Thursday, May 29, 2008

McCain, Lieberman on U.S.-Japan Alliance

The title of John McCain and Joe Lieberman's special feature op-ed in the Yomiuri, PUTTING OUR ALLIES FIRST / U.S.-Japan ties bedrock of Asian peace, says it all. It’s hard for a Japanese not to like hearing that kind of talk, unless you happen to be a committed pacifist.

The dynamic duo does not call for a “League of Democracies” nor praise Japan’s “value-based diplomacy”, as John McCain did in his Foreign Affairs essay. The demands being made on China and by implication on the alliance have acquired a more restrained look as well. I think that this is partly a reflection of the limits on the extent to which the bilateral alliance can be invoked where China is concerned, particularly under the dovish Prime Minister Fukuda. Note that the Fukuda administration itself has quietly dropped the Abe administration’s high-minded but somewhat exclusionary “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity”, which Mr. McCain obviously had in mind when he praised Japan in his FA But it is also a tacit recognition of China as a status quo power, sharing common interests, if not always values. In contrast, Mr. McCain places the “League of Democracies” front and center in his most recent address to America’s European allies.

Otherwise, Mr. McCain and Mr. Lieberman basically repeat the same, sweet words of Mr. McCain’s FA essay. The formulation on North Korea is unchanged, and the unequivocal support for Japan’s bid for permanent membership in the UN Security Council is still there.

The co-writers also take the chance to come down strongly on the two Democratic candidates for their negative rhetoric on free trade agreements. This last one is actually a mixed blessing for the Japanese authorities as far as the bilateral relationship is concerned—think beef and other agricultural products—but a good thing, actually, for Japan.

All in all, a document more moderate and reassuring in tone than the FA essay. But what will a President McCain (and Vice President/Secretary of State Lieberman?) have to say when legislation authorizing JSADF operations in Iraq comes up for renewal under an LDP-Komeito coalition stripped of its supermajority override powers or possibly even a DPJ-led administration? Or when Japanese cooperation with US troops realignment must be maintained under those circumstances? These two issues are likely to be testing the alliance, the latter more seriously, in first year of a McCain presidency.

Perhaps it’s just an oversight. (That, or I have too much time on my hands.) But I wonder if I’m the only one that finds the following formulation a little odd:

With respect to North Korea, for example, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was right: We must bring both dialogue and pressure to bear on Pyongyang. We have the right framework in the six-party talks and the right tools in the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after North Korea's 2006 nuclear test, as well as the U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral coordination group. Now we must use those tools to press for the full, complete, and verifiable declaration, disablement and dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs--goals already agreed upon by the six parties.

Future talks must also prioritize North Korea's ballistic missile programs, its abduction of Japanese citizens, and its human rights record. Whatever our other strategic priorities, these objectives are important to our allies, and thus they must be of importance to us. The president of the United States must never forget that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans languish in gulags, and that families in Japan and South Korea await the return of their loved ones, abducted by North Korea. We cannot turn our back on them.

I copied the two paragraphs from the Yomiuri op-ed, but the FA essay says the same thing. From the Japanese perspective, the abductees are part of the Six-Party Talks, unlike “North Korea’s ballistic missile programs… and its human rights record”, which rightfully should be priorities for “future talks”. I’m sure that there must be nothing intentional behind this formulation, but it is telling nonetheless.

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