The End of the Post-War Bargain

WILLIAM PFAFF

July 22, 1993|By WILLIAM PFAFF

Paris. -- A''new world order'' is slowly emerging which has nothing to do with the American global hegemony discussed -- even celebrated -- by Washington during George Bush's time in the White House.

There is now a parallel and reciprocal estrangement of Americans from Japan and from Europe -- once again ''fortress Europe'' in Washington eyes. This estrangement is fundamentally economic, related to trade rivalries, but Japan's national election Sunday revealed the important political dimension it possesses. The most significant result of the Japanese election was its advance of nationalism.

The Japanese vote ostensibly concerned domestic political corruption. The real issue, addressed in more or less coded language by all the parties, was termination of Japan's constitutional renunciation of military force as an instrument of national policy. The overwhelming victory of conservative forces -- new as well as old -- and the collapse of the (pacifist) Socialist vote means that this now will occur. Japan will reclaim responsibility for its own security and for the defense of its national interests.

The pacifist provision was written into the postwar constitution by the constitution's American authors, at the beginning of the occupation, and implied a reciprocal guarantee by the United States of Japan's national security. It thus formalized Japanese dependence upon the United States, a form of subordination to Washington, and this no longer is acceptable.

There has been a generational change in Japan. Since the war the the country has been governed by people formed by the war and its aftermath, and who have constructed their careers in terms of American primacy in security and foreign-policy matters. Their political discomfiture in recent years has been in part a result of the incompatibility of that political submission with Japan's economic ascendance over the United States in terms of growth, export success and trade balance.

The generation now coming to power reacts against that subordination. It is natural that it does so. Japan's political subordination is no longer appropriate to the actual relationship which exists between the two countries and the actual strength of Japan. In the Pacific, as in the Atlantic, a geopolitics dictated by World War II and the Cold War is coming to an end. It must come to an end. This will either occur reasonably, with intelligent recognition of the need for change on all sides, or there will be ruptures producing pain if not crisis.

Behind the screen provided by the success of new parties, the older Japanese leadership can abandon positions it no longer wishes to defend. Ichiro Ozawa, the most influential of the old-generation politicians, the manipulator who sponsored the dissident Japan Renewal Party and thereby brought down the government, favors constitutional change.

The most glamorous of Japan's new conservative leaders is Morihiro Hosokawa, an aristocrat who created the reformist Japan New Party. He is a possible prime minister. He is 55 and came to politics in the 1970s, which is representative of the new parliamentary generation. He says that Japan must be transformed ''from post-war Japan to post-Cold-War Japan.'' The meaning is clear.

The Clinton administration's policy -- or policies, as there seem to be separate and inconsistent political, economic and trade policies -- have speeded this development.

The administration has said that it no longer intends to impose its political leadership in world affairs. It wants cooperative effort, increased U.N. peacekeeping responsibilities for Japan, European leadership in the Yugoslav crisis, etc., so as to allow the United States to concentrate on domestic reform. At the same time the administration relies on Japanese fiscal support and practices a unilateralist trade policy much more aggressive than during the Bush and Reagan administrations.

Obviously the Japanese and the Europeans will respond to the latter with still more aggressive trade policies of their own. Sunday's election in Japan must be taken as ending the period during which Japan has systematically appeased the United States in trade confrontations (at least in the agreements it has offered, and the promises it has made, if not in its practice). Similarly, the European Community now is under pressure from some of its members to arm itself with the equivalent of the United States' ''Super 301'' trade retaliation powers.

The political, or geopolitical, aspect of this is unsurprising and even overdue. It should not really have taken 50 years for the Japanese and West Europeans to begin to shake off their political subordination to the United States. Even now they do so with distinct reluctance and some consternation at what the consequences may prove to be. But they are doing it.

The policies of Clinton administration are lending new impetus to this ''normal'' but inauspicious development in world affairs. The outcome of Japan's election means that the post-war bargain, by which Japan bought its security from the United States by accepting Washington's leadership in foreign and economic policy, is at an end.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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