The United States could be in trouble in Japan, not only on trade but also on security. It is becoming fashionable to declare that with the end of the Cold War, our security treaty with Japan is anachronistic, should be scrapped and our troops brought home, ending the "free military protection" we've given Japan for 45 years.
Instead, it is argued, the United States should maintain equal distance from Russia, China and Japan. Although the Clinton Administration strongly favors our present security arrangements, it is preparing to "stick it" to Japan on trade on June 28. Huge tariffs on Japanese luxury autos will be levied unless Tokyo agrees to "voluntary" numerical goals for importing American cars and auto parts.
The debris from such sweeping proposals on security and from the trade war we seem bent on triggering would land on our own heads. A U.S. pullout from Japan would certainly not help our trade deficit. The United States maintains a military presence there not as a favor but because without this deployment we cannot defend our interests in Asia and the Middle East. The first American fighters to join the Gulf War flew from Japan.
For almost 100 years, Japan has never been without a major ally for long: Britain, the United States--or Nazi Germany. Would the United States be better off if China or Russia replaced it as Japan's major partner? If that were not feasible, just how long would it take Japan to fill the defense vacuum the United States would be creating?
Japan is not a free rider on security. It spends more than $5 billion on United States bases in Japan--10% of its defense budget, far more than NATO countries. Our security arrangement with Japan needs fine tuning, not the scrap heap. Assistant Defense Secretary Joseph Nye has initiated talks to redirect the treaty, giving new emphasis to regional stability and to a more interoperable, joint defense. There is no magic in maintaining 45,000 troops indefinitely, especially if the North Korean threat really subsides; but no Japanese or Asian leader wants to see our commitment to Japan weaken. Emerging regional security discussions may complement, but cannot replace, U.S.-Japan defense cooperation, the importance of which may become clearer as China continues its rapid military expansion.
U.S. and Japanese negotiators may think we can slap each other around on trade without damaging cooperation in security, but our two publics don't view different facets of our relationship bifocally. Trust on security will be undermined by suspicion on trade. Trade representative Mickey Kantor's tariff threats have lost the United States the support of Japan's media and business leaders who have long urged more rapid Japanese trade liberalization. Now, all Japan is united against American ijime (bullying).
It still does not seem to sink into Americans that we sell more to "closed" Japan than to anyone else except Canada. Our exports to Japan and other Asian nations, climbed from $107 billion in 1989 to $135 billion in 1993; direct investment rose from $55 billion to $91 billion. With our threatened tariffs, we have unwittingly turned all eyes to our own (probably illegal) actions and away from the real problem: Japan's unwillingness to enable foreign products to compete and be distributed more easily.
President Clinton should set aside retributive tariffs and zero in--like a laser--on a U.S. appeal to the World Trade Organization for multilateral judgment on Japan's failure to sweep away its remaining trade restraints. Such a move would bring back into play much of Japan's business and media leadership and regain the backing of the European Community and of Japan's Asian neighbors who are critical of Japan's trade obstacles but will not support our unilateral threats.
Basic trust can be preserved only if we show the restraint and steadiness that two close allies must expect of each other, balancing trade and security objectives. They are joined at the hip; one will limp if the other is damaged.