Skip to main content

Review by John Sylvester

Kent E. Calder, Pacific Alliance: Reviving U.S. Japan Relations , Yale University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-300-14672-1,
292 pp. hardcover, $40

Americans now are not mindful of Japan.  In the 1980’s Japan loomed large: buying up America; biggest banks of the world; number one. Japanese then talked of “Japan Bashing;” they now talk of “Japan Passing.” Americans have renewed their fascination with China, now an aspirant number one.

Dr. Calder, the director of the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D. C. has written a comprehensive and articulate review of our security relations with Japan.  His central thesis is that our formal ties, while troubled, are vital to both our countries. Japan is still an economic superpower and our critical ally in East Asia as based on the Mutual Security Treaty of 1960. “Tokyo benefits for many reasons from being shielded by a sturdy umbrella, given the heavy weather in its neighborhood.  That indispensable umbrella is the U.S. Japan alliance.”

With the Cold War and the Korean War Japan went from being our ex-enemy to part of the foundation of our national defense strategy.  But Japanese, out of the searing experience of the Pacific War, had turned pacifistic, much of the populace hostile to any military matters.  The reviewer entered the American Embassy in 1960 as mass demonstrations took place in Tokyo, hundreds of thousands marching by the Embassy gates chanting Anpo Hantai (Against the Security Treaty).  Prime Minister Kishi rammed the new Security Treaty through the National Diet, his reward being forced out of office and ironically being stabbed in the butt by a right wing extremist for not being rightist enough.

Dr. Calder describes how John Foster Dulles carved out the original Security Treaty, signed simultaneously with the Peace Treaty in 1952. “The newborn San Francisco System, as it can appropriately be called, gave Japan broad trade access to the American market, aiding Japanese economic recovery, in return for intimate, if asymmetrical, transpacific security cooperation and Japanese acquiescence in isolating mainland China.”  It gave the U.S. military bases in Japan and continued occupation of Okinawa. The new Security Treaty of 1960 was intended to provide a more equal relationship, although even that was greeted by the mass protests. The Japanese leadership, since the American forced opening to the world by Commodore Perry, had always wanted a key foreign alliance, first with Great Britain, then disastrously with Germany, and, after 1945 led by Prime Minister Yoshida, with the U.S.

Dr. Calder notes the weaknesses in the relations.  With the protectionist instincts in Japan, it never welcomed the amount of American investment that would provide a strong equity in the relationship.  The anti-militaristic instincts of the people have prevented Japan from doing its full share of the defense burden and in world peace keeping (although that is now changing).  In the 1990’s the Japanese economic bubble burst, and even now the economy has not regained full vigor.  After Prime Minister Koizumi left office his successors have been weak and the politics confused.  On the American side, the generation of leadership that pressed for strong national and personal ties with Japan has passed, and the institutional framework for our ties has corroded. (The reviewer will confirm one instance of this as the formerly vigorous North Carolina Japan Center has had its budget stripped away by the university.)  Few members of Congress visit Japan now.

There are countervailing strengths.  The American military and the Japanese Self Defense Forces are integrating their systems.  Japan continues to provide enormous budgetary support for the American bases in Japan. With the return of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty in 1972 a core friction was eliminated, although the islanders still resent the heavy American presence there. Our recent presidents and secretaries of state have paid proper attention to Japan and the symbolic exchanges of visits. Our ambassadors in Tokyo have been political heavyweights.

Dr. Calder suggests a number of prescriptions for reinforcing our ties with Japan. Further coordination on military planning and joint defense production, and more symmetrical direct foreign investment patterns, are necessary. We also need better bilateral economic coordination, which has been weakened by globalization and the continued structural differences in the two nation’s political economies.  Dr. Calder makes a fervent plea for more network building, ranging from academic, journalistic, and political exchanges to cultural and even lobbying groups.End.



John Sylvester served in the Foreign Service in Japan for thirteen years. After retirement he was the director of the North Carolina Japan Center at N.C. State University from 1981 to 1996.


Comments are closed.