Japan and Germany: American Concerns

For over half a century Japan and Germany have been at the heart of America's international preoccupations. After a long and destructive war against both countries, the United States worked exhaustively to help its two erstwhile enemies recover and build democratic societies secure under the American defense umbrella. From the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, victor and vanquished moved to a more balanced relationship, especially in trade and finance. Today, in one of history's great role reversals, Tokyo and Bonn have become Washington's fierce trading rivals and also its primary bankers.

The relationship between the United States and its two allies-and, indeed, between Japan and Germany themselves-is now changing dramatically. In the 1990s economic pressures are likely to be the major factor reshaping ties among the three nations. What will the consequent environment look like? What will be the most important points of contention? How should the United States respond?

The search for answers has to go beyond homilies about better coordination, burden-sharing and new partnerships. It should begin instead with a clear-eyed look at the difficult issues arising from these countries today. It should focus on the interests of Japan and Germany, and how their governments, businesses and populations are likely to deal with the crucial issues of growth, trade and finance, as well as how they are likely to behave in certain geographical regions. Finally, it will be important to determine the degree to which the challenges of Japan and Germany ought to be viewed together.

Tokyo and Bonn could be responsible for some of America's biggest headaches in the upcoming years. Each could present Washington with almost intractable problems deriving from their domestic drives, and in some important cases their interests could converge in opposition to America's needs. This combined challenge should lead as quickly as possible to serious soul searching, in the Bush Administration and Congress, for a more effective policy framework.

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