An air of uncertainty remains prevalent in the Indo-Pacific region. The South China Sea continues to be in contention, with six governments exerting claims on overlapping areas. The threat of a full-blown trade war between China and the United States puts the stability of the regional (and global) economy in question. Meanwhile, the Korean peninsula appears to swing between the brink of conflict to the possibility of dramatic diplomatic breakthroughs. It was in the midst of this precarious period for the region that the third annual gathering of the U.S.-Japan Security and Defense Dialogue Series took place in Tokyo from January 30 to February 1.
The 2019 meeting was co-sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and APARC’s U.S.-Asia Security Initiative (USASI). For the past three years, the series has convened senior Japanese and American policymakers, military leaders, scholars, and regional experts to discuss Japan's security strategy and the alliance between Japan and the United States. Support for the workshop came from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Since its inception in 2016, the dialogue series has provided a venue for in-depth discourse on contemporary Asia-Pacific security issues, and has helped build bridges between American and Asian academics, government and military officials, and other defense and security policy specialists. “We have continued to expand the range of attendees from the Japanese and U.S. government and military,” said USASI Director Karl Eikenberry. “This has ensured for our dialogue even greater policy relevance with each iteration.”
“The U.S.-Japan security dialogue is unique because it combines civilians and military officers, both retired and serving, which simply does not take place elsewhere,” observed Stanford Lecturer in International Policy Daniel Sneider, a regular participant. “It also avoids the sometimes-empty rhetoric about our alliance in favor of an operational, but strategically informed, approach that gets at not only what is being accomplished, but where the gaps exist in our alliance.”
L to R: Amb. Karl Eikenberry and Lt. General Noboru Yamaguchi (Workshop Co-Chairs)
The 2019 dialogue opened with a day of discussions on many of the challenges facing the U.S.-Japan security alliance, including an assessment of the latest security trends in the Indo-Pacific, as well as Japan’s new National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG). Passed by the Japanese Cabinet only a month earlier, the NDPG was the focus of two sessions on day one, including a discussion of its implications for Indo-Pacific security, as well as a session on the guideline’s ramifications for concepts of Integrated Air and Missile Defense and Archipelagic Defense
“Unsurprisingly, the global rise of China—along with the U.S. and Japan’s separate and combined responses to PRC strategy in the Indo-Pacific Region—helped shape both our agenda and the selection of participants,” observed Eikenberry. “We were specifically interested in the implications for the maritime domain and certain operational aspects of the U.S.-Japan security alliance.”
The day one closing ceremony featured remarks from the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, the Honorable William Hagerty.
L to R: Major Rodger Welding and Colonel Daniel Munter (United States Pacific Air Forces), and Lt. Colonel Yuka Nakazato, (Japan Air Self-Defense Force)
Days two and three were designed for small group sessions. Referred to as “Core Group”, its U.S. and Japanese members met the morning of January 31 to review the preceding day’s workshop and develop corresponding policy recommendations. The quality and depth of the conversations underscored just how great an impact the expanded range of participants had on the resulting policy.
“Participants weren't afraid to address sensitive, big-picture questions,” said Phillip Lipscy, a Center Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford, “like the slow growth of Japanese military spending in the face of increasing regional threats and the challenges posed by unpredictable US administration policies.”
“Even as an expert of Japanese politics, I found the dialogue extremely informative and stimulating,” shared Lipscy.
Sneider agreed as well. “One thing that stood out this year, in contrast to the previous years, was a greater willingness on the part of our Japanese colleagues to air their sense of unease about and even opposition to the direction of American foreign and security policy under the Trump administration,” he said. “In the past, the American participants were much more open about their criticism of their own government, the Japanese tended to be polite—not so much this year, which made for a lively exchange on many issues.”
In the afternoon, core U.S. participants again met with the US Ambassador, along with his embassy team, as well as with senior Cabinet Office officials from the government of Japan.
During the second annual gathering in 2018, the dialogue began including a visit by the core workshop participants to a combined U.S. military—Japanese Self Defense facility. As part of the 2019 dialogue, the Core Group spent their third and final day visiting Yokota Air Base, the headquarters of both United States Forces Japan and Japan Air Self Defense Force Air Defense Command.
“ “These visits allow us to better understand Alliance operational challenges in the field,” noted Eikenberry. “Just as importantly, it affords us an immediate opportunity to test out some of the very ideas discussed during the preceding days.”
Yokota Air Base, Japan
Chatham House Rules applied to the dialogue, but a workshop report is forthcoming.
The U.S.-Asia Security Initiative is part of Stanford University’s Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC). Led by former U.S. Ambassador and Lieutenant General (Retired) Karl Eikenberry, USASI seeks to further research, education, and policy relevant dialogues at Stanford University on contemporary Asia-Pacific security issues.
(L to R: Karl Eikenberry, Michael McFaul, Major Marcus Morgan (U.S. Army LNO to Japan Ground Self Defense Force Northern Army and Stanford University Center for East Asian Studies MA ’18), Phillip Lipscy, Daniel Sneider)