The interim U.S. ambassador to Japan expects greater contributions for the alliance from Washington and Tokyo, given the changing security environment in the Asian region ahead of host nation support negotiations.

Joseph Young, who has served as interim ambassador since July 2019 following the resignation of William Hagerty, made the comment in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun on Jan. 27.

Japan and the United States will negotiate new terms for host nation support (HNS) provided to the U.S. military based in Japan as the current agreement expires in March 2021.

While not providing a specific figure for how much of an increase Washington will seek, Young said, “We'll be aiming for an agreement that reflects an equitable sharing of the responsibilities.”

The bilateral agreement on HNS extends for five years and Young said, “the challenges and the concerns in the region are evolving quickly and we want to meet those challenges together. I think there's a recognition on both sides that we need to do more.”

U.S. President Donald Trump issued a statement on Jan. 18 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty that said, “I am confident that … Japan’s contributions to our mutual security will continue to grow.”

When asked about the president’s remark, Young said, “We have to think of different ways we can contribute so that this alliance is fortified.”

Because the pacifist Constitution limits Japan to an exclusively defensive posture, it has long been considered to serve as a “shield” while the U.S. military provides the “sword” in defending Japan under the security treaty.

Regarding that relationship, Young said the passage of national security legislation in 2015 to allow Japan to partially exercise its right to collective self-defense was a “watershed moment” in the alliance.

“I think we've already begun to move beyond those models” of the sword and shield framework for the United States and Japan, Young said.

He said that change was reflected in Japan’s decision to dispatch a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer and patrol aircraft to the Middle East.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Question: The personal relationship between President Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is said to be really good. How do you evaluate the current U.S.-Japan relationship?

Joseph Young: We're very fortunate that the relationship at the top between our leaders is so good. Partly as a result of that good working relationship, I think the alliance is reaching new heights.

Q: This year is the 60th anniversary of the current Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, meaning that it has been 30 years in the Cold War and another 30 years post-Cold War. How do you think the law of the treaty has changed over the years?

Young: I think the alliance combines elements of both continuity and dynamism. Continuity in the sense that the alliance is rooted in our shared values, our belief in democracy, open markets, the freedom and rights that are incorporated in international conventions and treaties. Continuity, also in the sense that the alliance has strong bipartisan support in the United States.

There are also elements of dynamism in the sense that the situation in which the alliance operates has also evolved over time. I think during the Cold War, our alliance was a real bulwark against the expansion of Soviet influence. But since that time, challenges, risks and concerns have evolved within the region.

Firstly, in the geographic sense, new challenges posed by countries like North Korea and China. We also have challenges beyond Japan's immediate neighborhood, for example, in the Gulf region. And then we also have what you might call non-geographic domains, new domains that are covered under the alliance umbrella. For example, cyber, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum. As the concerns, threats, and risks in this new era continue to evolve rapidly, I think the United States and Japan are trying to work together to meet those challenges. And the alliance remains as important as it was at its founding.

Q: President Trump has repeatedly complained that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is unfair. As you know, under the terms of the treaty, the United States provides military power to protect Japan, while Japan grants the use of its facilities and areas for the U.S. forces. Would you say the United States believes this structure to be unfair?

Young: I think a watershed moment came in 2015 with the new defense guidelines and with Japan's security legislation. I think it gave our Japanese counterparts new authorities, new latitudes to pursue new forms of cooperation within the alliance. So, since that time, we've tried to exercise those latitudes, and I think because of that kind of change, we've been able to do some things together beyond the immediate region. We're also looking at new forms of cooperation that will make our alliance stronger, more capable to deal with the challenges that are evolving in this new era, that actually make us ready for the challenges of the century, fortified for those challenges.

Q: The Japanese government has decided to dispatch its Self-Defense Force assets to the Middle East without joining the U.S.-led coalition. Is the United States continuing to persuade the Japanese government to join the coalition?

Young: We are grateful that Japan has taken this decision and we look forward to the deployment of the Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel, as well as an aircraft. We'll have opportunities to share information, I believe, and do some coordination. Japan has not gotten to the point of formally joining the International Maritime Security Construct. I think though that we still have opportunities to cooperate. We will talk to Japan about opportunities to do even more to ensure the safety of commercial navigation, commercial trading in that part of the world. But I think for the moment, it's a very positive development that Japan will be operating there, and I think just another example of the way we're trying to expand the reach of the alliance.

Q: Japan and the United States are set to open negotiations for the terms of Japan's host nation support under the security treaty. President Trump publicly said that Japan needs to pay more. How will you negotiate with Japan on host nation support?

Young: We're still several months, at least, from the start of the talks, so I wouldn't want to get ahead of our negotiators in terms of the actual numbers that we're talking about. That will all come when the negotiations begin. As I said before, the challenges and the concerns in the region are evolving quickly and we want to meet those challenges together. I think there's a recognition on both sides that we need to do more. And I think that spirit will infuse the talks once they get started. And I think at the end of the day, we'll be aiming for an agreement that reflects an equitable sharing of the responsibilities that we need to keep this strong and to keep it ready to meet the challenges of this century.

Q: Do you believe the negotiation will be conducted within the current host region support framework? Or is the United States seeking to change the framework for cost sharing, which would include a price for operational costs or the cost of regional security?

Young: It's hard for me to know now because we're still several months out, and I think we'll have a better sense as to our negotiators’ approach once we get closer to the start of the talks. As you mentioned, there are various ways that Japan has been contributing to the alliance. It's not just within the framework of the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), but we'll have to see the approach that the negotiators take. But at the end of the day, we want an equitable sharing of responsibilities. That's our goal.

Q: In the context of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and various Japan-U.S. defense guidelines, the United States provides the “sword” to protect Japan and Japan focuses on the “shield” in accordance with its defense-only policy. Do you think we have to re-examine the structure of the “sword and shield” to counter aggressive countries? Do you believe Japan should examine having a strike capability to a certain degree?

Young: I think we're all familiar with the “sword and shield” model, which described our approach to the alliance, going back a number of years. I think there was also the “hub-and-spoke” model as well, the United States at the center and spokes would be different allies. I think we've already begun to move beyond those models. I mentioned the watershed moment in 2015, where we looked at different ways for our partnership to work together. We began to look at new domains, space, cyber and electromagnetic spectrum. Again, those domains were captured in the new defense policy documents. I'm not sure if the “sword and shield” model is an accurate description for the way we cooperate. That Japan will be operating in the Gulf of Oman I think is another reflection of the fact that we've evolved beyond that particular model. If I can maybe emphasize the point that one of the distinguishing features of the alliance is its flexibility and its adaptability to the times. So as we've attempted to adapt to this new environment, the old models have given way to new models. New models where we're working more closely together and in new ways.

We want to continue to expand the reach of the alliance, both in terms of geographically, moving beyond Japan's immediate neighborhood, but also in the sense, again of these sorts of non-geographic domains. I want to say that our cooperation just isn't in the security field alone. We're doing a lot also in the economic space, for example, our respective Indo-Pacific visions. And within those shared visions we see ourselves providing options to countries in this region, for example, in terms of infrastructure development, providing for basic infrastructural needs, working with the private sector to do that. There are other fields of cooperation with Japan that go beyond simply our security partnership.

Q: Japan has already decided to introduce long-range cruise missiles. I think it's a part of strike capability. Do you think Japan should expand such strike capabilities?

Young: I would say that we’re looking at ways that we can make this alliance stronger and more responsive to the needs of the evolving security picture. We’re going to continue to look at the capabilities that make sense. Japan is going to be looking at that from its position as a sovereign country and a sovereign government. I think it’s going to depend a lot on just the ways that we think that we could work best together to address those challenges.

Q: President Trump issued a statement at the 60th anniversary of the Japan-U.S. treaty. In that statement he says that, "I am confident that in the months and years ahead, Japan’s contributions to our mutual security will continue to grow." What does he expect Japan's contribution to mutual security to be?

Young: As the situation in this region develops, we both recognize there's a need to do more. We have to think of different ways we can contribute so that this alliance is fortified and is strong enough to deal with the challenges that we see before us.

Q: After the expiring of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Defense Secretary Mark Esper suggested that INF-range missiles could be newly deployed to the Asian region. Do you consider Japan as a possible option for deployment of the new missile?

Young: At this moment, we're thinking through what the possibilities might be in terms of developing those systems. If we ever get to the point of deciding on and developing those systems, at that point, for sure, we would have a conversation with our Japanese counterparts, very thorough discussions, before any decisions would be made about deployment.

Q: During the Obama administration, the United States took a policy of engagement toward China. However, China has not changed its attitude, unfortunately. What's your evaluation of China's present economy and military activities?

Young: There are definitely aspects of China's security and economic behavior that both the United States and Japan find worrisome. China's assertiveness in the maritime space--the East and South China seas, its disturbing human rights record, the way it's been treating folks in Xinjiang and also in Hong Kong. There are aspects of its economic behavior, for example, intellectual property, forced technology transfer, inappropriate forms of support for state-owned enterprises. I think both the United States and Japan share those kinds of concerns. And I think that we're more effective, we and the Japanese, when we work together to address these kinds of challenges. In the economic space, we've tried to do that in the context of the WTO. I think there are also areas where we've had some good news, I think, with China. I think the signing of this phase one agreement is very important. Importantly, there are mechanisms for enforcement in that agreement, and there is also the expectation now that we'll move to phase two.

I think all of the benefits that are coming from that treaty, the positive results will also be enjoyed by Japan to an extent. For example, to the extent that China respects intellectual property and proprietary technology, that's a benefit for Japanese companies as well. So that's an example of areas where we have worked closely with China. Another area that we're going to have to coordinate closely with China would be with this new coronavirus. I think you saw the president's tweet over the weekend actually, thanking Xi Jinping and noting that China had been proactive and transparent in dealing with that problem. So I think there are areas where we're going to have to work together.

Maybe there is a sense of disappointment now that China hasn't acted in a way that's completely reciprocal and hasn't answered our offer of support that way. But I think the important point is that we want to continue to work with Japan to get at some of these issues.

Q: China's Belt and Road Initiative is criticized because of their debt trap and so on. The Singapore prime minister said the U.S.- and Japan-led Indo-Pacific strategy or vision is ambiguous. What is the goal of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy in counterbalancing China?

Young: I would say the Pacific strategy has certain fundamental tenets, a vision of all countries in the region making sovereign decisions, not being beholden to any other country, who would make those decisions in a free way. A vision that includes countries working together for the United States and Japan to offer various options in terms of infrastructure and development, without the debt trap or some sort of predatory financing. I think the important point about our Indo-Pacific vision is that it does not exclude any country. It's a vision that all countries can adhere to, and that includes China. Hopefully, China could also adhere to that kind of vision.

Joseph Young, a career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service, previously served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and also served as the director for Japanese Affairs at the State Department, deputy foreign policy adviser for the U.S. Pacific Command and political-military unit chief at U.S. Embassy Tokyo.