Americans who follow trends in Japanese security policies tend to divide into those who see little significant change, particularly in terms of the central importance of the U.S. alliance, and those who believe that Japan is poised to embark on a more assertive and independent course involving independent military capabilities and an important role in regional security. Which view is more nearly correct, and how the balance is struck between autonomy and alliance, are crucially important questions, both in themselves and in terms of U.S.-Japan relations.

There can be little doubt that Japanese thinking has entered a new phase, over the last decade but especially in the past few years, and that the central factor underlying Japanese concern with what has come to be called "comprehensive security" is a marked shift in Japanese perceptions and attitudes concerning the United States. In an important and illuminating report for then Prime Minister Ohira, a group of specialists headed by Masamichi Inoki noted this shift in July 1980 in no uncertain terms: "the most fundamental change in the international situation which emerged in the 1970s was the end of American superiority both militarily and economically."1 No longer could the United States be depended upon to underwrite a stable international currency system, to guarantee Japanese access to energy and raw materials, or to secure Japanese political interests in a stable political order.

Such a view, which sometimes takes the form of an exaggerated perception of American weakness and decline, has been reflected to some extent in Japanese policy-in its relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in its Arab tilt after the 1973 oil boycott, in the new interest in military defense, and in the willingness of some of its leaders to express their views more forthrightly than in the past on a variety of international issues.

But the perception of the end of the age of pax Americana has not yet had a more fundamental impact on Japanese security policies. This is not particularly surprising. Declining confidence in the credibility of American support does not necessarily lead to a desire to abandon it. As Fritz Stern recently wrote of West Germany's leadership, mainstream Japanese leaders-however apprehensive about American policy they may be-are not ready "to commit suicide out of a fear of death."2 Few but the most extreme elements on the Right and the Left favor a Japanese security policy independent of the U.S. security treaty structure.

Moreover, the shift in attitudes toward the United States has not yet worked its way through the political system. Public opinion is not ready for new bold policy directions, nor is there a clear sense of the options available to Japan. Thus there is an ambivalence in attitudes about the United States, a fluidity in current Japanese thinking about security, and a tentative and limited quality to the consensus that presently prevails.

Furthermore, caution, a risk-minimizing orientation to international political affairs, and a conviction that more costs than benefits would result from a major military role that would move beyond a limited conception of conventional self-defense remain keynotes of Japanese foreign policy. But there is also a new assertiveness that arises not simply from an awareness of the country's economic power but from a new sense of confidence in the strength of the nation's economic, social, and political institutions and in the Japanese way of doing things. The feeling that Japan should "do something" in international affairs more than doggedly pursue its own economic self-interest has become widespread. But agreement about what that "something" should be has yet to be forged.

Against this general background, let us look more closely at Japan's foreign policy toward the Soviet Union and China, and how Japanese leaders view American policy toward these countries, and then at the state of Japanese thinking concerning their own defense posture. These are not the only issues that are potential sources of tension in dealings between Tokyo and Washington-one thinks at once of bilateral economic problems and the Middle East. But they involve central security problems on which serious disagreements are conceivable. And finally let us take a close look at the changing character of Japanese political leadership in the next decade, which has its own important implications for the conduct of Japan's foreign relations and for U.S. efforts to maintain and strengthen a relationship vital both to U.S. policy in East Asia and to broader American national interests.


Japan is not pursuing an equidistant policy toward Moscow and Peking, nor is it likely to seek a balance in its relations with its two large communist neighbors for the foreseeable future. There are strong indications that economic relations with China will continue to grow more than those with the Soviet Union, that cultural relations with China will expand while those with the Soviet Union will stagnate, and that political relations-assuming the absence of major policy shifts on the part of either the Soviet Union or the People's Republic-will be generally positive with the PRC and relatively acrimonious in the case of the U.S.S.R.

The last time two-way trade between Japan and the Soviet Union exceeded that between Japan and China was in 1976. Since then trade with China has grown at a much faster rate than that with the Soviet Union, the gap growing wider in the aftermath of Afghanistan. Two-way trade with China in the first half of 1980 amounted to $3,992 million while that with the Soviet Union was $2,158 million. Japanese exports to the Soviet Union, in fact, declined absolutely in dollar terms in the first half of 1980 compared to the first half of 1979.

Anti-Soviet sentiment in Japan is strong, and it is growing. The reasons are not hard to discern: increased Soviet naval power in the waters surrounding Japan, a military buildup on the disputed northern islands and total intransigence on the issue of their reversion, Soviet support for Vietnam's efforts to impose a client regime in Kampuchea, the Afghanistan invasion, and more generally a Soviet diplomatic style toward Japan which is marked by an almost total inflexibility and a seemingly purposeful indifference to Japanese reactions. Though few serious people worry about a Soviet attack on Japan in the absence of a wider conflagration, the perception of the Soviet Union as posing a threat to Japan has grown both among elite groups and the public at large. It has been a major factor in spurring Japanese to consider military issues more seriously than before.

Both for these reasons and because of then Prime Minister Ohira's determination to demonstrate the importance Japan attaches to the U.S. alliance, the Japanese government, after an initial hesitation, moved in step with the Carter Administration in imposing sanctions on the Soviet Union to protest its invasion of Afghanistan. In addition to forcing the Japanese Olympic Committee to boycott the Moscow games, the government brought a halt to most trade talks then ongoing. Negotiations relating to 14 projects valued at $4-5 billion were suspended; new Japanese plant exports to the U.S.S.R. virtually ceased; and a freeze was put on new loans through the Japanese Export-Import Bank for exports to Moscow on a deferred-payment basis.

Japan's position was considerably more cooperative with U.S. policy than that of key West European countries, and as 1980 progressed Japanese businessmen began complaining, with considerable justification, that they were losing contracts to European competitors. In the first half of 1980 Japan ceded to France its erstwhile position as the Soviet Union's second largest non-communist trading partner (the first being West Germany). So it is hardly surprising that Japanese support for sanctions is now waning. They see the American determination to retain sanctions wavering, and are convinced that the Russians are in Afghanistan for a long time to come and that further Japanese fidelity to U.S. policies will only lead Moscow into deals with European, and possibly American, firms. At the end of 1980 Japan agreed to extend new credits by its Export-Import Bank totalling 208.8 billion yen for coking coal development in South Yakutsk and for the exploitation of Siberian forestry resources.

Even with sanctions removed, however, it is unlikely that trade between the Soviet Union and Japan will expand very greatly. At the best of times Soviet trade has not exceeded more than about two and a half percent of Japanese total trade, and some of the Siberian projects on which Japanese participation was most sought by the Soviet Union failed to elicit an enthusiastic Japanese response long before Afghanistan or the recent expansion of Soviet military capabilities in the Far East. Considerations of cost, security of supply, the absence of American participation, and the potential military uses of the projects proposed, as well as a concern for Chinese sensitivities, have made Japanese government and business leaders cautious about Soviet economic relations.

The Japanese government does not appear to be prepared to take any initiatives to try to improve Soviet relations. While there are disagreements among Japanese leaders as to how to deal with the Soviet Union, the dominant sentiment at the moment is that any improvement in the relationship will have to come on Soviet initiative. The Soviet Union, according to this view, has as much if not more to lose from a further deterioration in relations, and hence Japan can refuse to offer concessions or move to improve the relationship without incurring serious costs. Thus there is a curious mixture in current Japanese thinking: on the one hand, anxiety about Soviet intentions and capabilities; on the other, a new degree of self-confidence that Japan can live perfectly well with the present unsatisfactory state of the relationship.

At the same time, precisely because the Soviet Union is potentially Japan's most dangerous neighbor, there is a widespread view that efforts should be made to avoid policies or actions that would worsen the relationship. Japan continues to try to reassure the Soviets that it is not lining up with the Chinese in an anti-Soviet bloc; it will attempt to keep the door open for expanded Soviet ties should Soviet diplomatic strategy toward Japan change. But given the record of Soviet diplomacy toward Japan, the possibility of a more intelligent strategy must be regarded as extremely small.

What about the Japanese view of American policy toward the Soviet Union? Despite their own anti-Soviet views, Japanese leadership groups share a general lack of confidence in American leadership and a feeling that Japan has been pulled to and fro by excessively wide swings in American policy, especially during the Carter Administration. Indeed, some influential Japanese have interpreted these swings as being, at least in part, an effort to deflect public attention away from, and an unwillingness to come to grips with, a variety of difficult domestic problems. The Inoki report cited earlier more than hints at this perception: "Unfortunately, it is easier to take a hardline anti-Soviet stance given the opportunity presented by the Afghanistan problem than to come to grips with energy conservation, easier to criticize the 'invasion' of Japanese-made goods than to work to increase productivity or change industrial structure."

It is still too early to say how Japanese leaders perceive the Reagan Administration's Soviet policy. Clearly there is support for the new Administration's efforts to strengthen America's military position. Just as clearly, there is apprehension lest U.S. policy become totally confrontationist and increase the risks of conflict. One hardly need underscore the ambivalence evident here. Japan will go along with a tough U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union up to a point, because it perceives the need for toughness and because it views positive relations with the United States as essential to its security. But it would be unlikely to associate itself with a posture that effectively closed off avenues to possible accommodation with the U.S.S.R., particularly if Western Europe persists in efforts to preserve détente at the cost even of considerable discord in European-American relations. And should American policy include what were perceived to be attempts to build an anti-Soviet entente with China and Japan, the Japanese reaction would be even more negative, on all present indications. Japan is in a sharp tilt toward China, but it is not about to fall into an anti-Soviet tripartite alliance or a de facto security relationship.


Although the normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations in 1972 came in response to the new political situation created by the Nixon Administration's opening of relations with the PRC, the thrust of Japanese policy toward China since then has been overwhelmingly economic. As China's internal policies turned more pragmatic and development-oriented, the Japanese became for a time enthusiastic boosters of trade ties with China, signing a long-term trade agreement in 1978 and entering into contracts to export large-scale plants and equipment needed for China's crash modernization drive.

However, shortly after the signing of that trade agreement, it became evident that China's planners had set totally unrealistic targets, and the Japanese settled down to more modest appraisals of the short- to medium-term potential of China both as a source of needed supplies and as a market for Japanese goods. Like the Chinese themselves, the Japanese have come to realize the difficulties of modernizing the economy and the long period of time that will be required. The Chinese cancellation of contracts for some 17 Japanese steelmaking and petrochemical plants this February removed any doubts on that score. Nonetheless, Japan, unlike the United States, has a long-term economic strategy, and in that strategy China continues to occupy a significant though limited position.

Of Japan's total exports in 1979, 3.6 percent went to China. On the other hand Japan accounts for nearly a quarter of total Chinese imports. Although Japan's market share has declined slightly in the past couple of years and may decline a little further, given a PRC policy that seeks to diversify China's sources of imports, the size of Sino-Japanese trade and its continuing expansion remain impressive by any measure. The annual volume of trade between the two countries increased almost six times in the seven years following the normalization agreement in 1972, at an average annual growth rate of 29 percent. Excluding transactions with OPEC nations, this is a faster rate of growth than Japan had with any other country in the world.

In terms of exports, China in 1979 was Japan's seventh largest market, with chemical fertilizers, steel, and machinery and equipment, especially machinery for textile production, cargo handling, mining, construction, and agriculture being the major export items. The increases in machinery and equipment exports within the past few years have been dramatic, increasing from 11.2 percent of Japanese exports to China in 1977 to 30.7 percent in 1979 and 40.2 percent in the first half of 1980.

But the important feature of Japan's economic intercourse with China is not only the size of the exchange but the direct link between Japan's trade and loan policies and China's modernization program, particularly the development of agriculture, textile industries, and energy-related exploration, development and transportation. The successful modernization of those particular sectors would enable Japan to increase imports precisely in those areas where it has no significant domestic capability, i.e., energy and foodstuffs, and those where it is phasing out its own industry, as in fairly simple textiles.

The energy picture, however, has so far been a disappointing one. The 1978 long-term trade agreement between the two countries called for shipment of 9.5 million tons of crude oil in 1981 and 15 million tons in 1982, targets that clearly will not be met. In drawing up these targets the Chinese simply failed to anticipate the difficulties they would face in bringing new wells into operation or even keeping production increasing from existing wells. Total Chinese crude oil production in 1980 appears to have declined somewhat compared to the previous year, and the target for 1981 is to try to keep production at 1980 levels. Chinese crude oil exports to Japan in 1980 totalled about 8 million tons, and this total appears likely to rise only slightly, if at all, in 1981 and 1982. In terms of Japan's total oil imports of 242 million tons (1979), this is but a drop in the bucket.

From the Chinese standpoint, however, crude oil is the vital element in its trade balance with Japan: even though the volume has not gone up significantly in the past three years, price rises have dramatically increased its value, so that crude oil accounted for 42.4 percent of Japanese imports from China in the first half of 1980 and was the major factor in nearly wiping out the previous pattern of Chinese deficits in the bilateral trade balance. Both countries have obvious major stakes in the development of China's energy resources-coal and gas as well as oil-and Japan is deeply involved financially in efforts to expand production. But current prospects are not encouraging, either in terms of Japan's desire to diversify its energy sources or China's need for foreign exchange.

In the late 1970s some Americans (and a few Japanese) were concerned about Japan's getting too big a share of the Chinese market, to the point of creating political frictions with the United States. In the three years from 1977 to 1979, however, U.S. exports to China rose tenfold (from $171 million to $1,723 million), and while most of this was agricultural commodities, the proportion of manufactured goods has grown steadily and is now a substantial 35 percent of total exports. While U.S. investment and capital equipment exports to China are still well below those of Japan, the United States has established a competitive position; this is healthy from every standpoint, as a foundation for the overall Sino-American relationship and also because a situation in which Japan gained major economic benefits while the United States concentrated on issues of higher strategy would indeed contain the seeds for major discord in bilateral U.S.-Japan relations. While there surely is room for Japanese-American joint efforts to contribute to Chinese economic development, one should not equate the desirability of cooperation with an absence of competition. The critical challenge to U.S. policy in terms of economic relations with China is not to lessen competition with Japan but to foster it.

A similar point can be made about American economic intercourse with Asian countries as a whole. An inability on the part of the United States to maintain an economically competitive position would eventually undercut domestic support for a major political and military role in the region. It could lead to political problems in the bilateral U.S.-Japan relationship, particularly if a pattern emerges in which Japan retains a dominant position in the export of machinery and equipment for industries in the middle-income Asian countries that find their major export markets in the United States.

What, then, of the Japanese view of their own political relations with China, and of the Sino-American political relationship? From 1972 onward, Japanese leaders were intensely concerned about the possible impact on their Soviet relations of the appearance of a close Sino-Japanese political relationship. They refused to accept the anti-hegemony clause proposed by China for inclusion in a Sino-Japanese peace treaty and thus delayed conclusion of the treaty until 1978, when a compromise was struck to replace the language proposed by the Chinese-which was clearly anti-Soviet in intent-with a more general statement opposing hegemonism.

The Japanese were not only determined to decouple their China and Soviet policies but also reluctant to face up to the implications for Japan of the strategic thrust of the American rapprochement with China. After the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the United States and China in 1978, many Japanese leaders became concerned with what they saw as growing American enthusiasm for playing a "China card" to contain Soviet expansionism. But their response was largely confined to reassuring the Soviet Union that they were not playing the same game.

This basic orientation has not changed. At the present time, however, though there continues to be no substantial support in Tokyo for a China policy that would align Japan with China and the United States in an anti-Soviet united front, there appears to be a much less anxious attitude than was evident a couple of years ago both about Sino-American cooperation and about the impact on the Soviet Union of Japan's own policies toward China.

Japanese reactions to the meeting of Premier Hua Guofeng with President Jimmy Carter in Tokyo in June 1980 are indicative of the current Japanese mood. Contrary to the worries of some, Japan did not appear at all nervous about the impression of an emerging triple alliance that might be created in Moscow by having Hua and Carter meet in Tokyo. On the contrary, the whole country seemed to delight in being host to that meeting-because it put the Ohira memorial service at least on a par with Tito's in terms of "funeral summitry," because it made Japan the stage for what was seen as a historic event, and because it was a neat way to take a slap at the Russians who sent no one higher than the Ambassador to Japan to represent the country at the service.

It may well be that the relaxed, even nonchalant, attitude with which many Japanese political and business leaders view U.S. China policy results from a belief that the United States will not move very far in developing a security relationship with China or that the course of Sino-American relations will not, in any case, have an adverse impact on a Japanese policy committed to keeping the country divorced from efforts to manipulate China ties for purposes of restraining the Soviet Union in its political behavior. But there are other factors that contribute to this Japanese attitude and which reflect significantly on a number of more general features of Japanese foreign policy orientations.

Japanese increasingly talk of a division of responsibility between the United States and Japan in helping China modernize its economy, with the United States, as is appropriate to its great power status, assuming primary responsibility for geopolitical concerns while the Japanese extend loans, technical assistance and in other ways contribute to China's economic development. In this new version of the separation of economics and politics, it is difficult for Japan to be openly critical of U.S. policy on matters relating to geopolitical strategy and at the same time avoid being drawn more directly into this strategy. There remains a tendency in Japan to view Sino-Japanese relations in an almost completely bilateral context, while Sino-American relations are seen as part and parcel of a larger geopolitical game.

Thus, for Japan, American China policy is important primarily to the extent it affects Japan's bilateral ties with Peking and with Moscow. From such a vantage point the best way to limit any potentially adverse impact on these relationships is for Japan to tend to its own business and stay out of the geopolitical game. The issue of U.S. military assistance to the PRC is a case in point. No matter how seriously it might privately express its concerns, Japan would rather not have to take a public position. It does not lose much in its Soviet relations by failing to make public its concerns about the direction of U.S. China policy, and the improvement in Soviet relations that might result from openly criticizing trends in Sino-American relations it considers worrisome would probably not be as great as the strains that would arise in its relations with both the United States and China. And since the U.S. government, despite its rhetoric of viewing Japan as the cornerstone of its East Asian policy, has not sought to consult with Japan in formulating its China policies, the Japanese are under no pressure to take a position-even though the course of Sino-American relations will in the long run affect their interests as much as anyone else and could also lead to serious difficulties between Japan and the United States.

But it is not only the legacy of a small power mentality which accounts for the spectator posture Japanese often adopt vis-à-vis Sino-American relations. Japanese also are realistic about the implications of Chinese modernization, cognizant that an economically developed China would not remain a militarily backward one and aware that their own exports and economic assistance contribute, both indirectly and directly, to greater Chinese military strength. Japan, for example, is helping China develop a capacity to produce special metals such as aluminum, magnesium, titanium, cobalt and nickel which are necessary for the building of modern aircraft and for ballistic missile development. Thus Japanese leaders do not see any reason to get excited over minor U.S. military-related exports that do not in any case threaten Japan, even though the seriousness with which some Americans see such military assistance, or the threat of it, as a powerful constraining factor on Soviet behavior is widely viewed as naïve.

At the present time there is a strong complementarity in U.S. and Japanese policies toward the PRC. As has often been pointed out, this is one of the few periods in modern history when the United States has had positive and friendly relations with both China and Japan. But whether this complementarity prevails in the future largely hinges on the evolution of Sino-American relations. Japanese leaders do not accept assumptions popular with some American leaders about the feasibility of managing China relations for purposes of constraining the Soviet Union, nor do they accept the view that a major effort to build up Japan's military capabilities would contribute to maintaining the balance of power in East Asia. Japan will go along, up to a point, with American policy toward China for all the reasons mentioned above and, most of all, because of the simple fact that Japanese continue to view close ties with the United States as absolutely essential to their country's security. But, to repeat, there is a clear limit to Japanese willingness to be drawn into any effort to align the United States, China and Japan in an anti-Soviet entente. Such an effort could well lead Japan to try to repair its relations with the Soviet Union, especially if Western Europe, and West Germany in particular, move away from Washington on Soviet policy and toward accommodation with Moscow.


Up to this point we have been discussing Japanese attitudes largely in terms of leadership groups. However, the specific issues of Japan's own defense posture have now engaged the wider Japanese public. Both Japanese leaders and the public at large are giving military issues more serious thought than has been true for many years, with matters long treated as taboo more openly discussed, and with movement toward a strengthening of Japan's military capabilities.

Overall, support for the security treaty and for the existence and gradual strengthening of the self-defense forces has markedly increased. The political opposition has now for the most part accepted the treaty and recognized the legitimacy of the self-defense forces. Even the Socialist Party has moved to a position of defending the status quo, though it retains a formal commitment to unarmed neutrality in its official doctrine. But growing support for a Japanese defense role still leaves the crucial issue of how much, and how fast, Japan should expand its defense capabilities, and this question has generated enormous public controversy. Public opinion surveys show increasing public support for a strengthening of the self-defense forces but they also show an increase in support for Article Nine of the constitution-and they give no indication of change about desirable priorities in government expenditures, which still overwhelmingly favor increased social welfare-related programs and a limited defense budget.

Within mainstream Japanese leadership opinion, one can identify three major viewpoints concerning Japan's defense policy. One group sees a growing Soviet threat, diminishing U.S. power and credibility, and the opportunity and desirability for Japan to develop its own autonomous defense and to move away from what is perceived as a subordinate relationship to the United States. Another, well reflected in the Inoki commission report cited above, argues that the Soviet threat is real and that Japan can and should do more to contain it by gradually increasing defensive capabilities within the context of the U.S.-Japan alliance, an alliance essential to securing Japan's national interests. A third group adopts a minimal response position, arguing that the major threats to Japanese interests come not from the Soviet Union but from the vulnerabilities inherent in an economy totally dependent on outside sources for its food, energy and raw material supplies, that Japan's most important relationship is the one with the United States, and that Japan's defense buildup therefore should be the minimum necessary to avoid a crisis in Japanese-American relations.

Among these three groups, it is largely the views of the minimal response group, well represented in the bureaucracy and among the political leadership, that have been most influential in formulating Japanese defense policy to date. But the balance has been shifting. The Afghanistan invasion in particular appears to have reinforced and made more widespread Japanese awareness of the essentiality of the U.S. alliance for Japan's well-being, hence weakening at least at the current time the appeal of the supporters of autonomous defense and strengthening the position of those who advocate greater Japanese efforts within the U.S. alliance context.

However, one should not exaggerate the degree of movement toward a more forthcoming defense posture or underestimate the domestic opposition to major departures in Japan's defense policy. Voices within the conservative establishment that have for a long time spoken of the desirability of Japan developing greater military power are now heard more loudly but, contrary to the impression conveyed in much of the Western press reporting on the Japanese defense debate, they remain a minority within leadership circles and obtain little support among the population at large. There is not much evidence that Japan can be pressured to do considerably more in expanding its defense capabilities than it currently plans to do, or that the deterioration in the international security environment that was both symbolized and furthered by the invasion of Afghanistan will shock Japan into doing more.

For one thing, many Japanese leaders feel that they are already making a substantial effort. The real rate of increase in defense expenditures over the past decade has been higher than that of America's European allies, not to mention the United States itself, and in 1980 and 1981 the increase in spending on defense was higher than the increase in the budget as a whole. Japan now contributes more than $1 billion annually to the costs of U.S. forces in Japan, and its forces are involved to an unprecedented degree in joint military exercises with the United States, including maritime self-defense force participation in 1980 for the first time in a Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise that involved Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well as the United States.

Furthermore, the absolute size of the Japanese defense budget is large and the proportion going for procurement of new weapons and other equipment has been rising considerably faster than the increase in the total defense budget. Personnel expenses have declined from 56 percent of the budget in 1976 to 49.3 percent in 1980 while the budget share for procurement rose in the same period from 16.4 percent to 20.7 percent. The proportion of the defense budget allotted to personnel expenses can be expected to fall a little further assuming a continuation of a pattern of moderate wage increases for government employees (as well as in the private sector) and no major increases in the size of the land self-defense forces.

But it is equally evident that Japanese defense efforts, even in the aftermath of Afghanistan, have been extremely limited. While it is true that in fiscal year 1980 Japan spent approximately ten billion dollars on defense, making it number eight in the world in terms of absolute outlays, this amounted to only 0.90 percent of gross national product (GNP) and translates into a per capita expense of $87 compared to $520 for the United States and $396 for West Germany. The Japanese defense budget has quadrupled in the past ten years (from 569.5 billion yen in 1970 to 2230.2 billion yen in 1980), a growth rate averaging seven percent annually in real terms, but defense expenditures as a percentage of the national budget have steadily declined (from 13.61 percent in 1955 to 7.16 percent in 1970 and 5.24 percent in 1980).

The Suzuki government, prior to the Ministry of Finance compilation of a draft budget for the fiscal year 1981, announced that the Defense Agency would seek a 9.7 percent increase in its budget compared to the 6.5 percent increase it received in 1980 and an MOF ceiling of 7.2 percent for other ministry requests for increases in the 1981 budget. But when the budget finally was compiled it contained an increase of only 7.6 percent for the Defense Agency. On the one hand, this is the first time in the postwar period that the percentage increase in the defense budget was as large as that for social welfare-related programs, cut from a 9.8 percent increase in 1980 to 7.6 percent in the proposed 1981 budget. But it also is only the second time in recent years (1980 was the first) that the annual increase in defense expenditures will have fallen below ten percent. This makes it doubtful that Japan will achieve the buildup goals specified in the Defense Agency's 1979 midterm program estimates even within the five years originally projected, much less in four years as the Carter Administration had been urging.

The growing gap between American expectations and Japanese performance in improving Japan's military capabilities is a problem that is in large part of Japan's own making. Mainly out of a desire to placate American opinion and to demonstrate their intention to expand defensive capabilities over the long run, Japanese government leaders tend to emphasize to foreigners not why they believe the government's defense policy is appropriate but rather why more time is needed to educate public opinion to the necessity of greater military efforts. Since the implication of this stance is that their defense policy is not rooted in a coherent doctrine, but simply represents the maximum effort possible given the state of public opinion, it only invites American government leaders to press that opinion forward by demanding a speeding up of defense expansion plans. And when influential Japanese journey to Washington to impress upon American officials the importance of outside pressure in moving Japan forward on defense, the temptation to exercise such pressure becomes virtually irresistible.

How to approach the issue of Japan's defense is one of the central questions facing the new U.S. Administration. It is not that the defense issue has now suddenly emerged as a potential source of friction in the Japanese-American relationship; it has been a troublesome one throughout the postwar period. But in the 1950s and roughly through the middle of the 1960s Americans generally assumed that they could afford to pay for Japan's "free ride"; and in the 1970s, with the United States preoccupied with economic issues in its bilateral dealings with Japan, differences over the issue of Japan's defense efforts were seen largely as a "spillover" effect of frustrations created by the intense quality of many of the economic disputes that characterized the relationship. But in the 1980s, given Japan's economic strength and the United States' economic problems, the increase in the Soviet Union's military power relative to that of the United States, and almost certain American demands on NATO countries to make greater military efforts, the issue of Japan's defense policy is likely to come into its own. If not carefully managed, it could result in a reverse "spillover"-with Japanese resistance to demands for a greater military effort adversely affecting American, and most particularly congressional, attitudes toward Japan not only on defense but on other issues in the relationship as well.

How far, and in what terms, is it reasonable for the United States to press Japan on this issue? Let us look first at two fundamental judgments that have long guided the thinking of successive American administrations-and which I believe remain basically correct today.

The first of these is that a major and rapid Japanese expansion of military capabilities and a broadened definition of the mission of the self-defense forces to give them a regional security role would represent a fundamental reordering of the power balance in East Asia in ways that would not only raise the level of tensions with the Soviet Union but also arouse fears among other Asian countries about Japanese intentions. Although the non-communist countries in the region are no longer as fearful as they once were of a Japanese military role per se, I believe they would view with intense apprehension any Japanese effort to play a regional role.

Secondly, welcomed or not, the Japanese simply are not going to play this kind of regional role, at least not for several years to come. People who argue that the Japanese are poised for a military takeoff and who see the possibility for constitutional revision in the near-term future are either engaging in wishful thinking or are giving more credit for influence than is deserved to a highly vocal minority element in the Japanese conservative camp.

I would maintain that the only conceivable development that would galvanize Japanese public opinion to support a greatly expanded military role would be a radical decline in American strength and commitments and an almost total collapse of American credibility. One hardly need note that there would be nothing more destabilizing to the security of the East Asian region than the spread of such perceptions. In Japan they would strengthen the advocates of autonomous defense rather than the supporters of a close U.S. alliance, they would result in policies that would raise the level of threats to Japan, and given the fact that they would be premised on and made possible by the decline in American power, they would be part of a general deterioration in the security environment in East Asia.

It follows that the United States should avoid policies and postures that deliberately or inadvertently encourage declining confidence in American commitments and contribute to an exaggerated perception of U.S. weakness. It is for this reason in particular that proposals such as having the Japanese build two aircraft carriers and lend-lease them to the United States are less than attractive.3 Neither Japan nor other Asian countries would be reassured by the presence in the region of two carriers under the command of a country that did not have the ability to mobilize the economic resources or the political consensus necessary to build them. There is, after all, no substitute for American power in the region. Japan can supplement but not substitute for it, and though this is not always an easy distinction to make, it is an important one to maintain to the extent possible in considering East Asian security and Japan's role in it.

Overall, a slow and steady increase in Japan's military expenditures, directed to the strengthening of its air and naval defense capabilities in particular, would in my view serve U.S. interests well. Of course, Japan could do more to speed up the implementation of its defense expansion plans-especially to improve its mining, patrol, surveillance and anti-submarine warfare capabilities and its air defenses-and bilateral consultations to seek ways to increase areas of cooperation between American and Japanese forces in the sea and air spaces surrounding Japan should be pursued. But it seems to me doubtful that much would be gained by visible American pressure for a more rapid development of Japanese military capabilities.

There are of course other contributions Japan could make. While the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States does not oblige Japan to do more than it currently is doing to pay costs for maintaining American forces in Japan, it does not preclude them from doing more. Further Japanese financial support for maintaining these forces would be an important contribution to the alliance. Japan also could do more in the way of buying "off the shelf" American weapons systems and other necessary material rather than emphasizing, as current policy does, licensing arrangements and expanded domestic production.

Japan also could make more generous contributions than it has so far in non-military aspects of comprehensive security, in the area of economic assistance, for example, or in massive investments in large-scale projects to develop new energy resources. In 1980 Japan allotted 0.31 percent of GNP to official development assistance. Though this was a sizeable increase over the previous year's 0.26 percent, it still left Japan below the 0.36 percent average for the countries in the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD; even present Japanese government plans to double official assistance in the five-year period from 1981 to 1985, given current projections of Japanese economic growth rates during this period, are not likely to result in a significant increase in the percentage of GNP Japan allocates to assisting the less-developed world.

But by all odds the most constructive step the Reagan Administration could take, in my judgment, would be to encourage the Japanese to define their security role for themselves. And this gets back to the importance of engaging Japanese leaders more fully in careful consultations about regional and global security matters. The objective, in other words, should be to change a deeply entrenched postwar pattern of Japanese-American security relations, in which Japanese leaders ask the United States what it wants them to do and then, after feeding this American "demand" through the domestic political system, emerge with a "concession" that leaves everyone dissatisfied and resentful.

This is a pattern that cannot be changed suddenly-both sides have been too comfortable with it for too long. But it is a pattern that, if continued, can only lead to increasingly serious difficulties and misunderstandings. And, above all, it is a pattern that simply does not accord with the realities of Japan's present power. Rather, with both countries still deeply committed to the alliance relationship, it is time for Japan to formulate its security policies, not on the basis of responses to the United States asking, or pressing, Japan to do more to "help" a weakening America, but in terms of how the world's two wealthiest democracies can cooperate to secure their mutual and common interests.

I do not mean to underestimate the difficulties involved in moving in this direction. The postwar relationship, after all, has been an exceedingly successful one and the temptation for the leaders of both countries to stick to time-tested approaches in dealing with each other remains strong. But surely there can be little doubt that new approaches are called for if the security policies of both countries are to evolve within the context of a healthy alliance relationship.


What is the domestic political environment within which Japan is formulating its security policies? In particular, what are the prospects for continued rule by the Liberal Democratic Party and what kinds of men are likely to be in power in the coming years?

The results of the June 1980 Japanese Diet elections were surprising in the extent of the LDP landslide but not in the victory itself. Public opinion polls indicated that support for the party was growing, and even in the 1979 lower house election, though the LDP failed to enlarge the number of seats it controlled, its share of the popular vote increased for the first time in the party's 25-year history.

Essentially, it is now clear, the LDP has accomplished an extraordinary feat, over the nearly three decades of its existence, in shifting its base while maintaining a high level of popular support. Support for the party nationwide, as measured by public opinion surveys, is about the same in 1981 as it was in 1955, at a little less than 50 percent. But it has been transformed from a party that in the 1950s relied heavily on big business and the "old" middle class of independent farmers and owners and workers in family and other small businesses into a party that now is the most widely supported by the new urban middle class and which draws most of its support from among white and blue collar workers.4

Moreover, recent polls show that the LDP gets greater support than does any other party from every age group, every occupational class, and every group measured by number of years of education. Growth in support for the LDP has been particularly strong among young, urban, well-educated voters. In the early 1960s, for example, the Socialist Party obtained more support from urban, college-educated voters in their twenties than did the LDP. Today support for the LDP among this group exceeds that for any of the other parties. The LDP remains the party of big business and farmers, but today it is much more than that: it is the only "catch-all" party in the country whose appeal reaches out beyond a narrow support base.

Japan's opposition parties, on the other hand, not only face difficult political problems such as recruiting attractive leaders, moving away from increasingly anachronistic but time-sanctioned policy positions, and developing more cooperative relationships among themselves, but their traditional sources of support are being weakened by broad social and economic developments in the country. Massive immigration into metropolitan cities, for example, has now largely stopped; in fact the populations of both Tokyo and Osaka declined between 1975 and 1980. People who came to the cities in the 1950s and 1960s have now established communities which partake of many of the features of more rural and "traditional" Japanese communities, particularly in their intricate webs of social relationships. These social networks plus steady, albeit lower, economic growth and greatly expanded government social welfare programs have reduced much of the anxiety and insecurity that often accompanied immigration into major urban centers and formed the basis for a considerable amount of opposition party appeal.

The future does not look bright, in other words, for the Socialists, the Komeito or any of the several smaller opposition parties. While some of them may become the beneficiaries in future Diet elections of voter dissatisfaction with the LDP, it is hardly plausible to expect that any of them would be able to enter a government not dominated by the LDP. For the foreseeable future the LDP will retain power and provide Japan's political leadership.

This decade is seeing a major change in LDP leadership, as a large number of politicians who were able to enter the Diet in the late 1940s are now approaching the end of their political careers. The men who are now coming into power are neither more nor less nationalistic than the ones they are replacing, nor do their policy orientations differ in fundamental ways; what is more important in this regard is the shift that has occurred in attitudes and in policy orientations that cut across generations.

But the new leaders in the LDP do share certain characteristics which differentiate them from their predecessors-and, interestingly, from the new generation of leaders that is emerging in the business community or in the bureaucracy, many of whom have had extensive international experience and are cosmopolitan, fluent in English and comfortable in non-Japanese settings. Many, though by no means all, of the new political leaders come out of long involvement in professional political life rather than from careers in the central government bureaucracy such as characterized many of their predecessors. Like those who have served before them, however, almost all of these new leaders are from rural or semi-rural parts of the country, a consequence not so much of the rural orientation of the party or of district imbalances that favor rural areas, but because seniority, measured in terms of the number of times elected, remains a critical factor in leadership recruitment. Since the party was a predominantly rural party in the 1950s and early 1960s, those Dietmen who now have the most seniority come from rural districts, and it will not be until sometime in the 1990s that the LDP shift to a more urban base will be reflected in its leadership.

Most of these new political leaders have over the past decade sought important party rather than cabinet posts; where they have served in the cabinet, it has been in ministries that have a primarily domestic focus. Very few of them have extensive international experience or close personal relationships with foreigners, in the United States or elsewhere. Thus, while they may not be any more nationalistic than their elders, many of them are less internationalist-unaccustomed to extensive contact outside Japan and not deeply familiar with many of the critical issues of importance to Japan. Consequently, in a country for which foreign relations are critical and in a society in which personal relationships are carefully cultivated and play an extremely important role in decision-making processes, there is emerging a new leadership group that has neither close personal links nor deep experience with the outside world.

It is not entirely clear how such leadership characteristics will affect policy but, given the complexity of many of the issues that confront Japanese policy-makers and the relative lack of policy expertise among these new leaders, there may be an increasing tendency to rely on the bureaucracy to provide the lead in determining policy. Strong bureaucratic intervention in the policy process has been true in the past as well, but it can have rather different consequences in the 1980s than it had in past years.

Through most of postwar Japanese history the bureaucracy has gone about its business within a framework of clearly defined national goals and foreign policy priorities, its efficiency in making day-to-day decisions and in implementing government policies made possible by the existence of such a framework. But in Japan as elsewhere it is only the political leadership that can structure the consensus that must exist if bureaucratic institutions are to avoid adopting inconsistent and contradictory policy orientations. In the absence of such leadership Japan will drift with the trends of the time, with its cautious, time-consuming and reactive patterns of decision-making unable to adjust to a situation in which expectations are high that Japan will play a more dynamic leadership role in a variety of international forums and on a wide range of international issues.

Thus, if the 1970s are any guide to the kinds of issues that will confront Japan in the 1980s, there are likely to be an increasing number of foreign policy issues that will be left initially to the bureaucracy to handle, only to escalate into major political controversy; the political leadership will have little choice but to enter into the fray. And, as the older generation of politicians who have dominated the highest positions in the government and the party leaves the scene, the absence of close personal relationships abroad and the lack of extensive international experience, combined with the forceful personalities and the self-confidence that characterize many of the most outstanding new leaders, could lead to a pattern of decision-making for which the outside world, and the United States is particular, will be ill prepared. The reliance, for example, on the exercise of often heavy-handed outside pressure to force Japan to adopt certain policies is apt to come up against much stronger resistance than was true in the past.

The lack of sophistication about international affairs that characterizes many of these men can be corrected to some extent by experience. But the lack of close personal relationships between them and American leaders could be more troublesome, given the emotions generated by conflicts over economic and security policies that seem sure to beset U.S.-Japan relations in the 1980s. One of the most important tasks facing both countries in this connection is to expand the range of contacts and increase the lines of communication between policymakers and influential publics in the two societies.

Expanded contacts do not invariably lead, however, to improved communication. If new or revitalized consultative mechanisms are to play a significant role in the relationship, their establishment will have to be accompanied by a willingness to share information and responsibility, to take a more than short-run view of the agenda of policy issues, and to allocate to the process the time and the human resources necessary to make it meaningful.

Unfortunately, recent American administrations have done little to foster a relationship with Japan in which such consultative processes could be fruitfully developed. Nor would it be easy for the United States to do so given the woefully inadequate number of senior government officials with specialized knowledge of Japan or extensive experience in dealing with that country. Yet, if opportunities for U.S.-Japan cooperation in meeting a myriad of problems are to be maximized rather than lost, and if the United States is to affect in a positive and constructive manner the evolution of Japan's international role, the Japan relationship will have to be accorded the top priority it clearly deserves.


To sum up, Japanese foreign policy has become more independent today than it was in the recent past and, for the most part, this evolution has occurred within a context where the pursuit of Japanese national interests has been congruent with American interests. There is a fluidity evident in Japanese thinking about security but there is also a continuing and, if anything, more widespread recognition of the importance of the U.S. alliance. For Japan, autonomy and alliance need not be and are not currently antithetical.

But an analysis of present Japanese security policies provides little room for complacency about trends in the bilateral U.S.-Japan relationship, even on issues where there presently exists a considerable commonality of views and policies. The nature of the alliance has changed in fundamental ways, and since neither party to it can any longer assume that the other's future behavior will be determined by its past actions, it must be managed differently than it has been up to now. Public hectoring and heavy-handed pressure tactics cannot form the basis for a strong alliance, any more than can a posture that seeks to postpone coming to grips with potentially serious problems in the relationship in the hope that they will disappear. Obviously there are contrasting and deeply engrained cultural styles involved here. But such difficulties can be surmounted, if there is the political will to do so.

It is essential for the United States and Japan to develop a more extensive range of consultations not only on strictly bilateral matters but on broader East Asian security questions and other issues of mutual concern that fall outside the bilateral relationship. But consultations, if they are to be meaningful, will require a degree of commitment that as yet appears lacking in both countries.

Although Japanese leaders, like their European counterparts, recently have been emphasizing the essentiality of greater U.S. consultations with its allies, Japanese in fact exhibit considerable ambivalence in their desire for consultations. While wanting to be consulted on issues where policy formulated in Washington commits them to policies that incur risks and costs, such as the Olympic boycott or economic sanctions against the U.S.S.R., it is not so clear that they want to be consulted on issues, such as the desirable shape of a Middle East peace settlement or weapons exports to the PRC, where the process of consultation itself involves risks.

We have noted the major obstacles to the United States structuring a meaningful, rather than a cosmetic and largely formalistic, consultative relationship with Japan. But the central thrust of U.S. policy should be to develop such a relationship, based on the recognition that a strong alliance with Japan is vital to securing American national interests.

1 See Seisaku Kenkyukai, Sogo Anzen Hosho Kenkyu Group, Sogo Anzen Hosho Kenkyu Group Hokokusho, July 2, 1980.

2 Fritz Stern, "Germany in a Semi-Gaullist Europe," Foreign Affairs, Spring 1980, p. 884.

3 See, for example, George Ball, "Reflections on a Heavy Year," Foreign Affairs, "America and the World 1980," p. 497.

4 A few figures will indicate the extent of this shift. In 1960 farmers and merchants and the self-employed, according to Asahi Shinbun figures, made up 68 percent of LDP supporters (43 percent farmers and 25 percent merchants and the self-employed) while white and blue collar workers accounted for only 28 percent of LDP supporters, the remaining 4 percent of its support coming from those unemployed. Today more than half of the LDP's supporters are blue and white collar workers, while farmers account for less than a fifth and merchants and the self-employed for about a quarter of the party's supporters. In other words, the LDP has been able to shift its base of support away from the rural electorate (which still gives it overwhelming support but accounts for a much smaller proportion of the electorate than in the 1950s) and to the new urban electorate. In the 1980 lower house election 44.5 percent of the LDP's total vote came from urban and metropolitan constituencies, 37.7 percent from semi-urban areas and only 17.8 percent from rural constituencies.



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  • Gerald L. Curtis is Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and Director of its East Asian Institute.
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