JDS Kongo and USS George Washington. U.S. Navy photo.

On the remarks below, please remember that this is a learning blog.

The conference on a whole was rather enjoyable. The conference participants were a good mix of government, private industry, and ex-government types. Everyone was quite nice and I met several interesting people. At $65 for non-members, lunch and six hours of speaking, the symposium was a good deal and a great way for people interested in U.S. – Japan relations to spend an afternoon. I came away from the conference with a great deal of food for thought.

On the current U.S. – Japan crisis, I found it interesting that all speakers assigned blame not on Futenma not only to the Hatoyama government but also the United States. I noted that at least two speakers stated that the DPJ’s unseating the LDP was of great political consequence in Japan and that the U.S. had underestimated how much Japan had changed. Considering that the American press would rather critique Yukio Hatoyama’s fashion sense than report on Japanese politics, this is not all that surprising.

I also noted that many speakers shared a common agreement on the problems Japan faced: rising neighbors, an aging population, an inability to increase defense spending, a progressively inward-looking population, and, most troubling, no real sense of crisis. My notes said that only Vogel said it, but I know others did too.

Finally, everyone agreed that, thanks to North Korea and China, the alliance was as necessary now as ever before. There was no question about this. (Note to the SDP: if you want the U.S. / Japanese alliance to end, it wouldn’t hurt to travel to conferences like this and explain to Americans why.)

I was a bit struck by Kono’s remarks. Right or wrong, I have pretty much come to think of the LDP as marching in lock step with the United States on foreign policy matters. Kono was dropping some interesting bombs, such as implicitly criticizing the U.S. – India nuclear technology deal, and bringing the subject of Israeli nuclear weapons up. Kono was also talking about a life span of the U.S. – Japan alliance, “at least until China is democratized.” It could be that the LDP has taken note of the way the wind is blowing and is trying to show that it too can be more independent of the U.S.

Ambassador Armacost’s description of the alliance as a “Cold War bargain” seemed to me to be the best description of it to date. An alliance agreement such as the one the U.S. and Japan have could only arise against the backdrop of mutual concern about a third regional power–the Soviet Union. Especially after both countries had just beaten the stuffing out of each other in a devastating four year war. Now that the Soviet Union is gone and China is the new third regional power, the question is, is the alliance as historically configured still a good match for both sides?

Food for thought indeed. I’m glad I went. Speaking of food, lunch was a garden salad, roasted chicken, orzo pasta, and roasted vegetables. Dessert was a roundel of cheesecake with fruit compote.

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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 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch