Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2015.05.22

How Mutual Has The Mutual Security Treaty Become?

JBpress on May 18, 2015

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration finally adopted and submitted two national security-related bills to the Diet (Japan's Parliament) on May 15. Although the date happens to be the 24th anniversary of the death of Abe's father, former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, the bills have more to do with the unfinished dreams of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, in 1960.

The views of the front page headlines of major daily newspapers in Tokyo were sharply divided.

Conservative dailies like the Sankei and Yomiuri repeated Abe's buzz words such as "Seamless Preparedness for Peace" or "Japan-U.S. Security Alliance Strengthened," while the moderate Nikkei's headline was more neutral, reading "Japan's Security Policy at a Turning Point."

Liberal papers, on the other hand, were much more critical. The Asahi and Mainichi criticized the new bills as "A Dramatic Shift" in and "A Historical Turning Point" for the "Security Policy of Japan." The Chuunichi/Tokyo Shimbun's headline went even further saying "A 'War-Wageable Nation' is to be Debated in the Diet - We Will Protect Article 9 (of the Constitution)."

Although parliamentary debates have not even started, criticisms focused on the following questions: a) Why Abe did not refer to China in his May 14 press conference, b) Why Abe made light of the Diet by committing to enacting the bills by summer in front of the U.S. Congress and finally, c) Why he said that it is absolutely impossible for Japan to be drawn into unwanted wars by the U.S..

The answers are simple. a) Abe did not refer to China because the bills are focused only on situational contingencies and not on geographical crises caused by or involving specific countries or nations. b) He referred to this summer because the executive branch has the authority to strike international deals while the legislative branch enacts bills and approves treaties.

The last, c), has been a typical argument used by liberal parliamentarians in the Diet against the revised Japan-U.S. Mutual Security Treaty of 1960. The critics say the treaty has neither been mutual nor well-balanced simply because Japan has virtually no right to reject military operations that the United States wants Japan to be involved in.

A similar but completely opposite argument has been made on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. The argument is still subtle but critical. The Mutual Security Treaty may not be fully mutual since the United States is obliged to defend Japan under armed attacks, while Japan, under the ongoing treaty, does not have to reciprocate such a defense commitment.

Now this will no longer be the case. A 2+2 meeting of the Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers was held on April 27 in New York City. In a joint press conference, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that "we mark the establishment of Japan's capacity to defend not just its own territory but also the United States and other partners as needed."

This year's 2+2 was "an historic meeting," said Kerry, "it's an historic transition in the defense relationship between countries" and the U.S. side was "very, very grateful to have such willing and capable partners in arriving at this particular moment." Ironically, this kind of mutuality was exactly what Abe's grandfather strongly pursued but failed to secure in 1960.

In the late 1950s, there was a growing sentiment in Japan that the 1951 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States was not fully mutual and therefore must be properly amended to achieve a better balance of commitments and benefits between the two allies. Then-Prime Minister Kishi was one of the strongest advocates of such a view.

55 years have passed since then. The mutuality of the treaty is finally--but still only partially--being realized by his grandson in 2015. Yes, the Asahi and Mainichi were correct when they called the two security bills "A Dramatic Shift" in and "A Historical Turning Point" for the "Security Policy of Japan." This is the most significant part of Abe's new security policy.

In a nutshell, Japan decided to be like one of the ordinary "NATO standard" U.S. allies around the world, which share and bear mutual interests and commitments in the alliance. This is a new sense of alliance responsibility on the part of Japan and is absolutely not the "revisionism" or "tilting to the right tendency" that only a few Asian neighbors of Japan seem to suggest.