When ties with Japan need a little shock

Washington's approach to Japan usually is exemplary. Washington is sensitive to Japanese needs, aspirations, and cultural idiosyncrasies. Tokyo usually reciprocates in kind, often exceeding Washington's performance. It therefore seems almost sacrilegious to inject an iconoclastic notion: Nixonian shock therapy may be worthwhile.

To put this seemingly radical idea into proper perspective one must first understand a fundamental characteristic of US-Japan relations. Invariably bilateral talks are choreographed in advance. Elaborate consultations are held which allow both sides to marshal their forces and agree on a mutually acceptable consensus. Unless this process is upset by the intervention of uncontrolled domestic factors (i.e., single-issue lobbies) it usually yields satisfactory results for both sides

Why then might the American side need to "Shock" the Japanese? Basically because it Will provide needed motivation.

The "Nixon Shocks" of 1971 caused a great uproar among experts in US-japan relations Nixon et al were derided as heavy-handed clods whose peremptory trade actions would wreak havoc with vital ties between Washington and Tokyo. It is quite true the Nixon people probably were insensitive toward the Japanese. The results they achieved by shocking the Japanese out of their lethargy were hardly a matter of conscious planning.

However, a funny thing happened in the wake of those well-publicized "shokku." The Japanese did not shrivel up from mortification at the hands of crude barbarians. Instead, the Nixon administration got Tokyo's attention. The japanese listened and heeded what they heard.

In the years since then Washington has yielded to Tokyo on too many issues when the United States had much at stake. Common wisdom in Washington holds these concessions are the price Americans must pay to keep Japan on our side and prevent unnecessary ruffling of Japanese feathers.

In some instances this tactic is worth- while, but in others it is not. Trade problems and defense relations, including burden sharing on costs and South Korean security, stand out as prime examples where the United States has given more than it has received. In consultations -- public or shielded -- with the Japanese on such vital and controversial issues Washington needs to be far more aggressive than it previously has been.

Random sorties against the Japanese clearly would be counterproductive. What is suggested here is entirely different. Selective "shokku" should be administered to the Japanese only when they drag their feet and Washington has a clear-cut alternative program. Defense and trade issues clearly qualify for such a tactic.

Authority among the Japanese is extraordinarily diffused. Many people and groups have a say before a decision is reached.This accounts for the cumbersome processes the Japanese go through to achieve consensus. It also accounts for their reluctance to forth- rightly present their views. Tokyo often is fearful of antagonizing some domestic constituencies. The net result is the presence of discrete factional views barely beneath the surface.

The key aspect of this phenomenon for American negotiators is that some of these factions can be more sympathetic than others toward Washington's position. This is particularly true when Japanese bureaucrats feel inhibited by domestic factors from supporting policies they personally prefer.

Seen from this perspective, it is possible that an adroitly administered "shokku" will give the Japanese just the nudge they require to move them off dead center on controversial issues. Washington's bluntness would give the Japanese opportunities to resolve outstanding issues they know they ought to cope with but find themselves unable to explain in terms the Japanese public can accept. On these selected issues (again, defense and trade stand out) the Japanese government may secretly welcome strong foreign pressures. It could provide a needed excuse for doing whay they would like to do if they thought they could get away with it back home.

Without such a tactic, vital American stakes in controversial issues are likely to be further obscured in the cloud of diplomatic niceties that envelope US-Japan relations. At an earlier stage of our bilateral ties such costs were acceptable, but Washington should not tolerate them now or in the future.

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