Security declaration represents new role for Japanese in Asia Partnership with U.S. could be hazardous, Tokyo analysts say JTC

April 19, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

TOKYO -- The joint security declaration signed Wednesday by President Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto represents the start of a sea change in the way Japan views its own military role, analysts in Tokyo say.

Although pundits who declare Japan at historic crossroads often turn out to be wrong, everyone from liberal commentator Minoru Morita to former defense official Narihiko Ueda agrees that the declaration effectively has pushed the nation beyond its insular mentality to publicly proclaim a responsibility for Asia's peace through a military partnership with the United States.

Until now, the U.S.-Japan security treaty has been viewed in Tokyo mainly as a device for Japan's defense. But that raison d'etre became less credible after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Japan's biggest Cold War menace, and because fewer Americans are willing to support the treaty perpetually as a means of defending the world's second-biggest economy.

"The concept that the security treaty is no longer a Japan protection device, but is for regional security like NATO, is a turning point," said Robert Orr, a senior research fellow at Temple University in Tokyo.

"The extent to which that concept is embraced means the survival of the treaty. If it can't be embraced, the treaty will die because Americans won't support it," he said.

Both elements always have been part of the 1951 treaty, under which the United States is obliged to defend Japan in exchange for use of military bases there and more than $5 billion annually to support the 47,000 U.S. troops.

But analysts say the declaration clearly has signified a reversal of those priorities into a new, expanded role for Japan in helping police the Asia region in concert with the United States.

The declaration has been backed up in recent days by new agreements for Japan to begin supplying such services as transport, refueling and the replacement of weapons parts and to review 1978 guidelines on Japanese cooperation during military crises.

Also, the two sides agreed to enhance technology exchange, including joint research on the F-2 support fighter and a study into a ballistic missile defense.

Mr. Morita agreed the security declaration represented a "big change" for Japan -- but the wrong kind. He said Mr. Hashimoto's desire for flashy leadership had ended up jeopardizing the nation's security by expanding its military role too far and threatening ties with China.

"Right now, the overwhelming opinion in Japan's political world is that Hashimoto did well, but as time goes on people will begin to understand that this was a big mistake," he said.

Others have expressed fears that Japan has suddenly been snared into America's global military strategy with virtually no public debate.

Pub Date: 4/19/96

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