Media accounts that describe the April summit meeting between President Clinton and Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto as marking a historic change in the U.S.-Japanese alliance are erroneous. Although the United States agreed to consolidate its military bases on Okinawa, overall U.S. troop levels in Japan will remain the same. There was no hint of an eventual drawdown in those forces, much less that Washington would insist that Japan assume responsibility for its own defense.
The two alleged changes in Tokyo’s policy are equally tepid. Japan merely agreed to sell nonlethal supplies to U.S. forces in peacetime; there is no commitment to provide military materiel, nor is there an obligation to provide even nonlethal items in wartime. Tokyo’s vague promise to conduct a review of the constitutional ban on involvement in collective defense missions appears likely to produce few changes in Japan’s military posture. At most, it might lead to Japanese logistical support for U.S. military operations during an East Asian crisis. There is no indication whatsoever that the Japanese military ever intends to fight alongside American forces unless Japan itself is attacked. Despite the official and media hype, the summit agreements do not alter Japan’s status as a U.S. military dependent.