Richard Danzig and Joseph Nye, two foreign policy establishment figures who have signed on to the Obama campaign, have co-produced an Asahi op-ed (English, Japanese) that gives, in the words of one of the authors quoted by Asahi's Washington bureau chief, “Obama's thinking about Japan and the U.S.-Japan alliance.” Someone wondered why Mr. Obama didn’t put his name on it. Actually, it’s simple; unlike John McCain, he hasn’t really focused on the bilateral relationship. He doesn't have anything that he's comfortable putting his name to. Short-term, it’s clearly a secondary consideration in a low-priority region, notwithstanding North Korea’s nuclear program*. I do not think that this relative lack of interest is a bad thing, though, as I have argued, sort of, before.
In fact, when Mr. Danzig and Mr. Nye turn their attention to Japan, the outcome is very much like the line that the Bush administration has been pushing. In a nutshell, they want to continue to transform the military alliance along the revised guidelines. This is no surprise, when you recall that Mr. Nye is the co-author, with Republican Richard Armitage, of the bipartisan 2000 report that laid out the framework for the Bush administration’s Japan policy.
Beyond the bilateral security relationship, the essay talks about their hopes for close cooperation on what they call “the world's most pressing challenges—halting proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, strengthening the global economy, tackling climate change, responding to global pandemics”. But that’s all really not much more than boilerplate stuff, the kind that can be tossed at any self-respecting member of the OECD. It is what the pair says on the Six-Party Talks that an uncomfortable truth for the Japanese authorities emerges. To quote:
Japan now plays a critical diplomatic and political role in the region. In the six-party talks, Tokyo supports efforts to persuade North Korea to fully and transparently abandon its nuclear weapons program and return to the Nonproliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards. It is pressing North Korea to resolve outstanding questions about the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by the North Korean regime. And it is trying to convince North Korea to engage in a larger regional peace regime.
Our mutual efforts to use the six- party vehicle to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue have been harmed by erratic U.S. policies toward the North that have allowed it to accumulate a stockpile of plutonium sufficient to build nuclear weapons, to test a nuclear device and to resume testing of missiles.
We need closer consultations between the United States and Japan, the right mix of pressures and inducements, and direct tough-minded dialogue with North Korea to resolve all the issues included in the six-party process and to prevent the slide since 2001 from continuing.
Did you notice that working on North Korea’s nuclear program is referred to as a collective effort, while the abductees issue is tacked on as the subject of Japanese efforts? The McCain-Lieberman op-ed appears to pay a little more attention to the uniquely Japanese concerns, but, in all fairness to the Obama’s-thinking duo, Mr. McCain also sees the abductees as a secondary issue, as I have pointed out before**.
Finally, China does not figure in the Danzig-Nye essay the way that it casts a shadow on McCain’s views of the bilateral alliance, but other than that, there’s remarkably little distance between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama’s campaign on Japan, for better or worse. It’s on the global level that differences arise, and affect the bilateral relationship, which would make a neat summary of what I was getting at in my Glocom talk.
* Not that that’s anything new. If North Korea’s nuclear program was such an important issue, why did the Bush administration put a mere assistant secretary, a career diplomat albeit one with an excellent resume, in charge? China got the Secretary of Treasury, the Middle East not only got the President, but the Secretary of State as well. And everybody else, not that that helped.
** Especially footnote **.
(sidebar) The McCain-Lieberman op-ed came out in the Yomiuri, the Danzig-Nye essay appeared in the Asahi. Coincidence? I think not. So who gets Ron Paul? Remember, he’s still in the Republican race. And Ralph Nader? Sankei and Mainichi?