US and Japan: genuine reciprocity

THE heightened acrimony marking US-Japan relations lately raises anew serious questions about the direction those ties should take. In his recent presidential address before the Association of Asian Studies, Dr. James Morley emphasized the dangers inherent in the two main approaches Americans take toward Japan: ``Japan-bashers'' and ``Japanophiles.'' Thus, we hear calls for heavy-handed retaliation against Japan pitted against pleas that we bend over backward to understand and sympathize with Japan's position on contentious issues. I suggest there is a third (and better) way, namely dealing with Japan fairly in the literal sense of that word, based on an informed, unemotional critique of the challenge Japan poses to productive bilateral ties.

The US needs to adopt a more pointed version of the golden rule in its dealing with Japan. In a controversial recently published volume, ``US-Japan Strategic Reciprocity'' (Hoover Institution Press), I elaborated on this principle by calling for a revised US policy toward Japan based on neo-internationalism: putting teeth into the reciprocal nature of bilateral interdependence and burden sharing. The hallmarks of US-Japan neo-internationalism should be reciprocity in trade and defense. These two seemingly separate issues are, in fact, closely linked because the US long has sanctioned the subsidization of Japanese defense which, in turn, bolsters Japan's ability to compete economically. Japanese officials know Japan is vulnerable to US linkage of these issues. Consequently, this is precisely where the US ought to target its pressures on Japan.

Toward that end the US should seek greater equality and fairness in its relations with Japan. In both trade and defense, Japan gets more out of our bilateral ties than the US does. Instead of bemoaning our fate and casting aspersions at Japan, we should recognize that flawed US-Japan ties can be corrected if Washington and the American people have the will to pursue a strengthened relationship with Japan that will benefit both partners. It is possible to nudge Japan into being as committed to free trade as the US is and to move Japan toward a truly reciprocal commitment to mutual defense of the global interests it shares with the United States.

Pursuit of such goals will require tough-minded American defense of US interests in negotiations with the Japanese, playing hardball in the form of quid pro quo initiatives and responses to what the Japanese do or do not do. Some will criticize the use of tacit or explicit ultimatums as unduly coercive. If introducing real equity into bilateral trade and defense relations can be considered blackmail, that is an indication of how inequitable our existing relations are and how urgently they need to be restructured -- even at the risk of temporary hard feelings.

Japanese and American analysts of our bilateral affairs frequently apply the oyabun-kobun (parent-child) model of hierarchical mutual dependency and loyalty to US-Japan ties. Perhaps it is time to infuse into that model the so-called ``tough love'' approach of a frazzled parent toward a wayward and unresponsive dependent that is sometimes needed to restore disciplined harmony into the relationship.

Edward A. Olsen is associate professor of national-security affairs and coordinator of Asian Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif.

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