MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis. -- In the wake of all the recent media hype about Pearl Harbor, Americans need to recognize that the obvious lessons of Pearl Harbor have been learned and will never be repeated. Now is the time to address issues that can create a new framework for U.S.-Japan relations to avert a different kind of ''Pearl Harbor'' disaster.
The U.S.-Japan relationship broke down before, and it could do so again if America drastically reduces its political and economic role in the Pacific and removes troops, planes and ships from Asia.
The U.S.-Japan alliance has been heavily dependent on the containment of Soviet expansion in Asia. But with the Cold War in its final chapter, the mandate for maintaining U.S. military forces in Japan and for Japan's strong support of American security objectives in Asia is uncertain. The possibility that Japan could make a deal with Russia for the return of the four northern islands; that North and South Korea could make up and reduce North Korea's atomic bomb potential; and that a more open and benign leadership could succeed the octogenarians in China could build pressure here and in Japan for full-scale U.S. military withdrawal from the Pacific.
While some troops should come home, terminating our military presence would shake Asia's political and economic stability, which has been maintained under the umbrella provided by a non-threatening U.S. military presence. A military pullout would remove the United States as a key player in the Pacific and signal an end to our interest in the region's political future. Such a move would be particularly dangerous today. Without any offensive capability, Japan still has the world's third largest defense budget and is an overpowering economic presence in the western Pacific. China and Russia, which are suspicious of each other, remain unstable, territorial nuclear giants.
We must protect our political, security and economic interests in Asia. Our trading relationship with the Pacific is larger than our trade with Europe. The western Pacific, including Japan, will account for one-third of the world's Gross National Product in the year 2000. Japan alone is our second largest trading partner. The high savings rates in Japan and elsewhere in Asia have enabled those countries to invest their surpluses in the United States to help is offset two indicators of our economic shortcomings -- the federal budget deficit and the lack of competitiveness of American industry.
The Asian nations have been willing to invest their surpluses here because of confidence in our economic and political outlook. If we turn our back on Asia and withdraw into an isolationist and protectionist shell, three things will occur. First, Asian countries will lose their confidence in us and Japan will become increasingly dominant in that part of the world. Second, we will lose the opportunity politically to influence Japanese behavior. Third, we will lose the opportunity to benefit economically from trade and investment opportunities in the most rapidly growing part of the world.
The result will be an economic ''Pearl Harbor'' for the United States.
There is an alternate. We need a Pacific Charter, like the Atlantic Charter of 50 years ago that set the direction for the post-World War II world.
We, Japan and any other nation in Asia that is ready to join should state broad principles for our future relationships -- respect for human rights and democracy, free and open markets for trade and investment, renunciation of force to settle disputes, collaboration in assisting the development of poor countries and environmental concerns.
Such an agreement on the principles of an alliance can, in turn, provide an impetus for building on APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, an informal organization of states on the Pacific Rim) to move toward a Pacific Free Trade Agreement, rules of the road on investments, dispute-resolution mechanisms and other non-exclusive multilateral arrangements. The goal is to enhance the peaceful economic development of all countries on the Pacific Rim, including those in Latin America, while keeping an open trading environment toward non-Pacific nations.
The lessons of Pearl Harbor lie not in reliving World War II. The lessons lie in thoughtful reflections on past history. And in recognizing that in this highly interdependent world, the United States and Japan -- the two economic superpowers -- have a great deal to gain by furthering the close ties our democracies have built since World War II.
Edson W. Spencer, chairman of the board of the Ford Foundation and former CEO of Honeywell, heads the Commission on U.S.-Japan Relations for the Twenty First Century.