or the DPJ will gain a majority out of the next Lower House general election. But that we’ll end up with quite a complex coalition government there. Not necessarily a LDP-DPJ Grand Coalition of the sort we’ve heard talked about. But sort of one pieced together from the major parties fracturing. If that should happen, how do you think that would affect things?

GAR: I’m very concerned about that. As much as I’d like to see a more constructive give-and-take, less patron-client relationship, and focused interaction between the United States and Japan, I’m very much afraid that if there is the kind of Japanese political situation that you just described, where you have an almost Israel-like complex, of multi-faceted coalition governments that can’t really agree on much of anything – and are more or less self-paralyzed – then Japan is going to find itself left behind and left out. The rest of the world will go on. The U.S. will have to deal with other countries in the region, and the world generally. While it should pay due attention to Japanese concerns, the degree to which it will do so is not a given. Japan will have to speak out in its own interests. I only hope they’re able to do so.

Is Japan Taking a More Independent Role in Asia?

RCA: Speaking of that, what do you think about the summits being held these days in East Asia. Specifically the Dazaifu Summit with China, South Korea, and Japan. And then this recent bilateral summit between South Korea and Japan. Is this an indication of a more independent Japan foreign policy? Or is it something else?

GAR: I think these are long overdue and very welcome moves. Again. I do not have a view of a zero-sum relationship between Japan extending itself to regional dialogues that don’t directly involve the U.S. and the centrality of the U.S.-Japan relationship. I think the more such meetings that happen, the better in terms of integrating Japan more effectively with the regional community, and encouraging similar forthcoming behavior by China. And even to some extent by South Korea. Getting past a lot of the baggage of history, if you will. So, yes, this is something we should encourage. I’m not afraid of a more “independent” Japanese approach to these affairs. Demonstration of some thinking that isn’t simply a measure of how to deal with gai-atsu, and reaction to what the U.S. is thinking, has got to be both more credible within the Japanese government structure itself, and certainly far more credible to the Japanese public.

RCA: I agree with you. Although independent policy formulation in a democratic society requires some, at least, general consensus on the goals. And I’m not sure that Japan’s current political structure at the national level is congruent with that, or reflects those public goals.

GAR: Let me ask you the question I’ve asked my Japanese interlocutors. When in the past 30 years has it ever reflected such a condition? When has it ever supported such rethinking of policy?

RCA: I would say that it probably did during the early 1950s when the overwhelming national objective for Japan was economic recovery and rapid economic growth.

GAR: Right. In other words, before the 1955 System got set in stone. I would agree with you on that. But that was an extraordinary period. And what we’ve had is very much a period of arrested development since then. Certainly in terms of foreign and security policies.

RCA: Yes, foreign and security policies were very much secondary, weren’t they, for the Japanese during this period. And remained so. The LDP during the 1960s, and even some of the 1970s, was either unable or unwilling to confront the Socialist Party. There used to be a Socialist Party in Japan. And create confusion in the Diet that would be interpreted by Japan’s media as an “Empty Diet.”

GAR: And there was no reason for them to.

RCA: Didn’t have to, did they.

GAR: Basically, whatever we thought of the particular foibles of some of the LDP-Socialist confrontations in the Diet, the system during those years, worked very well.

RCA: As long as there was a universal, over-arching national objective that could be pursued.

GAR: Yes. What we have now is the price of success. Namely that all the institutions and mindsets that got built up during that period have become ossified, and have persisted long after the objective conditions have changed.

RCA: That’s right.

GAR: That’s why it is getting broken down. It’s inevitable. Again, I say it’s neither good nor bad. It’s about time it’s happening. I’m inclined to look at all of these changes, however one is going to describe the post-1955 or the post-War System, or whatever they come to call it as being inevitable and something we need to take advantage of rather than to fear.

RCA: Well, let’s hope you’re right. I have imposed upon your good will here for far longer than we agreed on. As is usual. But is there anything else that we should mention before we close off and you get back to work making a living?

GAR: No. I think we’ve covered a lot of ground here. If there’s any interest in feedback or questions or further follow-up, I’m always available.

RCA: You’re most generous with your time. And I certainly appreciate your support for the Japan Considered Project over all these years. Thanks a lot.

GAR: Thank you, Bob. It’s a pleasure, as always.

RCA: Good bye.

Concluding Comments

Well, there you have it. We’re way over time this week. But it’s all for a good cause. It’s hard to get better, more balanced commentary on U.S-Japan relations, especially on the poorly understood security/military aspects of the relationship, than that we get from Gregg Rubinstein. It’s doubly difficult when political fevers are at the temperature they are now with a change of Administration in Washington. Gregg manages to rise above the dust of battle. So, thanks again Gregg. And,

Goodbye all. Until next time.