Date/Time: Monday, September 22, 2014 / 12:00pm-2:00pm
Location: Conference Room (2F), The Asan Institute
On Monday, September 22, 2014, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies hosted a Dosirak Series Lecture with Mr. Brad Glosserman, Executive Director of Pacific Forum CSIS. Mr. Glosserman delivered a presentation, titled “Challenges and Opportunities Facing US-Japan Relations: US Perspective.”
Since the induction of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan has sought to reinterpret its constitution regarding the ban on its military forces to exercise the right of collective self-defense. These new changes have provoked much anxiety within the Northeast Asian region, particularly for South Korea, and have complicated bilateral relations with Japan. However, at a recent Asan Dosirak Series lecture held at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS Brad Glosserman took the position that these new shifts are not something to be feared or threatened by; they are not indicative of Japan’s emerging independent and nationalistic streak: “If you’re looking to talk to the strategists in Japan, they will tell you that the notion of an aggressive unleashed Japan is always silly, it’s absurd. The public doesn’t support it, the military doesn’t support it.”
In fact, Glosserman argued that: “Changes in [Japan’s] defense and security policy are always framed within the context of making Japan a better partner for the United States.” Specifically pointing to Abe’s increasing engagements with ASEAN and widespread diplomatic outreach in the two years he has been in office, he demonstrated how this “New Japan” is fostering better relationships “in ways that benefit the US, that benefit the alliance, and, of course, benefit regional stability.” Japan’s proactivity provides new opportunities for the US rebalance in Asia.
However, to the US-Japan alliance’s detriment, the US has been unable to mitigate uneasy ROK-Japan relations, despite their efforts, as Glosserman recounted: “In March 2012, just after Abe had come to office, both [US and Japan] government had a track 1.5 meeting…and the steady beat from the American side to the Japanese was ‘do not go to the Yasukuni Shrine’.”
Consequently, he notes that there is a serious undercutting of diplomacy between South Korea and Japan, which impacts the US’s security architecture in Asia: “Intentions between Seoul and Tokyo are huge for us. They get in the way of us doing all the things that we think are important, [such as] the way we have to coordinate with our allies and partners.”
Moreover, there are domestic challenges to this new kind of alliance, which Glosserman attributed to aspects of the “Old Japan” society that exist within the “New Japan.” For example, the Japanese people are too settled in their ways: “They are not prepared to make the changes that are required to make that society productive and competitive in the ways that will form the foundation for aggressive and assertive diplomacy. They are comfortable where they are, and if where they are means comfortable decline, they are prepared to handle that.” Consequently, Glosserman concluded that Japanese society has grown distant from the government, putting into question how supportive the public will be of Abe’s new initiatives.
When Dr. Hahm Chaibong, president of the Asan Institute, inquired about the US’s role in Asia, Glosserman replied that the US should be more involved: “If you believe that the US has played such an important role historically in the events of this [Northeast Asian] part of the world, then it has come upon us to acknowledge that responsibility…If we have done that much, we need to acknowledge it. Then the question becomes can we do more by making certain gestures or statements or doing things that set an example.”
Accordingly, the US should be taking an even more active role to engage with both South Korea and Japan in mediating the ROK-Japan relations for the sake of regional security cooperation. While Glosserman did recognize that there were limitations on what the US could realistically achieve, he emphasized that holding more open dialogues about the value and purpose of the US’s bilateral relations was key to confidence-building. As he noted: “Both countries are uncomfortable with what the United States is doing with the other. Neither alliance feels as though it has a window onto the other, so Japan is wondering what the US and Korea are doing, and Seoul is wondering what the US and Japanese are doing.” Raising the level of transparency on matters such as collective self-defense and its impact on Japanese defense policies would allow the US to engage with Japan in a way that would not raise anxieties for South Korea and upset the regional balance.