A new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on the US‐China‐Japan follows in this tradition of politically illuminating net assessment. Like any report evaluating relations between three countries, decades into the future, and written by committee, the contents are a mixed bag. The least notable aspects of the report are the omnibus data dumps cataloging recent diplomatic and military developments. Indeed, although the military and diplomatic analysis are useful, the important parts of the report are the more intensely political observations that, taken together, indicate that U.S. China policy is headed for trouble.
The report is uncommon in acknowledging central dilemmas in U.S. Asia policy. For example, it admits in places that no matter what steps Washington and Tokyo take, if Chinese economic growth continues at anything near its recent pace, maintaining the extraordinary level of U.S. and allied military dominance in Asia will grow increasingly, perhaps prohibitively costly. Accordingly, the authors argue, change is not merely an option, but almost certainly necessary.
When it comes to Japan, in places the report does not mince words — “Japan is growing more, not less, dependent on the United States for its defense” (p. 5). But not enough consideration is given to how Washington could reverse this trend. Indeed, the report is colored by a tone of exasperation at Tokyo’s ambivalence about its role in its own defense, but the authors give short shrift to the — admittedly heretical in Washington — idea that the only way to force a more responsible defense posture on Tokyo would be to cultivate uncertainty about the contexts in which Washington would threaten war with China on Japan’s behalf.
Thus, despite conceding that “the more Washington reassures Japan about its security commitment, the less inclined Tokyo might be to strengthen its own defense” (p. 180) the authors shrug and move on to boilerplate language about “developing both a clear and common understanding with Tokyo of the long‐term responsibilities” of Tokyo and Washington, without indicating precisely how the conflicting U.S. objectives of reassurance and stimulus might be pursued simultaneously.