Doug Bandow at the Cato Institute has an article up at The National Interest Online called “Japan Can Defend Itself”. It’s what you would expect from the Cato Institute and has been one of their favorite drums to bang in the post-Cold War world: regional allies need to do more, so the U.S. can scale back and avoid spending money and getting roped into things.

The article is well worth reading. Bandow believes that Japan should become militarily self-sufficient, and in doing so would achieve the equality that the DPJ said it wants Japan to have in the U.S.-Japan alliance.

…so long as Japan goes hat-in-hand to the United States for protection, Washington is entitled to request—or, more accurately, insist on—bases that serve its interests. And Tokyo cannot easily say no.

Great point. Making Japan more self-sufficient would reduce Japan’s obligations to the United States. That is point this blog made last month in an examination of the Futenma issue.

Bandow also thinks that the U.S. – Japan alliance should be refashioned from one dedicated to the defense of Japan to the defense of mutual interests. What those mutual interests are is not said. That would mean a sizable expansion of the Self Defense Forces, to include power projection ability.

It’s a good article and I agree with much of it. Where I think we differ is on the utility of the bases on Okinawa and the troops there. Bandow thinks that if they serve no practical utility, they should be withdrawn. If they are not going to be  used to reinforce South Korea, or seize North Korean nukes in the event of a regime collapse any time soon, or invade China, or intervene in any conflicts in the Pacific Rim, they should be withdrawn.

Bandow has a point, but the Marines in Okinawa have symbolic value. The Marines are the only major American ground force in East Asia not in direct support of South Korea. The Marines are a symbol of American power and regional commitment to America’s interests and allies. I think Japan has always understood that as long as the Marines were there, America’s commitment to the alliance was unquestionable. The Marines are a wedding ring.

Even Hatoyama understands this, which is why he merely wanted to move the base, not just evict the Marines back to America. Hatoyama doesn’t want a divorce, he doesn’t even want an argument over it. Hatoyama merely wants to have the lawn mower moved from the sewing room to the shed because he feels like not asking to have it moved and accepting it where it is means he’s the junior partner.

All of this brings another thing that’s been worrying me lately about a militarily self-sufficient Japan: what if it decides it doesn’t need the bilateral alliance anymore and even goes so far as to see the United States as a rival?

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 530 post(s) on Japan Security Watch