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'Next U.S. Policy for the Pacific'

February 28, 1987

Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, in his article (Opinion, Jan. 25), "Next U.S. Policy for the Pacific," suggests that Japan will, in the not too-far-distant future, inevitably become a major military power now that its government has decided to exceed 1% of gross national product in defense spending. Let me offer another view.

The present Administration conducted a thorough assessment of U.S. security interests in Asia early in 1981 and has done so on several occasions since. A rather dramatic change was the decision that defense discussions with key allies like Japan would be: (a) frank but private, rather than publicly critical as had heretofore been the case and (b) conducted on the basis of roles and missions, rather than talking about inherently sovereign and domestically sensitive questions of percentages of budget increase and percentages of GNP spent for defense.

We sought to encourage Japan to enlarge its self-defense missions to realistic levels acceptable to its own people, to other Asians and to Americans alike.

In March 1981, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger spelled out the roles the United States was willing to assume in Asia: continuation of U.S. presence and strengthening of our military capability in the Pacific, provision of defense against nuclear blackmail, continuity of our deterrent forces in the Republic of Korea, offensive capability to strengthen deterrence of threats against Japan and protection of critical sea lanes in the Southwest Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Two months later, Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki told a questioner at the National Press Club in Washington that Japan's national defense policy included defense of its territory, air and sea lanes to 1,000 miles.

To allay concerns raised by several Southeast Asian countries, Japan carefully explained that its intention was to expand its ability, in concert with the United States, to defend itself and the immediate sea lanes (extending 1,000 miles from Tokyo and Osaka toward Guam and the Philippines, respectively.)

This U.S.-Japan division of labor has been accepted by our Asian friends and allies on two conditions: that America remain a Pacific power and not leave a vacuum for Japan to fill; and that Japanese responsibilities be clearly limited, not 1,000 miles in the 1980s, 2,000 miles in the 1990s, etc.

Japan's plans for fulfilling its role are described in its 1986-1990 defense program. Thanks to the full-funding of the first two years of that program, the Defense Department will report to Congress again next month that the program represents the minimum necessary to meet these limited defense goals.

I emphasize the words minimum and limited . The 1986-1990 Japanese defense plan does assume that Japanese defense expenditures will slightly exceed 1% of GNP, as called for in the draft 1987 budget approved by the Cabinet of Yasuhiro Nakasone in late 1986.

In view of the large and proximate Soviet threat, what Japan proposes is not excessive, is suitable for survival with American help against the Soviets, but is not sufficient for unilateral Japanese power projection.

There is unanimity of support for Japan's policy of not having offensive forces. Japan in the 1990s will have a minimal capability to fulfill the goals enunciated in 1981 by former Prime Minister Suzuki if the five-year plan continues on the road to full funding, but this level of capability will threaten no one. This is a far cry from policy that would make Japan an offensive giant and potential security threat to its neighbors.

In sum, Japan's recent defense budget decision is not cause for alarm. Indeed, in view of the longstanding, bipartisan objective that Japan should take a more active role in determining its own policies and should participate actively as a member of the free nations of the world, the Nakasone Cabinet's decision should be applauded.


Assistant Secretary of Defense

International Security Affairs


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