Us Japan Alliance Essay Definition

Tell us this cannot happen, the Japanese said to their American friends, listening to Republican Party nominee Donald J. Trump during the 2016 campaign. Trump attacked Japan as an economic predator, disdained American allies as free riders, and broadly rejected the U.S. grand strategy that had benefited Japan tremendously. Friends in Boston and Washington D.C. (and New Hampshire) assured the Japanese that Trump was unelectable, and that under a Hillary Clinton presidency, Japan would resume its place as a valued American ally. Trump’s election was thus a profound shock to Japan—the latest in a long line of shokku from the United States to jolt Tokyo.[1]

H-Diplo | ISSF POLICY Series
America and the World—2017 and Beyond

“The Art of the Bluff: The U.S.-Japan Alliance under the Trump Administration”

Essay by Jennifer Lind, Dartmouth College

Published on 25 April 2017 |

Editors: Robert Jervis, Francis Gavin, Joshua Rovner, and Diane Labrosse
Web and Production Editor: George Fujii


Tell us this cannot happen, the Japanese said to their American friends, listening to Republican Party nominee Donald J. Trump during the 2016 campaign. Trump attacked Japan as an economic predator, disdained American allies as free riders, and broadly rejected the U.S. grand strategy that had benefited Japan tremendously. Friends in Boston and Washington D.C. (and New Hampshire) assured the Japanese that Trump was unelectable, and that under a Hillary Clinton presidency, Japan would resume its place as a valued American ally. Trump’s election was thus a profound shock to Japan—the latest in a long line of shokku from the United States to jolt Tokyo.[1]

Observers have speculated about the impact of Trump’s election on the U.S.-Japan relationship. Just how far would Trump’s foreign-policy revolution go, and how would Tokyo respond if pressured by the new President to contribute more to the U.S.-Japan alliance? Many observers (particularly many Japanese) protested that Japan was already making significant contributions, and that Japan’s lackluster economy, demographic problems, and pacifist tradition meant that Tokyo could only disappoint a U.S. president demanding greater burdensharing.[2]

Japan could certainly contribute more to the U.S.-Japan alliance—but it does not look like it will be asked to do so. In the span of just a couple of months, the Trump shokku appears to have passed. Much to the relief of not only Tokyo but also the U.S. foreign-policy establishment, Trump has significantly backtracked from the revolution he promised at those red-hatted rallies. The President now seems unlikely to demand (and Tokyo seems unlikely to volunteer) dramatic increases in Japan’s defense contributions. Japan’s national security policy will thus continue the gradual, steady evolution that has characterized it over the past several decades.

Trump’s Foreign Policy Revolution

During his campaign, Trump challenged the prevailing American grand strategy, known as ‘deep engagement’ or ‘global leadership.’ According to this strategy, Washington sought to spread political liberalism, market capitalism, and American influence around the world.[3] Deep engagement relied on multilateral institutions [such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and so forth] to coordinate diplomacy, provide mechanisms for dispute resolution, and promote liberal economic development.[4] The strategy also rested on American alliances in key regions. American security guarantees deterred aggression, dissuaded allies from conventional military buildups,[5] slowed the spread of nuclear weapons to allies,[6] and thus dampened threat perception and arms racing.[7] Proponents of deep engagement also argued that U.S. alliances would create economic benefits for the U.S. through linkage opportunities.[8]

Trump campaigned on a platform that rejected this longstanding grand strategy. Walter Russell Mead called his election a “Jacksonian revolt” in American foreign policy, arguing, “For the first time in 70 years, the American people have elected a president who disparages the policies, ideas, and institutions at the heart of U.S. foreign policy.”[9] Trump’s discussions of foreign policy have been cryptic and relatively rare, but certain themes come across loud and clear.[10] Broadly, he sees the post-World War II, U.S.-led international order as having been bad for U.S. interests, and vows to put ‘America First.’

Trump is skeptical of the value of multilateral institutions, and of the agreements they produced. He tweeted that the United Nations was “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”[11] NAFTA, the WTO, and other trade deals were a “disaster” for America.[12] In Trump’s view, misguided liberal internationalist leaders had put system-maintenance ahead of America-maintenance. He lamented in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress, “For too long, we’ve watched our middle class shrink as we’ve exported our jobs and wealth to foreign countries. We’ve financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit…”[13] Because of ‘bad deals,’ said Trump, “the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.”[14] Trump savaged the “job-killing” Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) throughout his campaign, and, once in office, withdrew the United States from the agreement.[15]

In Trump’s view, while U.S. leaders were foolishly playing a liberal cosmopolitan game, predatory trade partners were playing a mercantilist game—and America paid the price. “You look at what Japan has done over the years,” Trump said. “They…play the money market, they play the devaluation market and we sit there like a bunch of dummies.”[16] Trump decried China’s “massive theft of intellectual property, putting unfair taxes on our companies…and the at-will and massive devaluation of their currency and product dumping.”[17] Richard Lighthizer, Trump’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, argued that the WTO was not “set up to deal effectively” with countries pursuing an industrial policy, and argued that with this in mind, the United States needed to negotiate new deals.[18] Both Trump and his advisor Peter Navarro at times mentioned imposing a 20 percent ‘wall’ tariff on Mexican imports, and upwards of 40 percent tariffs on China and others. Navarro, who now heads Trump’s recently created National Trade Council, suggested that “Trump will impose countervailing tariffs not just on China, but on any American trade partner that cheats on its trade deals using practices such as currency manipulation and illegal export subsidies.”[19] Trump argues that while he believes in free trade, “it also has to be fair trade. It’s been a long time since we had fair trade.”[20]

Trump also views U.S. alliances differently than the liberal internationalists who previously helmed U.S. national security policy. Rather than valuing alliances as part of a liberal community, Trump sees them as a means to an end: as vehicles for pooling resources against shared adversaries. Under this logic, if there is no shared adversary, or if there is no pooling (or, God forbid, both), then an alliance makes no sense.[21] The United States “subsidized the armies of other countries,” Trump said in his inaugural address, “we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.” U.S. alliances made “other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.”[22] The allies should be doing more to pull their weight. “They’re very unfair to us,” he said. “We strongly support NATO, we only ask that all NATO members make their full and proper financial contribution to the NATO alliance, which many of them have not been doing.”[23] Trump also protested the lopsided nature of the U.S.-Japan alliance. “You know we have a treaty with Japan where if Japan is attacked, we have to use the full force and might of the United States,” Trump said during the campaign. “If we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to do anything. They can sit home and watch Sony television, OK?”[24]

Trump also departs from liberal internationalists’ strong commitment to preventing nuclear spread. In Trump’s view this was regrettable (“I hate proliferation”), but probably inevitable.[25] He argues that because America is paying too much for its alliances, those alliances are unsustainable. “We’re protecting all these nations all over the world,” said Trump. “We can’t afford to do it anymore…at some point, we cannot be the policeman of the world.”[26] Because the allies are not contributing enough, the alliances are unsustainable; without the alliances, the allies will ultimately choose to acquire nuclear weapons. (“They have to pay us or we have to let them protect themselves.”)[27] Regarding Japan, Trump said: “If the United States keeps on its path, its current path of weakness, they’re going to want to have [nuclear weapons] … because I don’t think they feel very secure in what’s going on with our country.”[28]

Japan and the Trump Shokku

Japan has benefited tremendously from the institutions and alliances that Trump vowed to dismantle. Since the 1960s, trade deals gave Japan access to the U.S. and other markets, enabling Japan’s export-led growth strategy and its economic rise.[29] Multilateral institutions facilitated the spread of Japan’s bureaucrats, businesspeople, products, and culture around the globe, enabling Japan to become a leader in trade and global governance.

Alliance with the United States also conferred many benefits on Tokyo.[30] After the war, a commitment to building up Japan as a strong ally led Washington to abandon punishing reparations, bestow economic and military aid, and, over the years, temper retaliation to Japan’s often mercantilist trade policies.[31] Of course, Tokyo does contribute financially to the expense of stationing U.S. forces in Japan,[32] and the Japanese bear other burdens as well. People living near bases endure many problems (crime, noise, environmental damage, military accidents) – particularly in Okinawa, where a tiny island bears a massive base footprint.[33] But the alliance enabled Japan to spend under one percent of GDP on defense. During the Cold War this was far below the amount spent by NATO countries, and today is less than half the global average of 2.4 percent of GDP.[34] In sum, Japan benefited in many ways from the postwar order that Trump was attacking; his ascent to the White House was a major shock.

The shock hit particularly hard because of Japan’s worsening threat environment. Steady improvement in nuclear and missile programs has increased the threat of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and Japan continues to worry about political stability in Pyongyang.[35] Tokyo has also become increasingly concerned about China’s rising defense budgets and military modernization. In recent years, Beijing’s more assertive policies (for example, constructing and militarizing islands, surveilling and harassing the ships of rival claimants in island disputes, declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone) suggest that China seeks to become the region’s dominant military power.[36] Particularly worrying to Tokyo, Beijing has also grown more assertive in its claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, which are currently controlled by Japan. In the economic and financial realms, China has become the region’s most pivotal economy. At a time when Japan sees China assuming a more regionally dominant political, economic, and military role, the Japanese heard Trump demanding increases in military burden-sharing by America’s allies, and declaring that he was ‘prepared to walk’ unless he got them.

Tokyo, as a major stakeholder in the liberal order, was also dismayed by Trump’s broad rejection of multilateral institutions and processes. In particular, Trump’s withdrawal from TPP—a deal on which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe had expended a great deal of political capital at home—was a major blow. Abe saw TPP as a vehicle to overcome special interests and implement structural reforms aimed at improving Japanese competitiveness.[37] Brookings scholar Mireya Solis argues that the TPP was “the best shot to relaunch [Japan’s] project of economic revitalization.”[38] Tokyo also valued TPP as a counterweight to China’s emerging economic and financial dominance in East Asia. Japanese foreign policy expert Yoichi Funabashi laments the regional vacuum created by the death of TPP: “That vacuum will be filled immediately and China does not hide its enthusiasm for filling it.”[39] And as Trump argued for levying tariffs on economic competitors, Japan feared “a return to the trade wars of the 1980s and early ‘90s, where many Americans saw Japan as an untrustworthy economic adversary.”[40] In the realms of both trade and the military alliance, Trump’s election seemed to portend a crisis in the U.S.-Japan relationship.

The Art of the Bluff

Some observers would protest that Japan could not possibly make the kinds of dramatic changes in national security policy that Trump seemed poised to demand. Disapproving polls and numerous protests in 2015, when Abe pushed through new security legislation on ‘collective self-defense,’ showed the lack of popular enthusiasm for greater military assertiveness. “When it comes to changing military policy,” notes Japan scholar Sheila A. Smith, “public opinion polling reveals deep ambivalence.”[41] Japanese leaders are preoccupied with economic problems: with a debt burden that is the highest in the world (254 percent of GDP),[42] unfavorable demographics, and growing demands for social welfare from Japan’s aging population. Thus, like any good negotiator (I hear someone wrote a book on that), Tokyo may sigh that Japan is doing all that it possibly can.

It’s not. Increasing its military spending and roles would be indeed require Japanese leaders to make tough choices, just like politicians elsewhere who are forced to trade off guns and butter. But at one percent of GDP, Japan devotes half of the level of effort to defense compared to other high-income countries (whose average spending is 2.4 percent); and far less than countries facing a security threat (for example, Israel, South Korea, and Ukraine spend 5.4 percent; 2.3 percent; and 4 percent, respectively).[43]

Some observers might argue that Tokyo cannot increase its defense spending because leaders are constrained by ‘antimilitarist’ norms and institutions like the one-percent of GDP ceiling in defense spending, Article 9 of the Constitution, the three non-nuclear principles, and so forth. They are indeed significant in Japan’s defense policy-making process, and valued by the Japanese public.[44] Over the past several decades, however, Japan’s conservative leaders have discarded or massaged numerous constraints, such as reversing previous bans on the overseas dispatch of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF), the military use of space, and arms exports.[45]

During the Cold War, Tokyo increased its burden-sharing when it confronted both a more dangerous security environment, and less effort by the United States.[46] In the 1970s, for example, the Soviets were building up their maritime capabilities in East Asia, and President Nixon (via the Guam Doctrine) informed U.S. allies that they would have to do more. At that time, Japan accepted new military roles, and made significant improvements that turned Japan’s SDF into a world-class maritime force.

Today, given an increasingly threatening China and less American support (via a Trump Doctrine), this pattern suggests Tokyo could also increase its military spending and roles. And because of important changes in Japanese domestic politics (such as electoral reforms and the collapse of the Left), Japanese conservatives today are less constrained than were their Cold-War counterparts.[47] Indeed, Tokyo has already moved in this direction with Abe’s reinterpretation of “collective self-defense” and with his recent statement that future Japanese military budgets will need to exceed one percent of GDP.[48] In sum, lamentations that Japan cannot increase its military spending should be understood to be a bluff; Japan does “less when it can, and more when it must.”[49]

Fortunately for Tokyo, it appears that Trump was bluffing too. The President does not appear to be implementing the foreign policy that he campaigned on.[50] Early on, Japan was stricken by Trump’s Rising-Sun rhetoric, scorched-earth inaugural address, and various phone calls (in which the President made a startling overture toward Taiwan and inexplicably yelled at Australia). During his confirmation hearings, Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, also issued baneful warnings about confronting China in the South China Sea.[51]

But gradually, the Japanese began to feel cautious hope. Cabinet ministers visiting Japaan—particularly Secretary of Defense James Mattis in early February 2017—reassured Japanese officials with statements like, “The U.S.-Japan alliance is critical to ensuring that this region remains safe and secure—not just now, but for years to come.” Fear not: the U.S. was “not planning any “dramatic military moves” in the South China Sea.”[52] The alliance that Trump lambasted during the campaign as rife with Japanese free-riding was, according to Mattis, a “model of cost-sharing.”[53] Tokyo was delighted. “Mattis’s visit was a resounding success,” commented journalist Martin Fackler. “He hit the right notes—U.S. commitment to Japan, but also to stability in the region.”[54]

Soon thereafter, Abe flew to the U.S. for a summit with Trump, held in Washington D.C. and Florida. Over the weekend, which was decorated by sunshine and photos of the two grinning leaders, Trump sounded like any other recent American president with remarks like, “The U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Pacific region.”[55] According to the joint statement that Trump issued with Abe, the American commitment to Japan was “unwavering,” the alliance “unshakeable.”[56]

Tokyo swooned. “Abe and his closest aides left the U.S. with a sense of relief,” one Japanese newspaper commented.[57] Sheila Smith observed of the joint statement, “In many ways, it read like the to-do list for the U.S.-Japan alliance: Deterring aggression. Check. Senkaku Islands protection. Check. China. Check. But with Trump’s addition of alliance reciprocity. Check.”[58] Regarding the Senkaku islands, Japan “got what it wanted”: a statement, in writing for the first time, saying that the islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan and claimed by China were protected under Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan security treaty.[59] A few months since his election, Trump significantly back-pedaled from his foreign-policy platform.[60]

Do these early policies simply reflect transitional turbulence, meaning the real Trump shokku is yet to hit? Probably not. Trump campaigned on a platform that demanded a sweeping transformation of American national security policy. In order to implement such an overhaul, four requirements would all need to be met. First, he would need the desire to make this significant change—he would need to believe that change was the right policy for the United States. Second, Trump would need to make the transformation of U.S. foreign policy a top priority of his administration (as opposed to tax reform or some other major endeavor). Third, he would have to use a great deal of political capital toward this effort. He would need to buttonhole; cajole; make deals. This is particularly the case given the widespread, bipartisan opposition to his foreign policy vision. Trump, after all, faces “GOP congressional committee chairmen at the top of defense, intelligence, and diplomatic panels in both the House and Senate, many of whom are wary, at best, of his approach…”[61] Finally, such a fundamental overhaul would require maintaining a keen focus—attention to details in far-flung geographical areas, and across a multitude of issues.

Of these four requirements, Trump ticks only the first. As described earlier, the President clearly believes—and his beliefs are longstanding—that his policy of economic and foreign-policy nationalism best serves America. But he falls short on the three other dimensions. Trump appears highly interested in certain issues (e.g., health care, taxes, immigration, a border wall, possibly infrastructure) but reforming America’s alliances or remaking the international system do not seem to be among them. He will thus likely use his political capital to press for changes in his areas of particular interest, by default leaving foreign policy in the hands of the bipartisan foreign-policy “blob.”[62] Distracted by other issues and inquiries, and lacking staff in key positions, Trump is also not showing the kind of keen attention to foreign policy reform that such a massive transformation would demand. This is how a revolution dies: less Jacksonian revolt than Trumpian reversal.

Thus after the prospect of a shock in U.S.-Japan relations, Tokyo and Washington appear to be settling back into business as usual. The Japanese have managed the transition—and the President—shrewdly; Abe hurried to Trump Tower in November (bearing the gift of a $3,800 gold-plated golf club) to congratulate the President-elect. At the February summit, Abe came with plans that addressed Trump’s economic agenda. The “U.S.-Japan Growth and Employment Initiative” proposed Japanese investment in U.S. infrastructure projects, such as in high-speed rail, which could create 700,000 American jobs.[63] Perhaps the golf club was really a hit; perhaps Trump really appreciated Abe’s jobs plan; perhaps the President changed his mind, or got distracted. In any event, the February U.S.-Japan joint statement sounded like it might have come out of a Clinton, Bush, or Obama White House. Under Trump, the two countries thus appear to be settling into their longstanding pattern since World War II, in which Washington seeks, and Tokyo accepts, minimal and gradual increases in Japan’s capabilities and roles.


Jennifer Lind is Associate Professor of Government at Dartmouth College and a Faculty Associate at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University.
© Copyright 2017 The Authors



[1] In the 1969 Guam Doctrine, President Richard Nixon declared that that America’s Asian allies needed to play a larger role in regional security. He announced his historic visit to Beijing in 1971, and soon thereafter–blaming Japanese financial policy for American trade deficits–the U.S. abandoned the yen-dollar rate that had prevailed since 1945. On the Nixon and Plaza shocks see Michael Schaller, Altered States: The United States and Japan since the Occupation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), ch. 12; William W. Grimes, Unmaking the Japanese Miracle: Macroeconomic Politics 1985-2000 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), ch. 4.

[2] On the Japanese contribution see Reiji Yoshida, “Trump Remarks Prompt Debate over Cost of Japan-U.S. Defense Ties,” Japan Times, 16 May 2016.

[3] On this strategy see Stephen Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth, “Don’t Come Home, America: The Case against Retrenchment,” International Security 37:3 (Winter 2012/13): 7-51; Michele Flournoy and Janine Davidson, “The Logic of U.S. Foreign Deployments,” Foreign Affairs (July/August 2012); Robert J. Art, A Grand Strategy for America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003).

[4] On the post-World War II liberal order see G. John Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011). For discussion see the March 2017 ISSF policy roundtable at as well as the 2011 policy roundtable on the same topic at

[5] On deterrence and assurance in U.S. alliances, see Jennifer Lind, “Geography and the Security Dilemma in East Asia,” in Rosemary Foot, Saadia Pekkanen, and John Ravenhill, eds., The Oxford University Handbook of the International Relations of East Asia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); Art, A Grand Strategy for America, 139-145.

[6] Alexandre Debs and Nuno Monteiro, Nuclear Politics: The Strategic Logic of Proliferation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Etel Solingen, Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia and the Middle East (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007); Alexander Lanoszka, “Protection States Trust? Major Power Patronage, Nuclear Behavior, and Alliance Dynamics,” Ph.D. diss, Princeton University, 2014.

[7] On spirals see Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976). On U.S. alliances promoting regional stability generally see Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan; Brooks, Ikenberry, and Wohlforth, “Don’t Come Home, America;” Art, A Grand Strategy for America.

[8] Brooks, Ikenberry, and Wohlforth, “Don’t Come Home, America,” 42-44.

[9] Walter Russell Mead, “The Jacksonian Revolt in U.S. Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs (March/April 2017).

[10] On Trump’s foreign policy see Randall L. Schweller, “A Third-Image Explanation for Why Trump Now: A Response to Robert Jervis’s ‘President Trump and IR Theory,’” H-Diplo, 8 February 2017; Colin Kahl and Hal Brands, “Trump’s Grand Strategic Train Wreck,” Foreign Policy, 31 January 2017; Joshua Itzkowitz Shifrinson, “Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Views are Actually Pretty Mainstream,” Monkey Cage, Washington Post, 4 February 2016; Josh Rogin, “The Trump Doctrine Revealed,” Bloomberg, 31 January 2016; Thomas Wright, “Trump’s 19th Century Foreign Policy,” Politico, 20 January 2016.

[11] See Colum Lynch, “White House Seeks to Cut Billions in Funding for United Nations,” Foreign Policy, 13 March 2017.

[12] Geoff Dyer, “Donald Trump Threatens to Pull US Out of WTO,” Financial Times, 24 July 2016.

[13] Remarks by President Trump in Joint Address to Congress, 28 February 2017,

[14] Inauguration speech of President Trump, accessed at

[15] President Trump quoted in Eunice Yoon, “Fears that the cost of Trump killing the TPP could include US jobs,”, 16 November 2016.

[16] Takeshi Kawanami and Kentaro Iwamoto, “Trump Fires Next Salvo, Naming China, Japan ‘Currency Manipulators,’” Nikkei Asian Review, 1 February 2017.

[17] Noah Friedman, “Trump Accuses China of ‘Massive Theft of Intellectual Property’ and Unfairly Taxing US Companies,” Business Insider, 9 December 2016.

[18] “Lighthizer vows to crack down on unfair China practices,” Financial Times, 14 March 2017.

[19] Peter Navarro, “Trump’s 45% Tariff on Chinese Goods is Perfectly Calculated,” Los Angeles Times, 21 July 2016.

[20] The White House, Remarks by President Trump in Joint Address to Congress, 28 February 2017.

[21] Scholars advocating a strategy of “restraint” or “offshore balancing” make similar arguments. Barry R. Posen, Restraint: A New Foundation for US National Security Policy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014); Barry R. Posen, “Pull Back: the Case for a Less Activist Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs (January/February 2013); Christopher Preble, The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009); Christopher Layne, “The China Challenge to U.S. Hegemony,” Current History (January 2008); Eugene Gholz, Daryl G. Press, and Harvey Sapolsky, “Come Home, America: The Case for Restraint in the Face of Temptation,” International Security 21:4 (Spring 1997): 5-48.

[22] Inauguration speech of President Trump,

[23] Jacob Pramuk, “Trump Aims to Reassure Allies about US support, But Asks Them to Pay Up More,”, 6 February 2017.

[24] Jesse Johnson, “Trump Rips U.S. Defense of Japan as One-sided, Too Expensive,” Japan Times, 6 August 2016. This language oddly recalls the 1971 Nixon shock, when a similarly dismissive John Connally (Nixon’s Treasury Secretary) said that if Japan did not abide by fair trade, “they could just sit in their Toyotas in Yokohama and watch their color TVs and leave us alone.” Quoted in Bruce Cumings, “Japan’s Position in the World System,” in Andrew Gordon, ed., Postwar Japan as History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 55.

[25] For an argument that the spread of nuclear weapons has stabilizing effects on international politics, see Kenneth N. Waltz, “More May Be Better,” in Sagan and Waltz, eds., The Spread of Nuclear Weapons, ch. 1.

[26] Transcript: Donald Trump Expounds on His Foreign Policy Views,” New York Times, 26 March 2016.

[27] Quoted in Zack Beauchamp, “Donald Trump: Make America Great Again by Letting More Countries have Nukes,”, 30 March 2016; also see Jesse Johnson, “Amid North Korea Threat, Tillerson Hints that ‘Circumstances Could Evolve’ for a Japanese Nuclear Arsenal,” Japan Times, 19 March 2017.

[28] “Donald Trump Expounds on his Foreign Policy Views,” New York Times, 26 March 2016.

[29] On the economic benefits to Japan from the U.S.-Japan alliance, see Michael Beckley, Yusaku Horiuchi, and Jennifer M. Miller, “America’s Role in the Making of Japan’s Economic Miracle, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, 2013.

[30] On Japan’s “Yoshida Doctrine” see Christopher W. Hughes, Japan’s Remilitarisation (London: Routledge, 2009); Andrew Oros, Normalizing Japan Politics, Identity, and the Evolution of Security Practice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008); Richard J. Samuels, Securing Japan: Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asian Security (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007).

[31] On illiberal Japanese trade practices see Michael Mastanduno, “System Maker and Privilege Taker: U.S. Power and the International Political Economy,” World Politics 61:1 (2009): 121-154; Eric Heginbotham and Richard J. Samuels, “Mercantile Realism and Japanese Foreign Policy,” International Security 22:4 (Spring 1998):171-203; Yoshimitsu Imuta, “The Roles of Trade and Economic Cooperation in the Evolution into a Major Economic Power,” in Mikio Sumiya, ed, Japanese Trade and Industry Policy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), ch. 28.

[32] Japan contributes about $1.5 billion in host-nation support per year. See Nobuhiro Kubo, Kiyoshi Takenaka, “Japan Agrees to Raise Host-Nation Spending for U.S. Military,” Reuters, 16 December 2015.

[33] Yuko Kawato, Protests Against US Military Base Policy in Asia: Persuasion and its Limits (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2017); Andrew Yeo, Activists, Alliances, and Anti-U.S. Base Protests (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011), ch. 4.

[34] Data from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2015. Some scholars argue that the one-percent figure does not capture important defense expenditures. See Robert Dekle, “The Relationship between Defense Spending and Economic Performance in Japan,” in J. Makin and D. Hellmann, eds., Sharing World Leadership? A New Era for America and Japan (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research); Richard J. Samuels, “’New Fighting Power!’ Japan’s Growing Maritime Capabilities and East Asian Security,” International Security 32:3 (Winter 2007/2008): 84-112.

[35] Jeffrey Lewis, “North Korea’s Nuke Program is Way More Sophisticated Than You Think,” Foreign Policy, 9 September 2016. On the instability unleashed by a North Korean collapse, see Bruce Bennett and Jennifer Lind, “The Collapse of North Korea,” International Security 36:2 (Fall 2011): 84-119.

[36] On such policies see Jennifer Lind, “Asia’s Other Revisionist Power,” Foreign Affairs (March/April 2017).

[37] “The Battle for Japan,” Economist, 27 June 2014; Konrad Yakabuski, “Why Japan is Hell-Bent on Saving the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” The Globe and Mail, 23 December 2016.

[38] Mireya Solis, “Approval of the TPP Is Vital for Continued U.S. Power in Asia,” Room for Debate, New York Times, 6 October 2015.

[39] Quoted in Yakabuski, “Why Japan is Hell-Bent on Saving the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

[40] Quote from Jonathan Soble, “After Trump Rejects Pacific Trade Deal, Japan Fears Repeat of 1980s,” New York Times, 25 January 2017.

[41] Sheila A. Smith, “Defining Defense: Japan’s Military Identity Crisis,” World Politics Review, 12 May 2015. On Japan’s security legislation see Jennifer Lind, “Japan’s Security Evolution,” Policy Analysis no. 788, CATO Institute, 25 February 2016; Adam P. Liff, “Abe the Evolutionary,” Washington Quarterly 38:2 (2015).

[42] “China, US, Japan Top Borrowers,” South China Morning Post, 24 February 2017.

[43] Data from World Bank, 2015, accessed at

[44] On the legal and normative effects of these institutions see Thomas U. Berger, Cultures of Antimilitarism: National Security in Germany and Japan (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); Yasuhiro Izumikawa, “Explaining Japanese Antimilitarism: Normative and Realist Constraints on Japan’s Security Policy,” International Security 35:2, (Fall 2010): 123-160.

[45] On the evolution of Japanese security policy over time see Andrew L. Oros, Japan’s Security Renaissance: New Policies and Politics for the Twenty-First Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017); Hughes, Japan’s Remilitarisation; Jennifer M. Lind, “Pacifism or Passing the Buck? Testing Theories of Japanese Security Policy,” International Security 29:1 (2004): 92-121.

[46] Lind, “Pacifism or Passing the Buck?”

[47] On the left see Gerald Curtis, “Weak Opposition is a Cancer in Japan’s Political System,” East Asia Forum, 18 September 2016; on the increased prominence of national security policy in Japan see Amy Catalinac, Electoral Reform and National Security in Japan: From Pork to Foreign Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

[48] “Japan PM Abe says no defense budget ceiling as 1 percent to GDP,” Reuters, 1 March 2017. On the Japanese security legislation see Liff, “Abe the Evolutionary.”

[49] Jennifer Lind, “Japan’s Security Evolution,” The Wall Street Journal, 16 September 2015.

[50] For signs of greater conciliation toward China, see Jane Perlez, “Rex Tillerson and Xi Jinping Meet in China and Emphasize Cooperation,” New York Times, 19 March 2017; Nikhil Sonnad, “Rex Tillerson’s Tone on China Got a Lot Friendlier Once He Actually Got to China,” Quartz, 19 March 2017. On trade, see Binyamin Appelbaum, “President’s Growing Trade Gap: A Gulf between Talk and Action,” New York Times, 31 March 2017; Paul Krugman, “Trump Is Wimping out on Trade,” New York Times, 3 April 2017.

[51] Michael Forsythe, “Rex Tillerson’s South China Sea Remarks Foreshadow Possible Foreign Policy Crisis,” New York Times, 12 January 2017.

[52] Gideon Rachman, “Trump in a China Shop,” New York Review of Books, 7 March 2017.

[53] Phil Stewart and Nobuhiro Kubo, “Mattis Reaffirms U.S. Alliance with Japan ‘For Years to Come,’” Reuters, 3 February 2017.

[54] Personal communication, March 2017. On Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Tokyo, see Tsubasa Tsuruga, “Abe, Tillerson Call for Stronger Alliance Amid North Korea Threat,” Nikkei Asian Review, 16 March 2017.

[55] White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Abe of Japan in Joint Press Conference, 10 February 2017.

[56] The White House, Joint Statement from President Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, 10 February 2017.

[57] Koya Jibiki and Ken Moriyasu, “Abe Scores Big in ‘Fairway Diplomacy’ with Trump,” Nikkei Asian Review, 16 February 2017.

[58] Sheila Smith, “A Successful Meeting between Trump and Abe as America Is ‘Behind Japan, 100%,’” Forbes, 13 February 2017.

[59] Jibiki and Moriyasu, “Abe Scores Big in ‘Fairway Diplomacy.’”

[60] On Trump’s several policy reversals, see Stephen Collinson, “Trump’s Stunning U-turns on NATO, China, Russia and Syria,”, 13 April 2017”; Kevin D. Williamson, “Ya Got Took,” National Review, 18 April 2017; Peter Baker, “As Trump Drifts Away from Populism, His Supporters Grow Watchful,” New York Times, 18 April 2017.

[61] Molly O’Toole, “GOP Foreign-Policy Power Brokers in Congress Could Foil Trump,” Foreign Policy, 16 November 2016. For more on the unpopularity of Trump’s foreign policies among mainstream Republicans, see Kori Schake, “Republican Foreign Policy After Trump,” Survival 58:5 (2016): 33-52; Eric Maurice, “McCain: World ‘Cries Out’ for US and EU Leadership,” EU Observer, 24 March 2017; Annie Linskey, “These GOP Foreign Policy Pros are Wary of Working for Trump,” Boston Globe, 18 November 2016.

[62] Gordon Adams and Richard Sokolsky, “Don’t Let the ‘DC Blob’ Guide the Trump Presidency,” National Interest, 17 November 2016.

[63]Takashi Umekawa and Linda Sieg, “Japan Eyes U.S. Job, Investment Initiative Ahead of Abe-Trump Summit,” Reuters, 31 January 2017. Beijing may take a similar approach; see Edward Luce, “Xi Jinping’s Summit Plan to Tame Donald Trump,” Financial Times, 1 April 2017.

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JapanTrumpUnited States

Japan–United States relations(日米関係) began in the late 18th and early 19th century, with the diplomatic but force-backed missions of U.S. ship captains James Glynn and Matthew C. Perry to the Tokugawa shogunate. The countries maintained relatively cordial relations after that, and Japanese immigration to the United States was prominent until the 20th century, up until the 1930s, when Japanese actions during the Second Sino-Japanese War caused the United States to impose harsh sanctions against Japan, ultimately leading to the Japanese surprise attack against the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, opening the Pacific War theater of World War II. The United States and its Allies ultimately defeated Japan, and war ended with the American atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered, and was subjected to seven years of military occupation by the United States, during which the American occupiers helped rebuild the country, shared American technology, and carried out widespread political and economic reforms so as to transform Japan into a democracy and a potential bulwark against Communism. Following the end of the occupation, the countries' relationship prospered again. A new military alliance treaty, an exchange of technology and culture produced a strong alliance. The countries' trade relationship has particularly prospered since then, with Japanese automobiles and consumer electronics being especially popular.

From the late 20th century and onwards, the United States and Japan have firm and very active political, economic and military relationships. The United States considers Japan to be one of its closest allies and partners.[1][2] Japan is one of the most pro-American nations in the world, with 85% of Japanese people viewing the U.S. and 87% viewing Americans favorably in 2011, 73% viewing Americans favorably and 69% viewing the U.S. favorably in 2013, 75% viewing Americans favorably and 57% viewing the U.S. favorably in 2017.[3] And most Americans generally perceive Japan positively, with 81% viewing Japan favorably in 2013, the most favorable perception of Japan in the world, after Indonesia.[4]

Country comparison[edit]

JapanUnited States
Coat of Arms
Area377,873 km2 (145,883 sq mi) (3.8% the size of the U.S.)9,826,630 km2 (3,794,066 sq mi)
CapitalTokyoWashington, D.C.
Largest CityTokyo – 12,790,000 (32,450,000 Metro)New York City – 8,491,079 (20,092,883 Metro)
GovernmentUnitaryparliamentaryconstitutional monarchyFederalpresidentialconstitutional republic
First Head of StateEmperor Jimmu (legendary)President George Washington
Current Head of StateEmperor AkihitoPresident Donald Trump
First Head of GovernmentPrime Minister Itō HirobumiPresident George Washington
Current Head of GovernmentPrime Minister Shinzō AbePresident Donald Trump
Official languagesNone (Japanesede facto)None at federal level (Englishde facto)
ReligionShinto, Buddhism or Non-religiousChristianity dominated
Population Density337.6/km2 (874.4/sq mi)31/km2 (80/sq mi)
GDP (nominal)US$4.939 trillion ($38,894 per capita)[5]US$18.569 trillion ($57,468 per capita)[5]
Military expenditures$48.86 billion (FY 2008)[6]$663.7 billion (FY 2010)[7]

Historical background[edit]

Early American expeditions to Japan[edit]

  • In 1791, two American ships commanded by the American explorer John Kendrick stopped for 11 days on Kii Ōshima island, south of the Kii Peninsula. He is the first American known to have visited Japan. He apparently planted an American flag and claimed the islands, but there is no Japanese account of his visit.[8]
  • In 1846, Commander James Biddle, sent by the United States Government to open trade, anchored himself in Tokyo Bay with two ships, one of which was armed with seventy-two cannons. Regardless, his demands for a trade agreement remained unsuccessful.[9]
  • In 1848, Captain James Glynn sailed to Nagasaki, which led to the first successful negotiation by an American with sakoku Japan. Upon his return to North America, Glynn recommended to the Congress that any negotiations to open up Japan should be backed up by a demonstration of force; this paved the way for the later expedition of Commodore and lieutenant Matthew Perry.[10]

Commodore Perry[edit]

In 1852, American Commodore Matthew C. Perry embarked from Norfolk, Virginia, for Japan, in command of a squadron that would negotiate a Japanese trade treaty. Aboard a black-hulled steam frigate, he ported Mississippi, Plymouth, Saratoga, and Susquehanna at Uraga Harbor near Edo (present-day Tokyo) on July 8, 1853, and he was met by representatives of the Tokugawa Shogunate. They told him to proceed to Nagasaki, where the sakoku laws allowed limited trade by the Dutch. Perry refused to leave, and he demanded permission to present a letter from President Millard Fillmore, threatening force if he was denied. Japan had shunned modern technology for centuries, and the Japanese military wouldn't be able to resist Perry's ships; these "Black Ships" would later become a symbol of threatening Western technology in Japan.[11] Perry returned in March 1854 with twice as many ships, finding that the delegates had prepared a treaty embodying virtually all the demands in Fillmore's letter; Perry signed the U.S.- Japan Treaty of Peace and Amity on March 31, 1854, and departed.[12]

Pre–World War II period[edit]

Japanese embassy to the United States[edit]

Main article: Japanese Embassy to the United States (1860)

Seven years later, the Shogun sent Kanrin Maru on a mission to the United States, intending to display Japan's mastery of Western navigation techniques and naval engineering. On January 19, 1860, Kanrin Maru left the Uraga Channel for San Francisco. The delegation included Katsu Kaishu as ship captain, Nakahama Manjirō and Fukuzawa Yukichi. From San Francisco, the embassy continued to Washington via Panama on American vessels.

Japan's official objective with this mission was to send its first embassy to the United States and to ratify the new Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation between the two governments. The Kanrin Maru delegates also tried to revise some of the unequal clauses in Perry's treaties; they were unsuccessful.

The United States' first ambassador was Townsend Harris, who was present in Japan from 1856 until 1862 but was denied permission to present his credentials to the Shogun until 1858.[13] He was succeeded by Robert H. Pruyn, a New York politician who was a close friend and ally of Secretary of State William Henry Seward. Pruyn served from 1862 to 1865[14] and oversaw successful negotiations following the Shimonoseki bombardment.[15]

From 1865 to 1914[edit]

In 1871, a veteran and educator Leroy Lansing Janes hired by Hosokawa clan in Kumamoto, to teach at the Kumamoto Yōgakkō (ja), a domainal school that promoted western studies and which established antecedent society to the Japanese Red Cross with support of the Emperor's families.

In the late 19th century the opening of sugar plantations in the Kingdom of Hawaii led to the immigration of large numbers of Japanese. Hawaii became part of the U.S. in 1898, and the Japanese were the largest element of the population then, and have been the largest element ever since.

There was some friction over control of Hawaii and the Philippines. The two nations cooperated with the European powers in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, but the U.S. was increasingly troubled about Japan's denial of the Open Door Policy that would ensure that all nations could do business with China on an equal basis. President Theodore Roosevelt played a major role in negotiating an end to the war between Russia and Japan in 1905–6.

Vituperative anti-Japanese sentiment (especially on the West Coast) soured relations in the 1907–24 era.[16] Washington did not want to anger Japan by passing legislation to bar Japanese immigration to the U.S. as had been done for Chinese immigration. Instead there was an informal "Gentlemen's Agreement" (1907-8) between the U.S. and Japan whereby Japan made sure there was very little or no movement to the U.S. The agreements were made by Secretary of State Elihu Root and Japan's Foreign Minister Tadasu Hayashi. The Agreement banned emigration of Japanese laborers to the U.S. or Hawaii and rescinded the segregation order of the San Francisco School Board in California, which had humiliated and angered the Japanese. The agreements remained effect until 1924 when Congress forbade all immigration from Japan.[17][18]

Charles Neu concludes that Roosevelt's policies were a success:

By the close of his presidency it was a largely successful policy based upon political realities at home and in the Far East and upon a firm belief that friendship with Japan was essential to preserve American interests in the Pacific ... Roosevelt's diplomacy during the Japanese-American crisis of 1906-1909 was shrewd, skillful, and responsible.[19]

In 1912, the people of Japan sent 3,020 cherry trees to the United States as a gift of friendship. First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Helen Herron Taft, and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin. These two original trees are still standing today at the south end of 17th Street. Workmen planted the remainder of the trees around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park.[20]

American Protestant missionaries were very active in Japan, even though they made relatively few converts. However they did set up organizations such as universities and civic groups. Historian John Davidann argues that the evangelical American YMCA missionaries linked Protestantism with nationalism, even suggesting that Americans were God's chosen people. They wanted converts to choose "Jesus over Japan". The Christians in Japan, although small minority, held a strong connection to the ancient "bushido" tradition of warrior ethics that undergirded Japanese nationalism.[21]

World War I and 1920s[edit]

Both the U.S. and Japan fought on the Allied side. Japan's military took control of German bases in China and the Pacific, and in 1919 with U.S. approval was given a League of Nations mandate over the German islands north of the equator, with Australia getting the rest. The U.S. did not want any mandates.[22]

However, there was a sharp conflict between Japan on the one hand and China, Britain and the U.S. over Japan's Twenty-One Demands made on China in 1915. These demands forced China to acknowledge Japanese possession of the former German holdings and its economic dominance of Manchuria, and had the potential of turning China into a puppet state. Washington expressed strongly negative reactions to Japan's rejection of the Open Door Policy. In the Bryan Note issued by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan on March 13, 1915, the U.S., while affirming Japan's "special interests" in Manchuria, Mongolia and Shandong, expressed concern over further encroachments to Chinese sovereignty.[23]

President Wilson fought vigorously against Japan's demands at Paris in 1919, but he lost because Britain and France supported Japan.[24] In China there was outrage and Anti-Japanese sentiment escalated. The May Fourth Movement emerged as a student demand for China's honor.[25] The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved a reservation to the Treaty of Versailles, "to give Shantung to China," but Wilson told his supporters in the Senate to vote against any substantive reservations.[26] In 1922 the U.S. brokered a solution of the Shandong Problem. China was awarded nominal sovereignty over all of Shandong, including the former German holdings, while in practice Japan's economic dominance continued.[27]

Japan and the U.S. agreed on terms of naval limitations at the Washington Conference of 1921, with a ratio of naval force to be 5-5-3 for the U.S., Britain and Japan. Tensions arose with the 1924 American immigration law that prohibited further immigration from Japan.[28]

1929–1937: Militarism and tension between the wars[edit]

By the 1920s, Japanese intellectuals were underscoring the apparent decline of Europe as a world power, and increasingly saw Japan as the natural leader for all of East Asia. However, they identified a long-term threat from the colonial powers, especially Britain, the United States, the Netherlands and France, as deliberately blocking Japan's aspirations, especially regarding control of China. The goal became "Asia for the Asians" as Japan began mobilizing anti-colonial sentiment in India and Southeast Asia. Japan took control of Manchuria in 1931 over the strong objections of the League of Nations, Britain and especially the United States. In 1937, it seized control of the main cities on the East Coast of China, over strong American protests. Japanese leaders thought their deeply Asian civilization gave it a natural right to this control and refused to negotiate Western demands that it withdraw from China.[29]


Relations between Japan and the United States became increasingly tense after the Manchurian/Mukden Incident and subsequent Japanese military seizure of much of China in 1937–39. American outrage focused on the Japanese attack on the US gunboat Panay in Chinese waters in late 1937 (Japan apologized), and the atrocities of the Nanking Massacre at the same time. The United States had a powerful navy in the Pacific, and it was working closely with the British and the Dutch governments. When Japan seized Indochina (now Vietnam) in 1940–41, the United States, along with Australia, Britain and the Dutch government in exile, boycotted Japan via a trade embargo. They cut off 90% of Japan's oil supply, and Japan had to either withdraw from China or go to war with the US and Britain as well as China to get the oil.

Under the Washington Naval treaty of 1922 and the London Naval treaty, the American navy was to be equal to the Japanese army by a ratio of 10:6.[30] However, as of 1934, the Japanese ended their disarmament policies and enabled rearmament policy with no limitations.[30] The government in Tokyo was well informed of its military weakness in the Pacific in regards to the American fleet. The foremost important factor in realigning their military policies was the need by Japan to seize British and Dutch oil wells.[31]

Through the 1930s, Japan's military needed imported oil for airplanes and warships. It was dependent at 90% on imports, 80% of it coming from the United States.[31] Furthermore, the vast majority of this oil import was oriented towards the Navy and the military.[32] America opposed Tokyo's expansionist policies in China and Indochina and in 1940–41 decided to stop supplying the oil Japan was using for military expansion against American allies. On July 26, 1940 the U.S. government passed the Export Control Act, cutting oil, iron and steel exports to Japan.[31] This containment policy was seen by Washington as a warning to Japan that any further military expansion would result in further sanctions. However, Tokyo saw it as a blockade to counter Japanese military and economic strength. Accordingly, by the time the United States enforced the Export Act, Japan had stockpiled around 54 million barrels of oil.[33] Washington imposed a full oil embargo imposed on Japan in July 1941.[33]

Headed to war: 1937–1941[edit]

American public and elite opinion—including even the isolationists—strongly opposed Japan's invasion of China in 1937. President Roosevelt imposed increasingly stringent economic sanctions intended to deprive Japan of the oil and steel, as well as dollars, it needed to continue its war in China. Japan reacted by forging an alliance with Germany and Italy in 1940, known as the Tripartite Pact, which worsened its relations with the US. In July 1941, the United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlands froze all Japanese assets and cut off oil shipments—Japan had little oil of its own.[35]

Japan had conquered all of Manchuria and most of coastal China by 1939, but the Allies refused to recognize the conquests and stepped up their commitment.[36] President Franklin Roosevelt arranged for American pilots and ground crews to set up an aggressive Chinese Air Force nicknamed the Flying Tigers that would not only defend against Japanese air power but also start bombing the Japanese islands.[37] Diplomacy provided very little space for the adjudication of the deep differences between Japan and the United States. The United States was firmly and almost unanimously committed to defending the integrity of China. The isolationism that characterized the strong opposition of many Americans toward war in Europe did not apply to Asia. Japan had no friends in the United States, nor in Great Britain, nor the Netherlands. The United States had not yet declared war on Germany, but was closely collaborating with Britain and the Netherlands regarding the Japanese threat. United States started to move its newest B-17 heavy bombers to bases in the Philippines, well within range of Japanese cities. The goal was deterrence of any Japanese attacks to the south. Furthermore, plans were well underway to ship American air forces to China, where American pilots in Chinese uniforms flying American warplanes, were preparing to bomb Japanese cities well before Pearl Harbor.[38][39] Great Britain, although realizing it could not defend Hong Kong, was confident in its abilities to defend its major base in Singapore and the surrounding Malaya Peninsula. When the war did start in December 1941, Australian soldiers were rushed to Singapore, weeks before Singapore surrendered, and all the Australian and British forces were sent to prisoner of war camps.[40] the Netherlands, with its homeland overrun by Germany, had a small Navy to defend the Dutch East Indies. Their role was to delay the Japanese invasion long enough to destroy the oil wells, drilling equipment, refineries and pipelines that were the main target of Japanese attacks.

Decisions in Tokyo were controlled by the Army, and then rubber-stamped by Emperor Hirohito; the Navy also had a voice. However the civilian government and diplomats were largely ignored. The Army saw the conquest of China as its primary mission, but operations in Manchuria had created a long border with the Soviet Union. Informal, large-scale military confrontations with the Soviet forces at Nomonhan in summer 1939 demonstrated that the Soviets possessed a decisive military superiority. Even though it would help Germany's war against Russia after June 1941, the Japanese army refused to go north. The Japanese realized the urgent need for oil, over 90% of which was supplied by the United States, Britain and the Netherlands. From the Army's perspective, a secure fuel supply was essential for the warplanes, tanks and trucks—as well as the Navy's warships and warplanes of course. The solution was to send the Navy south, to seize the oilfields in the Dutch East Indies and nearby British colonies. Some admirals and many civilians, including Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro, believed that a war with the U.S. would end in defeat. The alternative was loss of honor and power.[41] While the admirals were dubious about their long-term ability to confront the American and British navies, they hoped that a knockout blow destroying the American fleet at Pearl Harbor would bring the enemy to the negotiating table for a favorable outcome.[42] Japanese diplomats were sent to Washington in summer 1941 to engage in high-level negotiations. However, they did not speak for the Army leadership that made the decisions. By early October both sides realized that no compromises were possible between the Japan's commitment to conquer China, and America's commitment to defend China. Japan's civilian government fell and the Army under General Tojo took full control, bent on war.[43][44]

World War II[edit]

Main articles: Diplomatic history of World War II § Japan, and Pacific War

Japan attacked the American navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. In response, the United States declared war on Japan. Japan's Axis allies, including Nazi Germany, declared war on the United States days after the attack, bringing the United States into World War II.

The conflict was a bitter one, marked by atrocities such as the executions and torture of American prisoners of war by the Imperial Japanese Army and the desecration of dead Japanese bodies. Both sides interred enemy aliens. Superior American military production supported a campaign of island-hopping in the Pacific and heavy bombardment of cities in Okinawa and the Japanese mainland. The strategy was broadly successful as the Allies powers, who gradually occupied territories and moved toward the homse islands, intending massive invasions beginning in fall 1945. Japanese resistance remained fierce. The Pacific War lasted until September 1, 1945, when Japan surrendered in response to the American atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – among the most controversial acts in military history – and the Soviet entry into the Asian theater of war following the surrender of Germany.

The official Instrument of Surrender was signed on September 2, and the United States subsequently occupied Japan in its entirety.

Post–World War II period[edit]

Post–World War II Occupation period[edit]

Main article: Occupation of Japan

At the end of the Second World War, Japan was occupied by the Allied Powers, led by the United States with contributions from Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. This was the first time since the unification of Japan that the island nation had been occupied by a foreign power. The San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed on September 8, 1951, marked the end of the Allied occupation, and when it went into effect on April 28, 1952, Japan was once again an independent state, and an ally of the United States.

1950s: After the occupation[edit]

Main articles: Treaty of San Francisco and United States Forces Japan

In the years after World War II, Japan's relations with the United States were placed on an equal footing for the first time at the end of the occupation by the Allied forces in April 1952. This equality, the legal basis of which was laid down in the peace treaty signed by forty-eight Allied nations and Japan, was initially largely nominal. A favorable Japanese balance of payments with the United States was achieved in 1954, mainly as a result of United States military and aid spending in Japan.[45]

The Japanese people's feeling of dependence lessened gradually as the disastrous results of World War II subsided into the background and trade with the United States expanded. Self-confidence grew as the country applied its resources and organizational skill to regaining economic health. This situation gave rise to a general desire for greater independence from United States influence. During the 1950s and 1960s, this feeling was especially evident in the Japanese attitude toward United States military bases on the four main islands of Japan and in Okinawa Prefecture, occupying the southern two-thirds of the Ryukyu Islands.

The government had to balance left-wing pressure advocating dissociation from the United States allegedly 'against the realities' of the need for military protection. Recognizing the popular desire for the return of the Ryukyu Islands and the Bonin Islands (also known as the Ogasawara Islands), the United States as early as 1953 relinquished its control of the Amami group of islands at the northern end of the Ryukyu Islands. But the United States made no commitment to return Okinawa, which was then under United States military administration for an indefinite period as provided in Article 3 of the peace treaty. Popular agitation culminated in a unanimous resolution adopted by the Diet in June 1956, calling for a return of Okinawa to Japan.

1960s: Military alliance and return of territories[edit]

Bilateral talks on revising the 1952 security pact began in 1959, and the new Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security was signed in Washington on January 19, 1960. When the pact was submitted to the Diet for ratification on February 5, it became the subject of bitter debate over the Japan–United States relationship and the occasion for violence in an all-out effort by the leftist opposition to prevent its passage. It was finally approved by the House of Representatives on May 20. Japan Socialist Party deputies boycotted the lower house session and tried to prevent the LDP deputies from entering the chamber; they were forcibly removed by the police. Massive demonstrations and rioting by students and trade unions followed. These outbursts prevented a scheduled visit to Japan by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and precipitated the resignation of Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, but not before the treaty was passed by default on June 19, when the House of Councillors failed to vote on the issue within the required thirty days after lower house approval.[46]

Under the treaty, both parties assumed an obligation to assist each other in case of armed attack on territories under Japanese administration. (It was understood, however, that Japan could not come to the defense of the United States because it was constitutionally forbidden to send armed forces overseas (Article 9). In particular, the constitution forbids the maintenance of "land, sea, and air forces." It also expresses the Japanese people's renunciation of "the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes". Accordingly, the Japanese find it difficult to send their "self-defense" forces overseas, even for peace-keeping purposes.) The scope of the new treaty did not extend to the Ryukyu Islands, but an appended minute made clear that in case of an armed attack on the islands, both governments would consult and take appropriate action. Notes accompanying the treaty provided for prior consultation between the two governments before any major change occurred in the deployment of United States troops or equipment in Japan. Unlike the 1952 security pact, the new treaty provided for a ten-year term, after which it could be revoked upon one year's notice by either party. The treaty included general provisions on the further development of international cooperation and on improved future economic cooperation.

Both countries worked closely to fulfill the United States promise, under Article 3 of the peace treaty, to return all Japanese territories acquired by the United States in war. In June 1968, the United States returned the Bonin Islands (including Iwo Jima) to Japanese administration control. In 1969, the Okinawa reversion issue and Japan's security ties with the United States became the focal points of partisan political campaigns. The situation calmed considerably when Prime Minister Sato Eisaku visited Washington in November 1969, and in a joint communiqué signed by him and President Richard Nixon, announced the United States agreement to return Okinawa to Japan in 1972. In June 1971, after eighteen months of negotiations, the two countries signed an agreement providing for the return of Okinawa to Japan in 1972.[47][48]

The Japanese government's firm and voluntary endorsement of the security treaty and the settlement of the Okinawa reversion question meant that two major political issues in Japan–United States relations were eliminated. But new issues arose. In July 1971, the Japanese government was surprised by Nixon's dramatic announcement of his forthcoming visit to the People's Republic of China. Many Japanese were chagrined by the failure of the United States to consult in advance with Japan before making such a fundamental change in foreign policy. The following month, the government was again surprised to learn that, without prior consultation, the United States had imposed a 10 percent surcharge on imports, a decision certain to hinder Japan's exports to the United States. Relations between Tokyo and Washington were further strained by the monetary crisis involving the December 1971 revaluation of the Japanese yen.

These events of 1971 marked the beginning of a new stage in relations, a period of adjustment to a changing world situation that was not without episodes of strain in both political and economic spheres, although the basic relationship remained close. The political issues between the two countries were essentially security-related and derived from efforts by the United States to induce Japan to contribute more to its own defense and to regional security. The economic issues tended to stem from the ever-widening United States trade and payments deficits with Japan, which began in 1965 when Japan reversed its imbalance in trade with the United States and, for the first time, achieved an export surplus.[49]

Heavy American military spending in the Korean War (1950–53) and the Vietnam War (1965–73) provided a major stimulus to the Japanese economy.[50]

1970s: Vietnam War and Middle-East crisis[edit]

The United States withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975 and the end of the Vietnam War meant that the question of Japan's role in the security of East Asia and its contributions to its own defense became central topics in the dialogue between the two countries. United States dissatisfaction with Japanese defense efforts began to surface in 1975 when Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger publicly stigmatized Japan. The Japanese government, constrained by constitutional limitations and strongly pacifist public opinion, responded slowly to pressures for a more rapid buildup of its Self-Defense Forces (SDF). It steadily increased its budgetary outlays for those forces, however, and indicated its willingness to shoulder more of the cost of maintaining the United States military bases in Japan. In 1976 the United States and Japan formally established a subcommittee for defense cooperation, in the framework of a bilateral Security Consultative Committee provided for under the 1960 security treaty. This subcommittee, in turn, drew up new Guidelines for Japan-United States Defense Cooperation, under which military planners of the two countries have conducted studies relating to joint military action in the event of an armed attack on Japan.[51][52]

On the economic front, Japan sought to ease trade frictions by agreeing to Orderly Marketing Arrangements, which limited exports on products whose influx into the United States was creating political problems. In 1977 an Orderly Marketing Arrangement limiting Japanese color television exports to the United States was signed, following the pattern of an earlier disposition of the textile problem. Steel exports to the United States were also curtailed, but the problems continued as disputes flared over United States restrictions on Japanese development of nuclear fuel- reprocessing facilities, Japanese restrictions on certain agricultural imports, such as beef and oranges, and liberalization of capital investment and government procurement within Japan.[53]

Under American pressure Japan worked toward a comprehensive security strategy with closer cooperation with the United States for a more reciprocal and autonomous basis. This policy was put to the test in November 1979, when radical Iranians seized the United States embassy in Tehran, taking sixty hostages. Japan reacted by condemning the action as a violation of international law. At the same time, Japanese trading firms and oil companies reportedly purchased Iranian oil that had become available when the United States banned oil imported from Iran. This action brought sharp criticism from the United States of Japanese government "insensitivity" for allowing the oil purchases and led to a Japanese apology and agreement to participate in sanctions against Iran in concert with other United States allies.[54]

Following that incident, the Japanese government took greater care to support United States international policies designed to preserve stability and promote prosperity. Japan was prompt and effective in announcing and implementing sanctions against the Soviet Union following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. In 1981, in response to United States requests, it accepted greater responsibility for defense of seas around Japan, pledged greater support for United States forces in Japan, and persisted with a steady buildup of the SDF.[55]

1980s: Rise of the falcons[edit]

A qualitatively new stage of Japan-United States cooperation in world affairs appeared to be reached in late 1982 with the election of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. Officials of the Ronald Reagan administration worked closely with their Japanese counterparts to develop a personal relationship between the two leaders based on their common security and international outlook. President Reagan and Prime Minister enjoyed a particularly close relationship. It was Nakasone that backed Reagan to deploy Pershing missiles in Europe at the 1983 9th G7 summit. Nakasone reassured United States leaders of Japan's determination against the Soviet threat, closely coordinated policies with the United States toward such Asian trouble spots as the Korean Peninsula and Southeast Asia, and worked cooperatively with the United States in developing China policy. The Japanese government welcomed the increase of United States forces in Japan and the western Pacific, continued the steady buildup of the SDF, and positioned Japan firmly on the side of the United States against the threat of Soviet international expansion. Japan continued to cooperate closely with United States policy in these areas following Nakasone's term of office, although the political leadership scandals in Japan in the late 1980s (i.e. the Recruit scandal) made it difficult for newly elected President George H. W. Bush to establish the same kind of close personal ties that marked the Reagan years.

A specific example of Japan's close cooperation with the United States included its quick response to the United States' call for greater host nation support from Japan following the rapid realignment of Japan-United States currencies in the mid-1980s. The currency realignment resulted in a rapid rise of United States costs in Japan, which the Japanese government, upon United States request, was willing to offset. Another set of examples was provided by Japan's willingness to respond to United States requests for foreign assistance to countries considered of strategic importance to the West. During the 1980s, United States officials voiced appreciation for Japan's "strategic aid" to countries such as Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, and Jamaica. Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki's pledges of support for East European and Middle Eastern countries in 1990 fit the pattern of Japan's willingness to share greater responsibility for world stability. Another example of US-Japan cooperation is through energy cooperation. In 1983 a US-Japan working group, chaired by William Flynn Martin, produced the Reagan-Nakasone Joint Statement on Japan-United States Energy Cooperation.[56] Other instances of energy relations is shown through the US-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement of 1987 which was an agreement concerning the peaceful use of nuclear energy.[57] Testimony by William Flynn Martin, US Deputy Secretary of Energy, outlined the highlights of the nuclear agreement, including the benefits to both countries.[58]

Despite complaints from some Japanese businesses and diplomats, the Japanese government remained in basic agreement with United States policy toward China and Indochina. The government held back from large-scale aid efforts until conditions in China and Indochina were seen as more compatible with Japanese and United States interests. Of course, there also were instances of limited Japanese cooperation. Japan's response to the United States decision to help to protect tankers in the Persian Gulf during the Iran–Iraq War (1980–88) was subject to mixed reviews. Some United States officials stressed the positive, noting that Japan was unable to send military forces because of constitutional reasons but compensated by supporting the construction of a navigation system in the Persian Gulf, providing greater host nation support for United States forces in Japan, and providing loans to Oman and Jordan. Japan's refusal to join even in a mine-sweeping effort in the Persian Gulf was an indication to some United States officials of Tokyo's unwillingness to cooperate with the United States in areas of sensitivity to Japanese leaders at home or abroad.

The main area of noncooperation with the United States in the 1980s was Japanese resistance to repeated United States efforts to get Japan to open its market more to foreign goods and to change other economic practices seen as adverse to United States economic interests. A common pattern was followed. The Japanese government was sensitive to political pressures from important domestic constituencies that would be hurt by greater openness. In general, these constituencies were of two types—those representing inefficient or "declining" producers, manufacturers, and distributors, who could not compete if faced with full foreign competition; and those up-and-coming industries that the Japanese government wished to protect from foreign competition until they could compete effectively on world markets. To deal with domestic pressures while trying to avoid a break with the United States, the Japanese government engaged in protracted negotiations. This tactic bought time for declining industries to restructure themselves and new industries to grow stronger. Agreements reached dealt with some aspects of the problems, but it was common for trade or economic issues to be dragged out in talks over several years, involving more than one market-opening agreement. Such agreements were sometimes vague and subject to conflicting interpretations in Japan and the United States.

Growing interdependence was accompanied by markedly changing circumstances at home and abroad that were widely seen to have created a crisis in Japan–United States relations in the late 1980s. United States government officials continued to emphasize the positive aspects of the relationship but warned that there was a need for "a new conceptual framework". The Wall Street Journal publicized a series of lengthy reports documenting changes in the relationship in the late 1980s and reviewing the considerable debate in Japan and the United States over whether a closely cooperative relationship was possible or appropriate for the 1990s. An authoritative review of popular and media opinion, published in 1990 by the Washington-based Commission on US-Japan Relations for the Twenty-first Century, was concerned with preserving a close Japan–United States relationship. It warned of a "new orthodoxy" of "suspicion, criticism and considerable self-justification", which it said was endangering the fabric of Japan–United States relations.

The relative economic power of Japan and the United States was undergoing sweeping change, especially in the 1980s. This change went well beyond the implications of the United States trade deficit with Japan, which had remained between US$40 billion and US$48 billion annually since the mid-1980s. The persisting United States trade and budget deficits of the early 1980s led to a series of decisions in the middle of the decade that brought a major realignment of the value of Japanese and United States currencies. The stronger Japanese currency gave Japan the ability to purchase more United States goods and to make important investments in the United States. By the late 1980s, Japan was the main international creditor.

Japan's growing investment in the United States—it was the second largest investor after Britain—led to complaints from some American constituencies. Moreover, Japanese industry seemed well positioned to use its economic power to invest in the high-technology products in which United States manufacturers were still leaders. The United States's ability to compete under these circumstances was seen by many Japanese and Americans as hampered by heavy personal, government, and business debt and a low savings rate.

In the late 1980s, the breakup of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe and the growing preoccupation of Soviet leaders with massive internal political and economic difficulties forced the Japanese and United States governments to reassess their longstanding alliance against the Soviet threat. Officials of both nations had tended to characterize the security alliance as the linchpin of the relationship, which should have priority over economic and other disputes. Some Japanese and United States officials and commentators continued to emphasize the common dangers to Japan- United States interests posed by the continued strong Soviet military presence in Asia. They stressed that until Moscow followed its moderation in Europe with major demobilization and reductions in its forces positioned against the United States and Japan in the Pacific, Washington and Tokyo needed to remain militarily prepared and vigilant.

Increasingly, however, other perceived benefits of close Japan-United States security ties were emphasized. The alliance was seen as deterring other potentially disruptive forces in East Asia, notably the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). Some United States officials noted that the alliance helped keep Japan's potential military power in check and under the supervision of the United States.

2000+: Stronger alliance in the context of a rising China[edit]

By the late 1990s and beyond the US-Japan relationship had been improved and strengthened. The major cause of friction in the relationship, trade disputes, became less problematic as China displaced Japan as the greatest perceived economic threat to the U.S. Meanwhile, though in the immediate post–Cold War period the security alliance suffered from a lack of a defined threat, the emergence of North Korea as a belligerent rogue state and China's economic and military expansion provided a purpose to strengthen the relationship. While the foreign policy of the administration of President George W. Bush put a strain on some of the United States' international relations, the alliance with Japan has become stronger, as evidenced in the Deployment of Japanese troops to Iraq and the joint development of anti-missile defense systems. The notion that Japan is becoming the "Great Britain of the Pacific", or the key and pivotal ally of the U.S. in the region, is frequently alluded to in international studies,[59] but the extent to which this is true is still the subject of academic debate.

In 2009, the Democratic Party of Japan came into power with a mandate calling for changes in the recently agreed security realignment plan and has opened a review into how the accord was reached, claiming the U.S. dictated the terms of the agreement, but United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the U.S. Congress was unwilling to pay for any changes.[60][61][62] Some U.S. officials worried that the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan would maybe consider a policy shift away from the United States and toward a more independent foreign policy.[62]

In 2013 China and Russia held joint naval drills in what Chinese state media called an attempt to challenge the American-Japanese alliance.[63]

On September 19, 2013, Caroline Kennedy sat before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and responded to questions from both Republican and Democrat senators in relation to her appointment as the US ambassador to Japan. Kennedy, nominated by President Obama in early 2013, explained that her focus would be military ties, trade, and student exchange if she was confirmed for the position.[64][65]

Economic relations[edit]

Trade volume[edit]

The United States has been Japan's largest economic partner, taking 31.5% of its exports, supplying 22.3% of its imports, and accounting for 45.9% of its direct investment abroad in 1990.[citation needed] As of 2013, the United States takes up 18% of Japanese exports, and supplies 8.5% of its imports (the slack having been picked up by China, which now provides 22%).[66]

Japan's imports from the United States included both raw materials and manufactured goods. United States agricultural products were a leading import in 1990 (US$8.5 billion as measured by United States export statistics), made up of meat (US$1.5 billion), fish (US$1.8 million), grains (US$2.4 billion), and soybeans (US$8.8 billion). Imports of manufactured goods were mainly in the category of machinery and transportation equipment, rather than consumer goods.[citation needed]

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe (left) and American President Donald Trump (right) meet in Washington in February 2017
Embassy of the United States in Japan
Embassy of Japan in the United States
The USS Columbus of James Biddle, and an American crewman in Edo Bay in 1846.
Commodore Perry's fleet for his second visit to Japan in 1854.
Kanrin Maru, Japan's first screw-driven steam warship, transported 1860s delegation to San Francisco.
Allied supply routes to China and India and attack lines against Japan, 1941–1945.[34]
Reagan greeting leaders including Prime Minister Nakasone, Foreign Minister Abe, Finance Minister Takashita in London in 1984
A Japanese mayor throws a pitch to a U.S. Navy captain. Japan and the U.S. share many cultural links, including a love for baseball imported from the US.


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