Photo/IllutrationAir Self-Defense Force F-15 fighter jets fly with U.S. B-1B bombers and F-35B stealth fighters during a joint drill in 2017. (Provided by the Air Self-Defense Force)

U.S. President Donald Trump has openly criticized as “unfair” the security treaty between Japan and the United States, which has been the foundation of Tokyo’s postwar national security policy.

Speaking about the treaty in a U.S. TV interview in late June, Trump said, “If Japan is attacked, we will fight World War III. ... But if we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch it on a Sony television, the attack.”

Trump’s gripes about the bilateral security treaty came immediately before he attended this year’s Group of 20 summit, held in Osaka.

In a news conference after the G-20 summit, Trump repeatedly said the treaty was “unfair,” although he denied thinking about withdrawing from the pact. And he also said he had told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this “lopsidedness” of the pact should be changed.


Trump’s view about the Japan-U.S. pact is one-sided and unacceptable. The security treaty between the two countries not only serves the strategic interests of both countries but also contributes to stability in the region and the world as a whole.The argument that the treaty is unfair is nothing new.

Originally signed in 1951 and revised in 1960, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between Japan and the United States of America stipulates in Article 5 that the United States would act to defend Japan in case of an armed attack against Japan.

Article 6 of the treaty says for that purpose the United States is granted the use of “facilities and areas” in Japan by its military forces.

These “asymmetrical" obligations the pact imposes on Japan and the United States, sometimes referred to as “cooperation between things (bases) and people (troops),” is the distinctive characteristic of the treaty and has been the cause of American complaints about its “unfairness” and “one-sidedness.”

To be sure, other mutual security treaties involving the United States, such as the North Atlantic Treaty, which forms the legal basis of NATO, and the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Republic of Korea (South Korea), commit all parties involved to defend each other.

The Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is essentially different from these pacts because Japan is banned by Article 9 of its Constitution from exercising its right to collective self-defense.

The Abe administration has forcibly changed the traditional government interpretation of the article to allow Japan to partially exercise this right. But Japan’s successive Cabinets consistently ruled out Japan’s engagement in collective self-defense operations.

Based on this assumption, the treaty is designed to strike a realistic balance between the obligations of both countries even though they are not symmetrical.

The U.S. military bases in Japan are vital for the U.S. global strategy and serve its national interest. Maintaining them has imposed heavy burdens on local residents, especially those in Okinawa.

The argument that this treaty unfairly imposes all the burden of defending Japan on the United States is based on complete misunderstandings.


When the Cold War ended, removing the common security threat posed by the Soviet Union, Japan and the United States in 1996 reaffirmed the importance of their security treaty as a lynchpin of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.In the ensuing years, Washington has been steadily stepping up its demands concerning the security roles Japan plays. In the process, the nature of the bilateral security treaty has changed from “cooperation between goods and people” as it assumed more of the features of “cooperation between people and people.”

The law to deal with security emergencies around Japan, which was enacted in 1999, has allowed the Self-Defense Forces to provide logistic support to the U.S. forces in areas surrounding Japan.

When the United States launched war with Afghanistan in retaliation against the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001, Japan dispatched Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels to the Indian Ocean to provide fuel to U.S. warships.

During the Iraq War, which started in 2003, Japan sent Ground Self-Defense Force troops to “non-combat zones” in the Middle Eastern country to engage in activities to help its reconstruction.

Each of these moves provoked constitutionality debate at home over whether it was consistent with Article 9. But the respective Japanese administrations made the decisions to avoid harming Japan’s relations with the United States, thereby gradually expanding the scope of SDF activities.

The Abe administration took another step in the same direction when it railroaded controversial new security legislation through the Diet in 2015.

If Japan wants to move further along this path and make the bilateral security treaty a “symmetrical” pact that allows the Japanese and U.S. forces to fight side by side against the common enemy, it needs to amend Article 9. But that would not be the right choice for Japan.

The principal security challenge facing the alliance between Japan and the United States is the threat posed by China’s rapid military buildup and aggressive naval expansion.

The strategy for dealing with China’s rise as a military power, however, should not be focused on taking an antagonistic stance toward China, which would only heighten tensions in the region.

It would be in Japan’s best interest to make steady efforts for effective neighboring diplomacy to promote regional stability under a strategy not heavily tilted toward military responses while pursuing a good balance between the security treaty and the restrictions imposed by Article 9.

From this point of view, it is highly significant for Japan to stick to its traditional exclusively defensive security policy under Article 9 and seek solid cooperation with the United States based on an appropriate, if asymmetrical, division of roles.


Simply responding to U.S. demands should not be the inviolable principle that dictates Japan’s diplomacy.This is an era that poses new sticky diplomatic challenges to Japan. Tokyo needs to think thoroughly to clearly define the boundary of security roles it can perform while keeping its security policy firmly anchored by the security alliance with the United States.

If Trump is moving in the wrong direction, Japan needs to say so directly to him and try to persuade him to change his mind.

The Trump administration is urging Japan to join a multinational military coalition it is assembling to safeguard shipping lanes in the Middle East in the wake of recent attacks on tankers in the region.

It has also been reported that the U.S. government has demanded that Japan pay several times more than it does now to shoulder a greater portion of the costs of maintaining U.S. forces in Japan.

We strongly call on the Abe administration to guard itself against the possibility of making misguided policy decisions because of its tendency to put a priority on keeping its security alliance with the United States intact.

The Trump administration has taken a series of actions that run counter to maintaining the international order and raise international tensions, most notably withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord.

The fact is that the United States has stopped acting as “the policeman of the world” and started acting as a disruptive force for the world.

Instead of allowing itself to be twisted around Trump’s little finger, the Japanese government should take a first step toward setting its diplomatic agenda on its own to ensure that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty will function as a public asset for the international community.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 4