Bashing Japan Strains Relations

October 09, 1990|By Robert Warren Barnett

WASHINGTON. — AMERICAN ''Japan Bashers,'' supposing Tokyo to be more vulnerable to Iraqi domination of OPEC than Washington, are demanding angrily that Japan should contribute many, many billions of dollars to cover a far greater share of the financial and military burdens bravely borne by Washington. Many bashers say that if a greedy Japan continues to be a free-riding beneficiary of the risk-taking sacrifices of others we should revoke our Alliance and impose prohibitive trade barriers.

Meanwhile, careful Japanese analysts tell us privately -- we also read of it in the Times -- that the Liberal Democratic Party leadership incredulously digests this most recent Gulf-related cacophony of lamentation, self-pity and savage abuse of Japan voiced by Americans blind to Japan's present strategic benevolences.

Must Japan, LDP leaders are now asking, grapple ''realistically'' with the crucial question of whether the U.S.-Japan Alliance can be sustained politically if such remorseless bashing does not cease?

In fact, can Japan stop congressional bashing short of renouncing Article IX of Japan's U.S.-imposed Constitution and ''reversing'' the ''no war'' precepts of Ohira's 1980 Concept of Comprehensive National Security? Thereafter -- some dream -- Tokyo could behave like a London or Paris.

LDP leadership is wounded by bashing, but it does not cower: Japan's large and readily deployable resources permit -- absent the fearful automaticities of previous Cold War imperatives -- exploring elsewhere, diversely and mutually respectful partnerships.

Within the LDP, President Bush's friend, Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, is committed to the Alliance, and interprets the force of the no-war Article IX of Japan's Constitution narrowly. Takako Doi, popular chairwoman of the Socialist Party, also supports this position. And, at present, so also do familiar and powerful LDP stalwarts and many influential leaders of public opinion in the Japanese press. Attribute to constraints of Japanese Law Japan's turgid progression toward Mr. Kaifu's far from trivial $4 billion contribution -- so far -- to meet the Gulf's crisis costs.

Mr. Kaifu's performance has provoked his critics to ridicule his spongy responses to Japan's Gulf ''realities.'' These critics -- seemingly including people like Party Secretary General Ishiro Ozawa, Party Council Chairman Takeo Nishioka, even Former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, and others -- now appear to be making a bold start, themselves, or through pressure on Kaifu, to make possible Japanese para-military participation in the Gulf.

Even if initially gratified, Washington could be in for sobering consequences if they succeed. Participation of ''civilianized'' members of Japan's self-defense forces in the Gulf's crisis may do nothing to enhance deterrence of Iraq.

However, Tokyo's compromise of Article IX military constraints, whether done explicitly or ambiguously, will send shivers of alarm throughout both Koreas, China, Southeast Asia and elsewhere, causing distress so profound that each and all will re-examine, anxiously, the security and economic premises which now underlie hope for sustainable future growth in the Pacific region. Tampering with Article IX would alter context for Mikhail Gorbachev's warmly anticipated visit to Japan in 1991.

Japan's ''defense only'' budget already has been exceeding the military spending of the United Kingdom, Germany or France. Washington may discover that further enlargement of ''burden sharing'' along lines presumed to be desired by ''bashers'' could include painful surprises:

* Japanese para-military, even military, maneuvering in post Cold War and Iraqi crisis arrangements -- not merely as Pentagon subalterns;

* Reduction of Japan's already declining purchases of Treasury bonds;

* Reduced Japanese investment in the capital-famished, debt-burdened American economy;

* A standstill or downturn in Japanese contributions to the World Bank, the Fund and other United Nations economic agencies;

* Reduced bilateral capital flows to developing countries everywhere -- notably in Eastern Europe, but also in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

* Many Americans, mesmerized by Japan's ''unfair'' successes, and panic-struck by the high unbudgeted cost of Washington's response to ''strategic necessity,'' have not asked the right questions about realistic burden sharing.

What are today's most serious burdens, internally and globally?

Which countries can bear most cost-effectively the differing parts of that aggregate burden?

How can collective sharing of aggregate burdens for the good of all be best sustained?

Who is entitled, and under what circumstances, to decide to incur the astronomical costs of fighting even the most just of just wars?

Strategists of ''burden sharing,'' to be realistic and responsible, should confront such questions; meanwhile, can we do better than to implore Japan to continue, as before, to think of their and our security comprehensively, only more imaginatively?

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