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US – Japan Alliance


The U.S. - Japan Mutual Security Treaty also known as the Bilateral Security came to the existence during a crisis period, the Cold War. Although framed as an instrument to uphold peace and stability in the Far East, the Alliance was basically intended to counter the Soviet Union, a common enemy of Japan and the United States, and more extensively, communist expansion in Asia. Another reason why the alliance was formed, which is of less significance, was to ensure that Japan remained a staging ground for the U.S. military if another war broke out in the Korean Peninsula. Both countries took it upon themselves to forge in new policies and maintain a close communication through official and unofficial channels. This alliance has endured a lot of geopolitical transitions; sometimes it seems to work, but other times, there is a drift. After defeating their sole enemy, they had to revisit their principles and guidelines. The alliance has had its ups and downs; conflicts have risen among the two countries that have led to a strain in the partnerships, but the partnership has stood the test of time, (Chanlett-Avery Emma, 2011). I will discuss on the issues that saw the formation of the alliance, the adjustments made after the Cold War and the effect of the two plus two agreement of 2005. This paper will evaluate the benefits that accrue from this alliance to both countries, as well as other outside countries as the challenges the alliance faces and compare the two and come into a conclusion of the viability of this alliance.

Research Questions

  • What events led to the formation of the US – Japan alliance?
  • What challenges does the US – Japan alliance face?
  • What benefits does the United States of America accrue from the alliance?
  • What adjustments have been made on the initial treaty agreement?
  • What kind of Influence do Japan’s neighbors, mainly China and Korea, have on the US – Japan alliance?
  • What was the effect of the 2+ 2 agreement on the alliance?

Research objectives

  • To identify the various challenges that the US – Japan alliance faces.
  • To describe the events that led to the formation of the US – Japan alliance.
  • To identify any adjustment that has been made in the initial treaty agreement.
  • To establish the influence Japan’s neighbors have on the alliance.
  • To find out the effect of the 2+2 agreement on the alliance.
  • To establish the benefits that United States of America and Japan accrue from the alliance.


In this essay, empirical evidence was used to support the research questions and objectives. Journals, newspaper articles, books, and websites written by different authors from all around the world on the US- Japan alliance were observed and analyzed to establish the objectives.


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Literature review

The US – Japan alliance came to being in 1952, and this alliance provided a platform to the US military in Asia. There were 53,000 U.S troops stationed in Japan having great use of 89 facilities under the treaty that was then signed, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security (TMC). Some of the studies emphasized on the reasons for the formation of the alliance. Shibata Teruyoshi’s (2011) work focuses on reasons why the alliance was formed. He describes how it was formed to defeat the Soviet Union, which was an enemy and also went ahead to question the reason for the bilateral security relationship after the end of the Cold War and they had defeated their common enemy. Thus, in his book, he writes about the vital role of the Japan – US partnership after the Cold War, and through this, there was a new era where Japan and USA had redefined their bilateral alliance.

The asymmetric nature of the arrangement between the two countries is clearly outlined by Yamagochu Noboru (n.d.). In his article, he says that, in the treaty, Japan was to provide facilities and its military bases while the United States of America agreed to give armed forces to defend Japan. He goes ahead and describes how the two countries relate as treaty suggests. Since Japan’s constitution did not allow use of force, the USA was the one involved in the hostile territory, and Japan forces were left to perform a strictly defensive shield and nothing more.

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Cronin, Kliman and Denmark (2010) have taken an entirely new approach in looking at the US – Japan alliance by writing a report on how the alliance can revitalize their relationship. They critically look at the challenges that the alliance is facing, especially, the growing assertiveness of Japan’s neighbors and explores ways in which the two countries can tap their potential to eradicate the challenges they face. They also look at the benefits and costs of the two countries being in an alliance.


The history of the US – Japan alliance

The United States of America spotted a chance to be associated with Japan since, unlike the other countries in Asia; it was not struggling with immense poverty. During the Cold War, the USA saw Japan as a potential ally to counter the Soviet Union threat in the pacific. A pact signed in 1952 was replaced by the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. In the treaty, Japan granted the USA military facilities such as bases in Japan, and in return, the USA granted protection to Japan. This alliance, however, was very peculiar and the pledge was not mutual; hence, Japan did not have to extend such a pledge if the USA was attacked. Therefore, in the 1950’s, there was a military aid program that provided equipment that was necessary for Japan’s self defense. On the other hand, Japan expanded its self defense forces and contributed more host nation support for US forces.

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The question of what to do next after defeating their common enemy and the reason for their alliance prompted changes in the treaty. After the Cold War, there needed to be a change in the initial treaty that was signed since they had managed to defeat their common enemy. Japan’s constitution restricted its forces from engaging in overseas military operations, Japan did little to help liberate Kuwait, and, instead of sending personnel, Japanese government sent money. The world scorned Japan terming the act as ‘checkbook diplomacy’, and as Kuwait’s government thanked other countries for helping liberate them, it did not include Japan. This was a wakeup call for the Japanese government and led to the revision of foreign policies. Several defense missions were carried out by the Japan forces after the revision of the foreign policy e.g. sending troops to Cambodia. In the new guidelines, there was the emphasis on the US- Japan alliance, and Japan was to strive to ensure a peaceful and stable international community.

The two countries felt urgency to integrate their military so as to gain more strength and to achieve their purposes faster and without much effort. The two plus two (2+2) of 2005 was supposed to see this integration of the US and Japan militaries. It outlined a new alliance approach that was meant to enhance Japan’s defense and move beyond the traditional ways of cooperation. The areas mostly discussed for cooperation, included; air defense, maritime security operations, counterterrorism, humanitarian relief, intelligence and surveillance. Most of the plans that were put in place during the 2+2 agreement have been carried out such as; a new airfield that is operational in Iwakuni base, transfer of about 300 USA soldiers to Japan so as to establish a forward operational headquarters, and an Air Defense Force facility in Japan. These operations allow the US and Japan forces share data and coordinate actions between the Japanese and US air and missile defense command elements. However, the 2+2 agreement has steamed up controversy such as the Futenma relocation proposal which was on Okiniwa Island and had greatly dominated meetings of the alliance.

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The challenges faced by the US Japan alliance

Despite the success of the alliance and successful agreements such as the 2+2 agreement, a variety of challenges have stalled the alliance’s plans that are documented in policy documents. In this section, some of the challenges that have hindered the achievement of the alliance’s goals will be outlined.

Political paralysis in Japan

Politics in Japan has taken a turn for the worst. Since 2007, there have been frequent changes of officials with Japan having 5 prime ministers since 2007, and this impeded policy formulations and complicated the US – Japan relations. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) had a landslide in 2009 after a 55 year period of uninterrupted wins of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Despite the triumph, the road of politics was rocky for the party, and it has put Japan in a terrible position internationally threatening the US – Japan alliance. In 2010, the DPJ party lost control of one chamber that meant that the opposition could block legislation, and this made the government to have ad hoc coalitions on some legislative matters. With such a situation in the country’s politics, it is difficult to amend some of the articles of Japanese constitution so as to allow dispatch the US troops or altering the current interpretation of collective self defense.

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Budgetary Pressure in Japan

Japan’s public debt is calculated to be around 200% of its GDP, US officials are already concerned that Japan will face a great deal of budgetary constraints that may lead to the alliance development. Japanese leaders are under a lot of pressure to stem overall government spending and to all the ministries to face budget cut. Japan’s defense budget is at $51 billion which is among the largest in the world. It has been established that Japan will have to pay a total of $ 20 billion for the realignment costs, and if the costs to realign the troops should come from the defense budget, Japan’s military will face a degraded capability since they will have forgo expensive equipments, (Chanlett- Avery, 2011). The US military officials are complaining that the Japanese force will be a “hollow force” since it has an insufficient procurement system. There are also concerns from the United States of America that Japan may be unable to provide funds that are needed in the joint training of military forces of the alliance. Budgetary pressure on Japan is growing since most of its population is aging and shrinking, which means the work force is also shrinking.

There are various legal factors that could restrain Japan from having relations with the United States of America, like the Japan’s constitution, especially, Article 9 that restricts the right of belligerency and outlaws war as a sovereign right. The article stipulates that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential will never be maintained”. Over the years, Japan has interpreted this article to mean that it can maintain a self defense military, and since 1991, it has allowed the SDF to participate in non-combat roles overseas in many UN peace keeping missions and other missions such as the US led coalition in Iraq. The principle of collective self defense also raises an issue and a decision by cabinet to interpret article 51 to forbid collective actions, since by doing so, one has to consider the defense of other countries and not the safety of Japan itself.

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Conflicts and controversies among the two states

At the beginning of 2010, there was an argument of where to place Futenma, a US Marine air base on the island of Okiniwa. In Japan, the new government formed by DPJ wanted a reopening of negotiations over Futenma in order to transfer 8,000 marines and 9,000 dependants out of Japan to reduce American military presence while the US officials insisted that the 2006 agreement was binding and that revising the agreement will ruin the plans that were in place. Even after coming to an agreement, Tokyo went in political instability, and this threatened the work, as well as the existence of the US – Japan alliance.

Tremendous rise of China

During the signing of the US – Japan alliance, China had little capacity to directly threaten neither United States of America nor Japan. In the recent past, China has experienced tremendous economic growth. In 2010, China dethroned Japan as the world’s 2nd largest economy, and if current trends continue in two decades, China will dethrone the United States of American from the 1st position. It has displaced Japan from the region’s export hub and is becoming the dominant power in Asia. This economic rise poses a vast challenge to the US – Japan alliance. Its rapid growth of economic has given luster to its authoritarian model of development as Beijing being one of the major purchasers of Treasury Bonds. Like other rising powers, China has translated its economic success into a great military strength. There is, however, another problem since its military planning is uncertain and opaque, and it remains uncertain whether it will follow other rising powers to overturn international order. The uncertainty is a challenge to the alliance as it is unaware what step China will take next.

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A nuclear North Korea in transition

North Korea has developed its nuclear weapons with time and has expanded and improved its missile capability. It has developed short range missiles that are capable of destroying US and Japan bases. This poses a big threat to the alliance as the diplomatic breakthroughs of North Korea are very poor. It is uncertain whether they will stop the missile activity; hence, the two countries have to be on the lookout.

Environmental and natural resources challenges

In recent times, there has been a rise in global population and burgeoning consumption across the world that created environmental and natural resources challenges. There is a reliable access to energy, minerals, and potable water, and human well being is not assured. The presence of undersea resources, which has inflamed Japan and China’s territorial dispute is a potential threat to the alliance. Additionally, use of natural resources such as fossil fuels is an environmental threat that is causing great problems to the missions of the military. Inadequate supply of natural resources is also a major threat to the alliance as some part of Asia does not have access to water, and China is exceedingly gaining a monopoly status, and this is not going down well with the alliance.

The benefits of the US Japan alliance

Benefits for the USA

The US-Japan alliance acts as a pillar of international order

Despite of the above challenges, The US – Japan alliance dealing with a great number of issues. It has stood the test of time and is greatly benefiting the participants, as well as other countries that come in contact with it.

The alliance serves as a pillar of an international order facilitated by the US military’s worldwide presence, and this promotes American values. In addition to that, it provides the United States of America with mechanisms that are institutional to manage disputes with other nations.

The alliance gives United States a Resident Power

The alliance gives the USA a platform as a resident power in Asia. This is because Japan hosts the American bases, and it gives them a lee way to deploy military assets quickly throughout the region. This was evident during the 2004 Tsunami whereby the US dispatched ships to Indonesia. The bases in Japan make it easier for the United States of America to respond to sudden change in the Korean Peninsula and any contingencies in the Strait of Taiwan.

The alliance provides financial support to the United States

Since the alliance maintains USA’s capabilities, it provides for financial support. Funds from Tokyo help in a substantial amount of the cost of stationing US troops in Japan. Under the umbrella of the US – Japan alliance, the United States of America can share the burden of developing new systems of weapons with Japan. For example, cooperating in developing a sea based missile interceptor.

Benefits for Japan

Japan is not also left behind in the benefits that accrue from the alliance. They include;

Advances in security and prosperity of Japan

As the pillar of the international order, alliance elevates Japan’s security and prosperity a notch higher than the other countries in Asia. Japan imports its petroleum from overseas, and without open global commons, it cannot survive as a modern economy. Thanks to the alliance, global commons are open and accessible, and it, therefore, maintain Japans existence and prosperity. Additionally, as Japan is an exporter-country, it means that if markets of other nations closed, its economy will incur losses.

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The alliance provides Japan with deterrence

Japan has three neighboring countries that are nuclear powered; Russia, China and Korea. Japan being a non nuclear power derives deterrence from the alliance.

The alliance enables Japan to have a modest military

USA capabilities such as Long range strikes give Japan a comparatively modest military. This enables Japan to enjoy a substantial financial saving, helps Japan to avoid forming its own Expeditionary military and lastly, it develops the industrial base and capacity of Japan, helping companies like Mitsubishi Heavy industries.

Benefits to other countries

Apart from the two main participants, the alliance benefits China and other countries since it holds a liberal international order. It is the open markets that have led to the rapid economic growth in Asian countries, (Cronin et. al., 2010). The alliance has in years contributed directly to regional stability in Asia through preventing assertiveness the of North Korea and enabling China to refrain from obtaining military capabilities that could lead to the region going to turmoil. From the above, the alliance benefits Asia as a whole since instability will lead to slow economic growth.

Conclusion and recommendations

Future of the alliance

The rationale behind the US – Japan alliance transcends shared security challenges such as a rising power China and an unstable and nuclear armed North Korea. We cannot define an alliance in terms of its challenges that will be limiting its potential. Therefore, the US – Japan alliance has a rationale that is both positive and inclusive. Sustaining a liberal international community that has all its global commons open and accessible to many and practicing democracy and legitimacy is the order of the day. The alliance has faced several challenges that have threatened it’s existence, but it has proved to be tougher. The alliance remains to be a very beneficial and organized asset to the United States of America, Japan and to the rest of the international community. Therefore, tapping its potential more fully will yield a better and safer global community. The USA and Japan must work on their cooperation so as to maintain a conducive environment for today and tomorrow. The two countries should work together to form a regional architecture of institutions and networks. The alliance should boost economic and military capacity of democracies of Asia. Given that the USA has a lot of resources; it should focus on one democracy that has immense potential such as Indonesia. This will help offset the rapidly rising Chinese power.

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The US – Japan alliance has more benefits than the costs and hence, the two powers should strive to maintain and tap the potential the alliance.



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