Pacific Alliance: Reviving U.S.-Japan Relations

Pacific Alliance: Reviving US-Japan Relations from East-West Center on Vimeo.


(Washington D.C.) April 29– The U.S.-Japan Alliance must revitalize itself to remain relevant in a world that is very different from the one that existed when it was created. In an East-West Center in Washington Asia Pacific Security Seminar, Dr. Kent Calder, Director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Service, discussed his new book Pacific Alliance: Reviving U.S.-Japan Relations , detailing the changing regional and domestic environments that the alliance must navigate and his suggestions to strengthen this very important Pacific relationship.


Dr. Calder explained that the U.S.-Japan Alliance is still a very important one. From an American standpoint, this relationship provides the core for U.S. engagement in the Asia Pacific region, a region that is becoming increasingly important from both an economic and security standpoint. He argued, however, that the alliance has failed to keep up with the changes that have occurred in Asia since its inception. At the time that the U.S.-Japan Alliance was formed, there was a land war in Korea, an ideological war with communism, Southeast Asia was made up of European colonies, and China was not a significant player in regional relations. The alliance had no competition diplomatically or economically, and the importance of maintaining a stronghold against communism in Asia made the relationship easy to sell to domestic constituents in both countries.


Today, however, Dr. Calder explained that there are many external and domestic forces pulling at the alliance. Externally, the world is more globalized, and China and India are beginning to make their presence felt in Asian diplomacy and security. The power of multinational companies from all over Asia, and the changes in ethnic politics in the United States ensure that Asian countries other than Japan can further their agendas in Washington. Further, Japanese politics has been in turmoil, making it difficult for Washington and Tokyo to cooperate on any innovative policy agendas.


Domestically, Dr. Calder argued that the strong people-to-people ties that used to further U.S.-Japan relations are beginning to break down in both countries. He explained that a combination of factors, including a generation shift and a narrowing of focus of the alliance to security matters, have decreased public diplomacy and understanding efforts between the two countries. Cultural organizations are showing steadily decreasing memberships and Japanese organizations located in the United States are beginning to shut their doors. As a result, the personal relationships between citizens of the two countries is eroding, a situation that Dr. Calder explained would inevitably damage the broader dialogue necessary to maintain the alliance in a changing world.


The United States and Japan, Dr. Calder explained, need to recognize that their current relationship is insufficient to face the needs of the current world, and that a lack of crisis does not mean that things are fine just the way they are. Dr. Calder argued that the alliance must work toward updating its security relationship by implementing transformation proposals, supporting a reciprocal presence of personnel in both countries, and reminding leaders of the importance of quick response to important bilateral issues when they occur. He further supported a return to focusing on the economic relationship between Japan and the United States, specifically noting the importance of foreign direct investment in forming important economic and technological ties. He also noted the importance of addressing important regional issues both bilaterally and multilaterally, depending on the scope of the problem. Finally, Dr. Calder stressed the value of public diplomacy and exchange programs between the two countries to create a new generation of people committed to a dynamic and relevant U.S.-Japan alliance.


Dr. Calder noted that the failure of the alliance to remain vibrant in the modern world was not a fault of the alliance managers but a structural one. He pointed out that individual leaders in the alliance on both sides of the Pacific have worked hard to maintain the relationship, and have reacted well to challenges that have developed over the years. However, he stressed that that alliance structure was developed and continues to exist in a world that no longer exists. In order to remain relevant, Dr. Calder explained, the alliance must change in order to match the Asia of today, and anticipate the Asia of the future.


Kent E. Calder is director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies, SAIS. Previously, he served as professor at Princeton University for twenty years, the Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and lecturer in the Department of Government at Harvard University, where he served as the first Executive Director of the Harvard University Program on U.S.-Japan Relations. Dr. Calder was also the former special advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, former special advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, and is currently a member of the editorial board of Asian Security. His most recent book, Pacific Alliance: Reviving U.S.-Japan Relations , has just been published by Yale University Press.