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Calls for Remilitarizing May Return to Haunt Us : Japan/Germany: Any immediate benefits in their sharing global burdens could backfire as trade tensions grow.

<i> Peter W. Rodman, a former National Security Council official, is a fellow at the Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute and a senior editor of the National Review</i>

The growing power of Japan and Germany today is an ironic historical outcome, 50 years after America joined in a war to defeat them. The problem of how to integrate them securely into the international system is again at the top of the global agenda. Even more ironic, however, is the perverse outcome we may be risking by some of our present actions.

The focus today is Japan. Germany’s unification was accomplished last year in a way that enfolds Germany securely in the Western family. Trade quarrels with Japan, however, are growing in bitterness.

One dimension of the problem goes by the name of burden-sharing. There has been mounting pressure on both Germany and Japan to take on a greater security role internationally, especially since America and other allies went to war in the Persian Gulf without them. Their reluctance owes much to the taboo against militarism that we helped to inculcate after World War II. But our pressures on them are having effect. Both countries are considering relaxing their constitutional or political inhibitions in order to permit overseas military operations under United Nations aegis. We may get our wish--and regret it.

Since the Federal Republic’s accession to NATO (1955) and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty (1960), the defense policies, military strength and security roles of Germany and Japan have been defined almost exclusively by their tight link to us. It is this link that has divorced their economic power from harmful security implications. The American presence has been an enormous reassurance to their neighbors, underpinning both regional prosperity and peace of mind.

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It was an advantageous bargain for all sides--and still is. Anchoring Germany and Japan to the international structure remains one of our most crucial strategic responsibilities in the new era--all the more so as they now grow even stronger politically as well as economically.

Regrettably, the link is today under attack from many directions. For one thing, there are those in both Germany and Japan who are restless with the U.S. military relationship as a “relic of the Cold War” or a “relic of the Occupation.” They see our defense ties as an anachronistic affront to national sovereignty.

The Soviets have felt a vestigial temptation to exploit this. In the run-up to German unification, Mikhail Gorbachev clung far too long to a shortsighted policy of trying to cut Germany’s NATO ties. In Japan last spring, Gorbachev used hints of willingness to discuss the Soviet-occupied Kuril Islands as a tactic to seduce Japan into new security arrangements. This would be equally shortsighted.

Further, severe congressional cutbacks in U.S. defense spending foreshadow a weakening of U.S. global security commitments. This could ultimately erode the worth of the U.S. defense link in the eyes of those Japanese who value it most highly--as well as tempt other Japanese to try to fill the military vacuum.

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Finally, and perhaps most important, our partnership with Japan is increasingly embittered by economic antagonism, which only gets worse as our economy stagnates and a presidential election campaign gets under way.

Pressure on Japan to help resolve the trade imbalances is probably necessary. But pressure on Germany and Japan to play a greater military role in the world, even under U.N. auspices, is a mistake. The irony is not just that we Americans have changed our preference 180 degrees after 50 years, but that they may eventually give way to our pressure--for their own reasons. A greater military role, which we may seek today as a contribution to a common effort, may someday prove appealing in these countries as a reflection of their new stature, as a step toward a new global role more independent of us. This is neither side’s goal today. But the more intense the animus in this country on these issues, the more we may make such an evolution probable.

It is no accident that the political forces in Japan most eager for a legislative change include the most nationalist, not only the most internationalist.

The good news is, we already have the answer to this strategic problem--namely, preserving the U.S.-Japan partnership against its shortsighted detractors. The bad news is, we may not appreciate the historic success that the existing relationship has represented, or the vital need for it in the future as a key to global stability.

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