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Alliance Theory and Japan Hands

Nobuhiko Tamaki/Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: International Politics

Japan Hands

Have you ever heard of Edwin O. Reischauer? He was a renowned Japanese scholar at Harvard University and served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966. His wife was Haru Reischauer, a granddaughter of the elder statesman "genro," Masayoshi Matsukata. Edwin O. Reischauer is known as an ambassador who left a significant mark on Japan-U.S. relations.

Reischauer led a group of many experts on Japan at the embassy. During World War Two, Japan designated English as an enemy language and suppressed English language education. In contrast, the United States greatly expanded Japanese language education in order to gather information. This led to the establishment of intensive Japanese language schools by the U.S. army and navy. These schools produced many of the personnel responsible for Japan-U.S. relations after the war. One such person is Donald Keene, a well-known researcher of Japanese literature who acquired Japanese citizenship after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

U. Alexis Johnson, who succeeded Reischauer as ambassador to Japan from 1966 to 1969, was also a diplomat who had been assigned to Japan since before the war. Other graduates of U.S. army and navy intensive Japanese language schools who served under Johnson included David L. Osborn, who served as Deputy Chief of Mission, James W. Morley, who served as a special assistant (later a professor at Columbia University), and Richard L. Sneider, who became the first country director for Japan in the U.S. Department of State.

American diplomats with deep ties to Japan were known as Japan Hands. During the 1960s, these diplomats were at the forefront of Japan-U.S. relations. My paper focusing on Japan Hands is the origin of my research (Tamaki, N., "Japan Hands: The Transformation of the U.S.-Japan Alliance and the Perception of Japan Experts in the U.S. Government: 1965-68", Shiso, No. 1017 (2009), pp. 102-132). In this article, I will introduce the concept of my research and the resulting discussions, while including a theoretical perspective of international politics, which is my area of expertise.

Reduction of mainland military bases and return of Okinawa-1968

There are two major differences in Japan-U.S. relations during the 1960s compared to relations in 2024. First, just like present-day Okinawa, huge U.S. military bases were also located throughout mainland Japan. In the vicinity of Chuo University, the current Showa Kinen Park (Tachikawa City/Akishima City, Tokyo) was the site of a U.S. military base. Hikarigaoka (Nerima City, Tokyo), which has a large residential area, was also a U.S. military facility. I am sure that there are traces of the U.S. military bases in the neighborhoods of those who are reading this article. Above all, Okinawa was administered by the U.S. military, not by the Japanese government. It is noteworthy to mention that the Shuri High School baseball players who came from Okinawa to play in Koshien high school baseball tournament in 1958 were not able to bring back infield dirt from Koshien Stadium. This is because "foreign" soil was considered a problem from a quarantine perspective.

In the 1960s, this situation began to move toward resolution. In 1968, a policy was established within the U.S. government to drastically reduce the number of military bases on mainland Japan. These mainland bases were returned to Japan by the mid-1970s. In 1969, the return of Okinawa to Japan was announced, and was finally realized in 1972. However, no progress was made in reducing the number of U.S. military bases in Okinawa. The combination of these two events has resulted in a situation where 70% of current U.S. military bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa. For better or worse, it can be said that the prototype of the current Okinawa base issue was fixed during the late 1960s to the mid-1970s.

It was the Japan Hands who led the two policies of reducing the military bases on mainland Japan and returning Okinawa. There is a myth that diplomats who specialize in a particular country tend to be overly considerate of that country. Some may think that Japan Hands also promoted the reduction of military bases and the return of Okinawa out of concern for Japan. Indeed, Japan Hands may have had some sympathy and concern for Japan. Nevertheless, the professional mission of diplomats is to represent their country and protect its national interests. Japan Hands were also professionals working for the national interests of the United States. With that in mind, what kind of benefits did the United States gain by reducing the number of military bases and returning Okinawa to Japan?

Uneasiness toward Japan as a superpower

Stated simply, the ability to maintain Japan as an ally was a benefit to the United States. During this period, Japan was in the midst of high economic growth and was rapidly increasing its national power. Furthermore, in the late 1960s, harsh criticism against the United States arose in Japan over the Okinawa issue, the military base issue, and the Vietnam War (1965-1975), which was an outstanding crisis at that time. There were large-scale anti-war and anti-American demonstrations in Japan.

Faced with this situation, Japan Hands saw this as a sign of a revival in Japan's national pride along with economic growth. The presence of U.S. military bases and the administration of Okinawa were irritating the Japanese, and Japan Hands feared that the Japan-U.S. alliance would eventually collapse if those issues were not addressed. Although this can be deemed unrealistic now, there was real concern in the United States that if Japan were to break away from the alliance, it would become an independent superpower supported by revived nationalism and might arm itself with nuclear weapons. These fears can be confirmed from primary historical materials held at the United States National Archives and Records Administration and the Presidential Libraries.

In order to prevent such a situation from occurring, it was necessary to maintain a situation in which Japan was under the rule of pro-American political forces (represented by the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan) in a stable manner. To achieve this, it was necessary to resolve issues that made it difficult for the Japanese government to adopt a pro-American policy. Therefore, Japan Hands believed that returning Okinawa and reducing the number of military bases were essential to maintaining the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Binding, restraints, and burden sharing

In this way, a powerful nation like the United States will do its best to keep its allies from leaving their alliances, as long as they see strategic value in retaining those allies. In alliance theory, a field of international politics, this is called the binding of allies. However, if you were to ask me if the United States will be satisfied as long as Japan remains in the alliance, my answer would be no.

Why does the United States form alliances in the first place? Both then and now, the United States has more than enough military power to protect its own territory. When forming an alliance, the United States expects its allies to cooperate in forming an international environment (an international order) that is favorable to the United States. Specifically, this consists of establishing democratic nations that are friendly to the United States in various regions throughout the world, creating an economic environment in which American companies can operate freely, and building an international system for stable operation of that environment. The United States has asked its allies for full cooperation in domestic and diplomatic matters for maintaining and building this international order. In particular, such cooperation includes restraints which require allies not to disrupt this international order, and burden sharing which requires allies to cooperate in maintaining and expanding the international order.

In other words, the United States has sought to bind its allies, while at the same time manipulating them through restraints and burden sharing. There are often contradictions between these two vectors. If the United States asks its allies to engage in burden sharing or subjects its allies to restraints, it will be met with resistance. As a result, the United States will be forced to focus on binding out of concern for a possibility that its allies may leave the alliance.

To achieve these goals, the United States uses concessions and pressure to influence its allies: When and why does the United States make concessions to or exert pressure on its allies? Although I do not have space in this article to engage in a detailed discussion of theoretical issues, I have discussed these issues in detail in my upcoming book, which will be published from Iwanami Shoten.

Education and research: International Politics (seminar combining juniors, seniors, and graduate students)

My upcoming book references not only the Japan-U.S. alliance of the 1960s, but also U.S. alliances with South Korea and the Philippines during the same period, as well as many other alliances at other times. I wrote this book under my own responsibility, but it is also the result of my studies together with under graduate as well as graduate students at Chuo University.

Since joining Chuo University in 2019, I have continued to teach a seminar titled "Research on Alliances." In this seminar, I ask students to choose one postwar American alliance and conduct research freely within that framework. Students have produced unexpected research results based on their individual interests such as military bases, nuclear power, intelligence, military intervention, economics, colonial issues, and current U.S.-China competition. Since all research themes have the common denominator of focusing on American alliances, it has led to active and meaningful discussions. Personally, I learn new things from the seminar every week.

The ability to teach while closely linking research and education is the greatest joy of being a university faculty member. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all the students and graduate students of Chuo University's Faculty of Law and Graduate School of Law.

Nobuhiko Tamaki/Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: International Politics

Nobuhiko Tamaki was born in 1983. He graduated from the Faculty of Law, the University of Tokyo in 2006. He completed the Doctoral Program in the Graduate Schools for Law and Politics of the same university in 2014. He holds a Ph.D. in international politics.

His areas of expertise are alliance theory, the history of Japan-U.S. relations, and Asia-Pacific international relations.

He studied at Boston University from 2009 to 2010 as a Fulbright student and at Yale University from 2011 to 2012 as a visiting assistant in research.

His recent works written in English include “Japan’s Quest for a Rules-based International Order: The Japan-U.S. alliance and the decline of U.S. liberal hegemony,” Contemporary Politics, Vol. 26, No. 4 (2020); “Japan and International Organizations,” (with Phillip Y. Lipscy) in Robert J. Pekkanen and Saadia M. Pekkanen eds., The Oxford Handbook of Japanese Politics (Oxford University Press, 2022); Like-Minded Allies? Indo-Pacific Partners’ Views on Possible Changes in the U.S. Relationship with Taiwan, (with Jeffrey W. Hornung, Miranda Priebe, Bryan Rooney, M. Patrick Hulme, and Yu Inagaki), RAND Corporation, RR-A739-7, (2023).