The US-Japan Strategic Alliance: Eagle and Chrysanthemum


US and Japan alliance considered to be an important alliance is based on shared interests. These interests have compelled both parties to ensure the continuity of this alliance even when it has passed through some of bumps with the international political environment testing its resilience. US-Japan alliance has experienced a roller-coaster journey where international circumstances influence the dichotomy and intensity of cordial relations resilience. This article has adhered to the various dimensions in which this alliance has expanded including nuclear, economic, military, and people-to-people relations which is indicative of the fact that this alliance is quite resilient.



Markedly resilient security partnership and a cornerstone for regional stability, the US-Japan alliance is indispensably impacting the economic social, and political landscape of the East Asian region. Initially, this alliance was not based on mutual relationships. It was the only US providing security assurance to Japan. In the wake of numerous wars, Soviet disintegration, and the terrorist plague, the US-Japan alliance has weathered a variety of ups and downs. Japan is perceived to be a maritime lynchpin and strategic equilibrium which the US is cashing since 1945. The US-Japan alliance has an admirable past with a shining future. A more inclusive, rule-based, and open order has been fostered by US and Japan by making use of political economy, or social instruments. Operating on proposing an attractive alternative to China’s economic rise is the main motive of Japan and the US. Both states reaping from the benefits of the alliance and that ensures the continuity of the friendship. In the words of Mansfield

“the US Japan relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world”

This alliance hasty a tendency to endure a variety of bumps. The US-Japan alliance is structured by the international circumstances of the cold war and post cold war power politics. The rise of China and the US increased interest in the Indo-Pacific region increased the strategic significance of this alliance.



US-Japan alliance is based on shared interest and mutual gains which provide a guarantee for the resilience of the alliance. This alliance not only reaping benefits for the two strategic partners but also for the East Asian region in particular. If it is a matter of alliance resilience both the states share the interest of developing an integrated alliance amid Japan getting out of its rear position in post cold war era. There is a shared concern if strengthening the interoperability between IS and Japan. With cyber espionage growing at a faster pace and North Korea or Russian regimes appear to have used the internet for striking targets and that compelled the US and Japan to support the launch of open internet driven by private sector cooperative efforts. Moreover, protecting government networks is the common interest in which both US and Japan are cooperating. North Korean involvement in patterns of intermittent provocative military actions or adventurism continues both US and Japan share the common interests to counter the Korean threat. It is through the US Indo-Pacific strategy that Japan got recognition as a pertinent strategic ally. With the US initiating a war on terror and the growing threat of Islamist organizations both countries are involved in generating collective military and legal measures against the radical elements thus further discrediting terrorism as legitimate action. The securitizing energy sector of Japan prior to the Fukushima disaster Japan holds significant interests in ensuring the security of its power plants and thus both US and Japan are furthering their campaign to securitize the nuclear sector. Both US and Japan hold a shared commitment to norms. Both the allies aim to adopt a coordinated approach toward China in order to protect their interests. The partnership in between Japan and US shared the common threat perception of China and offered a stiffer deterrence to China’s rise.


US – JAPAN ALLIANCE: A Strategic History from Bumpy Marriage to Honeymoon?

The state’s enchanting slogans of “kill more japs” and enduring the endurable to valuable allies was a daunting journey that has passed through four adjustment phases and it is a triumph that spoke human generosity. With both sides now holding a public opinion in the favour of alliance, thus amid this strategic partnership in which the US played a leadership role in the alliance Japan is also not compromising on its national stakes. This strategic readjustment removed the inequity between the US-Japan alliance in which Kishi Nobusuke revised the 1951 security treaty that allowed the US to establish its bases in Japan which appears controversial to Japan’s pacifist foreign policy analyst. The Guam doctrine which offered allies aid to defend themselves provide Japan an opportunity as an emerging economy to defend themselves against the Soviet arsenal. Prime Minister Eisaku Sato in order to gain the land of Okinawa promised to retreat from the Yoshida doctrine. With easing tensions between US and Russia the intensity of cordial relations began to reduce, with the US now urging to develop relations with China, Japan also heard the voice of interest, and a bump was witnessed in the 1970- the mid-1980s. Renewed cold war tensions with Russia building military bases in a sea of Okhotsk north of Japan, the importance of the alliance increased.

Moreover Japan amid its National defense project which allows only Japan to opt for defensive diplomacy Japan needed the US and also the US wanted Japan for Taiwan to Korea which led to the conclusion. Given the fact that Japan’s archipelago which stretches like a dense Japan could serve as a bottle for Soviet aggression that led to the revival of cordial relations with both sides to benefit each other in the cold war. But this led to a trade imbalance which led to the plaza accord of 1985. This makes the Japanese economy a growing threat in eyes of Americans. In the 1980s the relations were going at a pace where Japan was projected to overtake the US GDP by 2005 with Japan’s model of controlled capitalism and import substitution providing more appeal to the developing countries rather than the American lead capitalist model of Laissez Faire approach with Japan reiterating that it had surpassed capitalism. Moreover, this was the result of this drift that the US didn’t recognize Japan’s role in Kuwait and the gulf war.

Moreover, in the wake of belligerent moves taken by Japanese forces to reinforce their power a renewed appreciation was witnessed in the US and Japan alliance. Clinton administration also realized the importance of Japan in furthering its policy approach in Asia when China was growing. In the 1990s PM Hashimoto and Clinton reaffirmed the alliance and signed in 1996 a military commitment. Moreover, 1978 IS Japan Defense guidelines were revised. With the Joint security declaration, the alliance was brought to the global stage. And with the start of the war on terror and Japan’s assistance in the Iraq war and operation against Al Qaeda ironized this alliance. Koizumi also reiterated that the “US-Japan alliance is not only based on common interests but also on common values. He also said, “The US must win and Japan will help”.



After a hasty deterioration of US-Japan relations in the form of a “dark valley” from the 1930s to the 40s, both countries came to a halt in terms of their militarization towards each other and began working on a bilateral relationship with each other. This beginning of bilateral relations marked the beginning of the very US-Japan alliance which started brewing in 1951. It was a very significant partnership on behalf of the United States as it provided several foreign policy areas as a result of which the two countries collaborate through multiple bilateral and multilateral institutions on issues such as science and technology, global health, energy, and agriculture. It focused not only on friendly diplomatic foreign policies but also on mutual cooperation on multiple other strategic dimensions, such as energy and security and military dimensions as well as economy and trade in addition to people-to-people relations.


Energy Dimension of Cooperation:

Leaders of Japan and the United States have also been condoning cooperation in terms of energy, which can be witnessed through the reaffirmation of their joint commitment to maintaining open and competitive energy markets and strengthening energy security in the Indo-Pacific region. This was decided at a virtual meeting of ‘The Japan-United States Strategic Energy Partnership (JUSEP)’ on September 24, 2020.

JUSEP was launched under the framework of the Japan-United States Economic Dialogue. Upon its opening, it had multiple core principles to attend to i.e. open and competitive energy markets for indispensable ensuring of secure energy supply in addition to universal access to affordable and reliable energy when needed to help eradicate poverty, fuel economic growth, and increase global security. This energy partnership also has certain priorities set, for instance, the promotion of advanced nuclear technologies that are safer and more proliferation-resistant and the deployment of highly efficient, low emissions coal technologies, alongside the development of a global market for natural gas. The energy infrastructure development in the developing world for the promotion of further regional integration was another aim to achieve under this strategic energy alliance, in addition to the transparency in bidding and financing. Bi-lateral dialogues were also set to achieve the expansion of access to the global energy market, particularly in three important geographic regions Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.


Military Dimension of Cooperation:

In addition to economic, trade, social as well as energy partnerships both the USA and Japan are forged in military cooperation as well. The military dimension of cooperation within the US-Japan alliance basically runs side by side with their security partnerships. It particularly began in the 1950s with the USA’s reconstruction program in Japan, but it grew at the turn of the 20th century as a result of growing threat perception with the emergence of China as the growing economic power in addition to the ever-increasing militarization of North Korea. Thus, some areas in which both the USA and Japan’s security goals range are from meeting the challenge of an increasingly assertive China to countering threats from North Korea through the development of a strong bilateral military partnership.

Since the early 2000s, the United States and Japan have taken significant strides to improve the operational capability of their alliance as a combined force. Japan has accelerated reforms to make it’s military i.e. the Self Defense Forces (SDF) more capable, flexible, and interoperable with U.S. forces. In the last few years, however, Japan appears to have been hedging against its reliance on the United States and taking tentative steps toward developing more strategic autonomy. In the summer of 2020, Japan suspended its plan to purchase Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense batteries from the United States and has begun to consider acquiring a strike capability i.e. a “counterattack,” towards the enemy bases. Under this military cooperative direction, a mutual defense treaty has also been signed, which grants the United States the right to base U.S. troops inside Japan’s territory. Currently, around 50,000 military troops in addition to other military assets are placed by the US on Japanese territory in return for a U.S. pledge to protect Japan’s security, while Japan pays roughly $2 billion per year to defray the cost of these stationing U.S. military personnel. In addition, Japan also pays compensation to localities hosting U.S. troops, rent for the bases, and the costs of new facilities to support the realignment of U.S. troops. Moreover, Japan is also forged into a current cost-sharing agreement with the United States, i.e. the “Special Measures Agreement” which will expire at the end of March 2021.

In addition to such cooperation, certain challenges have also been faced within the framework of the US-Japan military alliance, for instance, the longstanding issue of relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps base in Okinawa continues to face challenges. This issue of relocating the Futenma airbase to a less-congested area has divided Japan’s central government and the Okinawan leadership for decades. A 2019 nonbinding referendum showed that 72% of Okinawan voters opposed the new base. About 25% of all facilities used by U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) and over half of USFJ personnel are in Okinawa, which comprises less than 1% of Japan’s total land area.


Nuclear Dimension:

The prevention of nuclear proliferation is increasingly cited as one of the most important objectives of U.S. foreign policy towards the world countries, in the post-cold war period. Speaking before the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council in December 1997, for example, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, “I trust we also agree that the gravest potential threat to our security in the next century may come from beyond Europe, from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

Preventing nuclear proliferation depends on addressing the problem not only on a global basis, but also region by region in key areas of the world, specifically, in Japan in particular, because if a conflict is to occur among the major nuclear weapons powers, it is most likely to take place in Northeast Asia where, the United States, Russia, and China all have substantial military forces in the region as well as major stakes in the area.  Not only do these three most active nuclear weapons states confront each other in this area, but it is also the home to four other states i.e. Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and North Korea, all of which have contemplated the development of nuclear weapons and have the capacity to develop a serious nuclear weapons capability.

The US-Japan alliance in terms of nuclear politics has been the longest-standing one as both have been partners in the field of civil nuclear energy. The US-Japan alliance in the atomic sphere began with their very first signed agreement i.e. ‘the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Research Agreement’ in 1955. One year later, in 1956, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission published its first long-term plan, the ‘Atomic Energy Development, and Utility Long-Term Plan,’ which effectively included support for reprocessing and the development of breeder reactors. Japan was the first country to join President Eisenhower’s ‘Atoms for Peace Program.’ Furthermore, U.S. companies sold billions of dollars of equipment, technology, and fuel to Japan. At the same time, Japan made the most prominent foreign contribution, at least $150 million in the 1960s, to U.S. nuclear R&D programs and paid substantial license fees to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and its successors for nuclear fuel services. This bilateral cooperation expanded during the late 1960s and 1970s as Japan’s first wave of commercial nuclear power reactors came online. In 1968, an Agreement for Cooperation was signed between the two countries i.e. between the Government of Japan and the Government of the United States for ‘Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, which was amended and extended in 1988 for thirty years, and which will extend automatically in July 2018. There also has been close cooperation in multilateral civil nuclear and non-proliferation initiatives and in scientific research that continues to the present day.

Security Relations:

The United States and Japan have closed the first decade of the post–cold war era by reaffirming their mutual security relationship and expanding defense cooperation in areas ranging from theatre missile defines (TMD) to regional contingency planning and intelligence sharing. There is no question that the alliance continues to serve the fundamental interests of both parties. For the United States, it provides critical forward basing in East Asia and political partnership with the world’s second-largest economy. For Japan, it provides regional stability, a nuclear umbrella, and alignment with the world’s largest economic and political power. Support for the alliance is broader than ever. There are fewer opponents to the alliance among the political elite in Tokyo and Washington than at any point since the first bilateral security treaty went into effect in 1952. Public support for the security relationship also remains high in both countries. It should be noted that the United States and Japan are developing different national security interests. Instead, the two nations are confronting decisions on integration, interoperability, and jointness that most other alliances resolved decades ago. These growing pains are complicated by changing political cultures, however.

The Japanese political elite is gradually embracing the trappings of a “normal” national security apparatus one that is more centralized and capable of independent action. It is this trend that allowed the Defense Guidelines review in the first place. Some on the U.S. side remain wary of the increased internal cohesion of Japanese security institutions, a sense of mistrust that is reinforced by Japanese hedging strategies such as the independent satellite program. On the whole, however, the changes in Japan’s strategic culture represent far more of an opportunity for alliance solidarity than a threat to bilateral cooperation. Changes in the structure of the U.S.-Japan alliance have always been incremental. The current trend toward strategic realism in Japanese security policy creates an opportunity for more changes, but the undertow of pacifism in Japan is strong, and the region’s acceptance of a larger Japanese security role is only just taking root. Strategically, it is difficult to argue that regional stability or the U.S. and Japanese interests would be enhanced by changing the configuration of the alliance to give Japan a military role more symmetrical with that of the United States. The U.S.-Japan alliance is based on broadly shared strategic objectives and a generally complementary division of roles and missions. But these attributes do not guarantee the continued health of bilateral security relations. Like a shark that will drown if it does not move forward, the U.S.-Japan alliance requires constant attention, strengthening, and integration.


People to People Relations:

The strength of the U.S.-Japan relationship is due in part to the substantial reservoir of goodwill created by the close grassroots ties between the U.S. and Japanese people, often supported by the U.S. and Japanese governments. There are more than 30,000 American alumni of the Japanese government-sponsored Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program, including nearly 200 JET program alumni working at the Department of State. The Fulbright program in Japan has sent nearly 7,500 young Japanese on Fulbright scholarships to the United States since 1952.  There are as well 37 U.S.-based Japan-America chapters, many of which are sustained by the close business ties between the United States and Japan; Japanese firms in the United States employ more than 800,000 Americans.  The U.S. and Japan also share more sister city relationships with each other than with any other country.  Many other non-governmental organizations, such as the U.S.-Japan Council, Mansfield Foundation, and Sasakwa Peace Foundation, utilize public-private partnerships as well as U.S.-government grants to support people-to-people exchange.

The United States-Japan Conference on Cultural & Educational Interchange (CULCON), a bi-national blue-ribbon panel of academic, cultural, and government experts, was founded between President Kennedy and Prime Minister Ikeda in 1961 to make policy recommendations on how to continue to improve people-to-people ties between the U.S. and Japan.  Since its inception, the organization has formed a number of task forces to take on policy issues regarding a people-to-people exchange, most recently focusing on increasing the falling number of Japanese students studying in the United States, and how both countries can better foster the next generation of leaders in the U.S.-Japan relationship.


US-Japan alliance holds common threat perceptions and interests which holds a burden sharing significance and importance. But this alliance has always worked as a strategic equilibrium within the East Asian region whether it’s pre cold war, cold war or post cold war era.

The US and Japan alliance is very dynamic and regarding the security relations, it can be said that both the states in the post-World War and Cold War were quite different than before. Thus with these With set approaches of cooperation in the dimensions of economy and trade in addition to multiple pacts and agreements in terms of military and nuclear politics to safeguard mutual security, the US and Japan alliance has the futuristic prospect of the alliance due to the strategic nature of their cordial relations, i.e. not just in the economy but both the countries are working together side by side in cooperation for energy conservation as well as to improve the social relations with each other through affirm diplomatic approaches.

But nonetheless, threats in Northeast Asia will most likely continue to diversify in the near future, and therefore the relevance of the U.S.-Japan alliance will only increase in maintaining regional stability. Since 1945 U.S.-Japanese relations have weathered numerous wars; the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the proliferation of transnational terrorism. As noted above, the tensions and disagreements that exist between the two countries on issues concerning basing in Okinawa and the asymmetry in defense spending are largely tactical and do not undermine the alliance in any strategic sense. North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs risk destabilizing the entire region. The regime’s opaque and hostile behavior acts as a constant and clear reminder of the importance for the U.S. to work on building trust and bridging relations between the South Korean and Japanese governments. Moreover, India-Japan strategic relationship is good for U.S. security interests in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.



Zunaira Malik is a student at the Department of International Relations, Kinnaird college for women university Lahore. She is an avid reader and has published multiple articles on topics related to foreign policy or strategic and defense studies domain.


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