U.S.-Japan Defense Challenges Examined in World Affairs Town Hall

Japan’s Consul-General and a local distinguished scholar provide an insightful public affairs briefing.

Nashville – Feb. 26, 2016 – If the fans who lingered at the stadium after Super Bowl 50 earlier this month happened to look skyward they wouldn’t have seen a North Korean satellite above their heads, but it was there. The latest demonstration of Pyongyang’s military capability and strategic threats was a payload lofted across Japan, the Pacific and the United States. It was the most recent reminder of the threat emanating from the nuclear-armed North Korean regime to American and Japanese security.

Meanwhile, Chinese expansionism in the Western Pacific was making news last week when it was reported that Beijing’s questionable maritime claims in the South China Sea were being backed up by a deployment of surface to air missiles to a tiny island there, militarizing the challenge and reminding observers that territorial claims, like those concerning the Japanese Senkaku islands, were an increasingly inflammatory issue.

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Consul-General of Japan Masami Kinefuchi and Dr. James Auer (Photo: TNWAC)

It was against this backdrop of strategic defense challenges in East Asia that the Tennessee World Affairs Council hosted a conversation with Japan’s Consul-General Masami Kinefuchi, resident in Nashville, and Dr. James Auer, a distinguished scholar who heads the Nashville-based Auer U.S.-Japan Center, on the topic “U.S.-Japan Relations: An Enduring Security Partnership Faces New Challenges.” The February 23rd town hall was hosted by Belmont University Interdisciplinary Studies and Global Education, represented by Professor Joan Li, in association with the Japan-America Society of Tennessee (JAST), represented by its director Leigh Wieland.

Consul-General Kinefuchi opened the briefing with a comprehensive review of Japan-US relations in the past, Japanese constitutional constraints and changes in defense policymaking, the structure of the bilateral security treaty, the footprint of U.S. forces in Japan, and the ways the alliance is being strengthened. He said, “During the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Taiwan Crisis the location of Japan was always of strategic importance to U.S. forces and its importance has become no less essential if you think about the peace and stability of the region today.”

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Consul-General of Japan Masami Kinefuchi (Photo: TNWAC)

The constraints of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution are a fundamental determinant of Japan’s defense force’s roles. Kinefuchi said, “The article stipulates our renunciation of war and military force.” He noted that new legislation in the area of peace and security provided for Japan: to participate in a wider range of UN peacekeeping operations and other international coordinated efforts; to provide necessary support when a situation “has an important influence upon Japan’s peace and security or threatens international peace and security”; and to exercise the right to collective self-defense when specific conditions are met.

Consul-General Kinefuchi pointed out that, “The real foundation of our alliance rests in the hearts and minds of both our peoples. Without strong trust and confidence a mere treaty on paper will not work. In defense, having common strategic goals and interests and sharing values are so important.”

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Consul-General of Japan Masami Kinefuchi and Dr. James Auer (Photo: TNWAC)

Dr. Auer opened a conversation with Kinefuchi following the briefing during which they addressed the questions of collective self defense, the Okinawa basing issue, the origins and changes in the Japanese Constitution and the threats from North Korea and concerns about China’s expansion and intentions.

An audience member asked if U.S. military presence in East Asia made the region less stable. Dr. Auer responded to the question:

“Does the alliance provide security or insecurity? The Cold War ended in 1991. In 1994 I attended a conference in Seoul, South Korea. There were delegations from Korea, from Japan, from the United States, from China and from Russia. The subject was the U.S.-Japan Alliance after the Cold War. Everyone there, including the Chinese and the Russians agreed that the U.S.-Japan alliance was a very positive source of peace during the Cold War. It was the main reason the Cold War didn’t become hot because the Soviet Union was deterred by the U.S.-Japan alliance.

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“The Chinese representative at this meeting was extremely critical of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was really terrible and evil. So the U.S.-Japan alliance was really necessary and it was a very good thing. However, now that the Cold War is over the enemy, Russia, the Russian Bear is gone. — Mr. Putin might be trying to revive it. — But it was really reduced in 1991. And he said, but now, China is not a threat. China is a peace loving country. So there is no need to have U.S. forces in Japan anymore and there’s no need to have U.S. forces in Korea anymore. So you can go home and everything will be very nice. And I said, “Sir, the problem is that China has a credibility problem. Japan doesn’t believe that China will be very nice if the Americans go home and the South Koreans don’t believe China will be very nice if the Americans go home. So that’s why the United States is still there.”

“As the Consul-General mentioned, against the former Soviet Union by itself Japan could do not enough. Against China, which is now becoming, unfortunately, militarily larger and larger – we’re not sure why, if they’re a peace loving country – Japan is also uncertain. So if Japan tells the United States to go home, the United States will go home. If South Korea tells the United States to go home, the United States will go home.

“But so far both South Korea and Japan want to have the United States stay. And so I believe the U.S.-Japan alliance is an alliance for security, not an alliance for insecurity. And it would be nice if we come to a state one day where the Japanese don’t feel threatened by China and the South Koreans don’t feel threatened by China. But we’re not at that stage today.”

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The town hall succeeded in providing an insightful basis for understanding the strategic alliance between Americans and Japanese and perspectives on the challenges confronting them. Kinefuchi said that, “As the Consul-General of Japan in this part of the U.S. I am determined to make every effort and provide whatever support possible to further strengthen our friendship and mutual trust. “ He added, “Let me end by thanking you for your interest in and support of the Japan-US alliance. President Obama described this partnership as the ‘unshakeable alliance’ while Prime Minister Abe calls it an ‘alliance of hope.’ I am proud and pleased to be one part of the stewards of this historic bilateral friendship.”

The US-Japan defense public affairs town hall was organized by the Tennessee World Affairs Council, a nonpartisan, educational, nonprofit group that works to educate and inspire a greater understanding of global issues among members of the community. In addition to a regular speaker program it organizes local discussion groups, student international affairs awareness programs and teacher training. The Council recently hosted the Ambassadors of Ireland and of Russia and a state-wide competition on global affairs for high school students called WorldQuest. Upcoming programs are listed on TNWAC.org.

The Japan-America Society of Tennessee is a not-for-profit organization that works to create mutual economic benefit through a prosperous relationship between Tennessee and Japan. The annual Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival is one of its many community events that can be found at JASTN.org.

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The Tennessee World Affairs Council is a nonprofit (501c3), nonpartisan educational charity based in Nashville that works to build understanding of global issues in our communities. Learn more about the Council and find how you can join, donate and volunteer at: www.TNWAC.org 

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