Friday, May 7, 2010

SRIPARNA PATHAK, Research Scholar at the Centre, on Japan- American relations: (Absence of) Evolution in the 21st Century

SRIPARNA PATHAK locates the evolving Japan- American relations in the 21st Century.

When Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the President of the United States of America, his assumption of office was accompanied by the slogan, “Change is Here”. However, reflecting upon Japan- America relations, one hardly sees any change. The specific issue in question being that of the removal of American troops (U.S. Marine Corps Base at Futenma, on Okinawa).

When Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama went to attend last month’s nuclear summit in Washington, Mr. Hatoyama’s officials lobbied hard for a one on one meeting between Yukio and Obama. The request was rudely refused and the Japanese Prime Minister had to settle for a meeting of merely ten minutes with Obama, over dinner. The treatment meted out to the Japanese Prime Minister was definitely humiliating as has been pointed out by the Japanese media. The humiliation extended to Barack Obama bluntly informing Mr. Hatoyama that he was running out of time to settle the dispute over relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps base at Futenma on Okinawa, and asked him directly whether he was trustworthy.

When Mr. Hatoyama’s Democratic Party won the elections in Japan in August 2009, Mr. Hatoyama had largely put forth ideas about Japan’s independent voice in the world, and about loosening American dominance. Nevertheless, these have been responded to by the United States with warnings about the consequences for Japan and the Asia Pacific region.
After the Second World War, Japanese foreign policy has largely been pacifist in nature, and the presence of the Seventh Fleet in Japan has been a perpetual reality since then. This can be seen as a signal that the legacy of the Cold War lives on even till date, not just in the fact that there are two Koreas, but also in the fact that the United States of America sees it essential that a fleet be positioned in Japan to safeguard it, and/or to ensure that a belligerent Japan preceding the Second World War does not become a reality once again.

Nevertheless the international system has undergone several changes since the decade of the 1950s. Strategic moves and tactics that are realist in nature can no longer ensure international security. Conceptions of international security as such, particularly in the 21st century are completely different from what used to be in the 1950s. As such current discourses on international security are directed by the notions and the need for growth, sustainable development, enhancement of trade and economic cooperation, and not by ideas on military acquisitions or preparations for war. Thus, the realist paradigm through which U.S. policies on Okinawa seem to be operating needs a serious rethink.

Besides this, the tactics of bullying and playing the ‘big brother’ need to be done away with. The U.S. might be the strongest in terms of military power, but that does not change the fact that the current international system is multipolar in nature with states such as Japan, China and India playing important roles.

The Asian culture largely respects the ‘other’ and deems it essential to treat ‘guests’ with reverence. This however does not mean that snubbing and bluntness can be imposed on the leaders or heads of states with cultures that are seen as more hospitable.
Analysing tenets of Robert Putnam’s Game Theory in international relations, diplomats or those engaged in bilateral negotiations or discussions always aim at getting the better position in the bargain. However international relations, particularly in the 21st century, is not a zero sum game and both the parties attempt to ensure that the outcome is at least a win-win outcome for both the parties. Even this theory proves inadequate to analyse the meeting between Obama and Yukio, because the American side clearly seeks to bully and overpower, denying the Japanese side even the scope to place its side on the negotiating table. Thus, American foreign policy vis- a- vis Japan cannot be even called realist in nature. It is simply tactics of bullying, snubbing, dominating and threatening that are in clear play, and as such need a serious rethink.

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