Japan, the United States, and Southeast Asia

Courtesy Reuters

Three events occurred in Japan in 1977 that make it absolutely clear that the long period of postwar dependence on the United States, and Japan's corollary "low posture" in international affairs, have come to an end. While their implications will affect all aspects of Japan-U.S. relations in the Pacific, it is in Southeast Asia that Japan's new posture initially will pose important questions for the United States. These three events, beginning with the broadest changes in Japan's thinking, were the 1977 White Paper on Defense - a document that for the first time expresses doubts about the future U.S.-Soviet strategic balance; a Foreign Ministry White Paper that represents a genuine departure in foreign policy thinking; and the tour of Japan's Prime Minister to Southeast Asia - the occasion for the announcement of a "Fukuda Doctrine" toward the area.

The 1977 White Paper on Defense would be notable under any circumstances because it followed within a year a similar publication, and the Defense Agency is not in the habit of preparing annual versions of these lengthy documents. Why was another required? In part because of the famous MiG-25 defection of September 1976, which has caused defense planners in Tokyo to question the nation's ability to detect and intercept low-flying aircraft. Accordingly, a long section of the 1977 volume is devoted to Japan's need to modernize her air defense equipment and procedures more rapidly. Of far greater long-term significance, however, is what Japan's defense planners have to say about the central strategic balance:

Since the nuclear capabilities of the Soviet Union are numerically superior to those of the United States and since the Soviet Union is improving the quality of its nuclear arsenal at a rapid tempo, the United States is faced with an urgent task to modernize . . . . Thus, the U.S.S.R. has greatly strengthened its military posture in Europe and the Far East; and as a result some changes are occurring in the military balance between the United States and the Soviet

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