Sasakawa USA Blog

This blog features a look at news, events, commentary and media related to Sasakawa USA and the U.S.-Japan relationship.


Chairman’s Message: After Hanoi, Back to Basics

For its first two years, North Korea has been the Trump administration’s highest profile diplomacy effort in Asia. The President and his advisors believed that in dealing with North Korea they had better ideas, greater skills and more favorable conditions than their predecessors. Some even dreamed that Donald Trump could be the second American president after Theodore Roosevelt to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for a peace treaty in Northeast Asia. Most of us with experience in U.S.-North Korea relations over the years were at best skeptical and at worst cynical, but we hoped that we might be wrong and that that this time would be different.

As it turns out, the third generation of the Kim dynasty is simply an updated version of the first two. It relies on completely disproportional expenditures on military force, conventional and military, both to deter its enemies and to justify the hardships its people endure; it meters out modest economic improvements to its long-suffering and thoroughly brainwashed population, while maintaining the most repressive police state on the planet; it attempts to trade unimportant and reversible limitations on its nuclear programs for real economic assistance, while keeping secret the most important parts of its nuclear complex.

North Korea is currently threatening to break off its talks with the United States and resume testing, and, for its part, the United States has stated it is in no hurry to schedule a third summit meeting and would react strongly to resumed North Korean nuclear or missile testing. So where should the United States go from here?

It is time to get back to basics, both in our policy towards North Korea and in our overall Asian policies.

First, policy towards North Korea. The United States should sustain its objective of a fully denuclearized North Korea. This approach is neither unrealistic nor an admission of failure.  There have been many U.S. national security objectives that take time and are difficult to achieve. Lesser objectives such as suspension of testing and a limited nuclear arsenal meet many North Korean security objectives but add to the security of the United States and its allies in the region. With denuclearization as the objective, the United States and the rest of the world have the justification for continued tight sanctions on North Korea. That country, and any country that has aggressive and dangerous regional ambitions, cannot be allowed the economic resources to build up its military forces, conventional and nuclear. The United States must stop treating Kim Jong Un as a clever statesman but deal with him as the brutal dictator he is.

The United States should redouble its own efforts and those of our ally South Korea and other countries to spread information within North Korea about the social and economic penalties that the Kim regime is imposing on its people. A popular revolt against the Kim regime is neither likely nor likely to be effective. The objective of an information campaign is to convince the elites in North Korea—the Army, police and propaganda leadership—that they themselves, their families and their country would do better without Kim. In many other countries, in Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America, disillusioned elites have isolated and removed brutal dictators.

Next, policy in Asia. It is time to return to basics. The favorable American position in the world’s richest and most heavily armed region of the world has depended on forward deployed military forces, strong alliances, trust in American intentions and steadiness, and admiration for the free and dynamic nature of our society. To maintain that position in the ongoing competition with China, the latest in a line of regional challengers to its position, the United States needs to emphasize all four pillars and act in accordance with them. Robust challenges to unfair economic and business practices by both competitors and allies are fine, and in many cases overdue. Every nation understands the responsibilities of government to deliver prosperity to its people, and to support its own economy within a system benefiting all. However, putting price tags on alliances and security policies undermines the American security position in East Asia. When the United States and its allies need to act together in serious crises, it is because of shared interests and commitments, not because of the size of host-nation support payments.

There remain many issues and disputes that could flash into crises in East Asia involving either North Korea or China. Now is the time for the United States to strengthen our alliances and defense partnerships and build the regional institutional capacity to deter some from happening and handling those that will occur.






U.S.-Japan Town Hall: Trends in People-to-People Ties and Educational Initiatives

Photo by Joy Champaloux

On January 29, 2019, Sasakawa USA and the U.S. Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme Alumni Association (USJETAA) co-hosted an inaugural hybrid U.S.-Japan town hall, with in-person and virtual attendees. This event, U.S.-Japan Town Hall: Trends in People-to-People Exchanges and Educational Initiatives was held at Florida International University (FIU) in Washington D.C.  Dr. Sheila Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and James “Jim” Gannon, Executive Director of the Japan Center for International Exchange, discussed trends in people-to-people exchange between the United States in Japan. They also introduced recent educational initiatives and programs cultivating the next generation of leaders in U.S.-Japan relations.

In Washington, D.C. more than 30 participants from the JET alumni, Sasakawa USA, and FIU in D.C. communities attended in-person. An additional 20 JET alumni and FIU students participated from New York, California, Arizona, and Florida, via live-stream. The JET Alumni Association of New York also held a watch party in downtown Manhattan for their members. View the recording of the event here.

Bahia Simons-Lane, Executive Director of USJETAA; Eric Feldman, Associate Director of the Student Success and Academic Programs at FIU in Washington D.C. and Joy Champaloux, Program Officer at Sasakawa USA, provided welcome remarks.  Champaloux emphasized the importance of engaging the 30,000 American Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme alumni on key issues within U.S.-Japan relations, a goal which aligns with Sasakawa USA’s mission of strengthening U.S.-Japan relations through educations, programs, and research.

Photo by Joy Champaloux

To give context for the upcoming discussion, Gannon laid out the ten types of people-to-people exchange between societies: diplomatic, commercial and business, professional, legislative, intellectual, student, grassroots, cultural and art, tourism, and family ties. He explained that these exchanges “form a web” tying two countries together and facilitating cooperation and goodwill. These “web relations” also act as a shock absorber, enabling countries to recover and bounce back from momentary dips in relations.

Gannon delved into the history of people-to-people exchanges within U.S.-Japan relations, citing four waves of exchanges beginning with the arrival of western missionaries in Japan. The second wave came from the shared wartime and Occupation experience in the early and mid-20th century, followed by American interest in Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism in the 1960s and 70s. The fourth wave continues today, spearheaded by the JET Programme and other cultural exchange programs.

Although the impact of people-to-people exchange can be hard to gauge, Gannon referred to a 1993 Gallup poll that found only 43% of Americans had favorable feelings toward Japan, reflecting the trade disputes that strained the relationship during that time. However, human connections and exchange have given a resilience to the U.S.-Japanese relationship, as seen when the 2018 Gallup poll noted the number of Americans who felt friendly towards Japan had doubled to 87%.

Lastly, Gannon raised the significance of the large amount of American donations and aid towards Japan after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The 3/11 disaster ranks as the fifth most generous disaster giving in U.S. history, following only after the domestic disasters Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks, and relief for developing countries like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. He believes that the outpouring of aid can largely be attributed to these people-to-people exchanges between Japan and the United States.

Photo by Joy Champaloux

Dr. Smith turned the discussion to three initiatives within the Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON), a bi-national advisory panel to both U.S. and Japan governments that serves to strengthen cultural and educational ties between the two countries: TeamUp, a bi-national initiative aimed to increase student mobility, exchange, and learning; Nichibei Connect,  a “one-stop shop” resource database for the next generation of U.S.-Japan leaders to search career trajectories and educational opportunities; and Apolitical, or “Rural Resilience,” which encourages bilateral exchange concerning emerging areas of collaboration including energy, space, cybersecurity, etc.

Dr. Smith concluded that the Japan-United States Friendship Commission (JUSFC), United States-Japan Bridging Foundation, and CULCON all advance people-to-people exchange and uphold the educational and cultural foundations of the U.S.-Japan relationship.

The panelists also referred to their shared mentor, Tadashi Yamamoto, the founder of the Japan Center for International Exchange. Gannon stated that Yamamoto was a “missionary in the sense of people-to-people exchange.” Yamamoto encouraged exchange that was substantive, regular, and independent from government and corporate influence.

During the Q&A, panelists answered questions from JET alumni, FIU students, and the U.S.-Japan community attending in person and those tuning in virtually from across the country.

An FIU student asked the panelists what methods are used to preserve the history and authenticity of traditional Japanese cities. Dr. Smith replied that cities are simultaneously attempting to build upon the history and culture of the area and rebrand themselves to become more accessible to younger generations and foreign tourists. For example, Japanese tourism has promoted authentic Zen Buddhism and health consciousness that has become popular in western society.

Another audience question from a JET Programme alumna referenced the moments in U.S.-Japanese history that brought the countries together, including the rise of China. He asked what the incentive would be to keep the relationship moving forward in the next 30 years or so. Gannon postulated that the relationship would continue to thrive on the human connections that have been built and the need to cooperate on common global problems, including ageing populations and new technologies. Dr. Smith also argued that the relationship between the two countries may be tested on how to manage China and declining economic interdependence, but the relationship would not dissolve.

Sasakawa USA is proud to partner with USJETAA to support the continued cultivation of U.S.-Japan relations and engage the alumni of the JET Programme and those with the same enthusiasm for Japan. Thanks also to Florida International University (FIU) for their support in hosting at their D.C. location.

— Written by Meg Bittle, Sasakawa USA Education Intern






The 6th U.S.-Japan-Korea Trilateral Symposium: Promoting Peace, Stability, and Prosperity in the Asia-Pacific Region

The 6th U.S.-Japan-Korea Trilateral Symposium brought together students and current professionals in the field of U.S.-Asia relations to enhance trilateral cooperation between the U.S., Japan, and the Republic of Korea. The event aimed to both educate and to give the future generation of all three countries a voice regarding the promotion of peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. The symposium was held January 4, 2019 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The panels, “The Role of Soft Power and Media in Trilateral Relations” and “Areas of Collaboration in Addition to Regional Security” created a timely discussion between motivated student leaders and distinguished professionals, showcasing the younger generation’s enthusiasm for cooperative and active trilateral engagement.

This event was organized by International Student Conferences (ISC), Sasakawa USA, and Korea Foundation.

Panel I: The Role of Soft Power and Media in Trilateral Relations

The first panel featured two student panelists: Ayoung Kim, from the 12th Korea-America Student Conference (KASC), and Kaho Maeda, from the 71st Japan-America Student Conference (JASC). Joining them were two distinguished leaders: Ambassador Kathleen Stephens, President and CEO of the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI), and Wataru Sawamura, Washington Bureau Chief of the Asahi Shimbun. The panelists addressed the role of soft power and its ability to influence countries through ideas, technology, and culture, and to promote trilateral relations between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. The panel also discussed if the media, including social media, made it easier or more difficult to boost these ties.

Ambassador Stephens opened the discussion by highlighting the recent fervor for British rock band Queen, spreading across Japan and South Korea after the release of the movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody” in theaters. This fervor is an example of pop culture’s ability, as a source of soft power, to bypass national borders and historical divisions. The younger generation is increasingly sharing values and commonality through social media, technology, and cultural exchange programs. Forms of soft power that magnify commonality between countries often allow them to face difficult challenges like historical legacy.

The fast pace in which news is consumed by the younger generation is also driving change. Kim noted that these days, “in a world of so much information, attention, is power.” She also pointed that it can be a “race to the bottom” to gain the public’s attention and screen time. South Korea’s previously held cultural anonymity changed rapidly with the international popularity and attention given to K-pop. While hard power gets things done, she argued that soft power creates “waves in international waters, shaping the landscape of the world order, and perception of it.” Soft power is important because it has this influence on world views, and ultimately, what we think leads to how we act.

Sawamura, like Stephens, emphasized that national borders have become less important to the younger generation in Japan with the increasing popularity of foreign pop culture, like K-drama and K-pop. He noted that the enduring anti-Korean and anti-Chinese public sentiment found in many Japanese people over 60 years of age can be used as an example of the “love–hate” generational gap that is evidence of the older generations lack of international experiences, cultural exchange, and diversification of information sources. As many of the older generation usually read newspapers that have a more negative and hardline perspective over other sources of media, they are more inclined to distrust foreign influence. He cautioned about the dangers of journalism if it focuses more on stereotypes and confirmation biases over real-fact based coverage. Maeda also contended that social media may encourage exchange, but its superficiality and ease of access can also create assumptions. She believed that real experiences, like travel and exchange programs, are key to breaking down cultural barriers.

Maeda then turned the discussion to the applicability of soft power to policy. She highlighted the changing landscape of soft power with the rise of multinational corporations. Soft power can become hard power through the role of consumerism and economics to create policy. Maeda asserted that soft power and hard power should not be viewed as two separate entities that rival each other, but a joined effort to influence policy.

The panelists proceeded to discuss how soft power, including pop culture and political values, comes from the people and not the government. Soft power is not meant to be a tool of control and propaganda, but a reflection of values starting from the bottom up. While the United States’ soft power in the region has been widely accepted and obvious, the Japanese and South Korean exchanges of pop culture are a new and exciting trend.

However, challenges remain from the confirmation biases found in the media, the declining number and credibility of experts, and nationalist sentiment in education systems. The panelists concluded that a hunger for intellectual depth, critical thinking, and international exchanges are necessary soft power tools to promote closer trilateral relations.

Panel II: Areas of Collaboration in Addition to Regional Security

The second panel featured two student panelists: Damare Baker, from the 12th Korea-America Student Conference (KASC), and Shunji Fueki, from the 71st Japan-America Student Conference (JASC). They were joined by Emma Chanlett-Avery, Specialist in Asian Affairs at the Congressional Research Service, and Richard Fontaine, President of the Center for a New American Security.

The panel addressed the current challenges facing collaborative efforts between the three countries. Richard Fontaine argued that while there are many reasons for collaboration—including the denuclearization of North Korea, the encroachment of China, and endorsement of democratic values—obstacles like historical legacy and distrust have hindered these efforts.

Chanlett-Avery noted that Japanese and Korean relations ebb and flow. Ironically, North Korean aggression during the Korean missile crisis was “the gift that keeps on giving” for collaborative trilateral relations. Now that North Korea is pursing diplomatic relations, the three states disagree on how to move forward and best engage with North Korea.

Fueki noted Japanese dissatisfaction with their lack of leverage, compared to South Korea and the United States, regarding North Korea. However, Fontaine asserted that substantial change in the way North Korea is handled is possible due to its unpredictable nature.

While North Korea remains a contentious issue, the panelists discussed other areas for potential collaboration that will help build trust between Japan and South Korea. These include intelligence sharing, military exchanges and joint exercises, nonproliferation, and climate change.

— Written by Meg Bittle, Sasakawa USA Education Intern






Kyodo News article by Sasakawa USA Fellow suggests the impact of U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty

New York, New York City, Nyc

Dr. Sayuri Romei, Associate Fellow for Security and Foreign Affairs at Sasakawa USA, discussed the possible implications of the U.S. withdrawal from the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty in a February 3 Kyodo News article. In “OPINION: Two minutes to midnight: chipping away at global arms control and alliances?” Romei writes that “With the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight for the second year in a row — the last time it was this close to midnight was in 1953 — the Trump administration has embarked upon a very dangerous path.”

In the article, Romei raises concerns about miscommunication with allies and how this decision will undermine talks with Russia for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty renewal.

Read “OPINION: Two minutes to midnight: chipping away at global arms control and alliances?” on the Kyodo News website.






Chairman’s Message: What Japan’s Third National Defense Program Guidelines Should Have Said

U.S. Marine Sgt. Ignacia Gonzalez translates a safety brief to Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Soldiers of 1st Amphibious Rapid Deployment Regiment, before a swim qualification during Iron Fist Jan. 16, 2019 on U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, CA. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Cutler Brice)

In December of last year, Japan published its third National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG).  These guidelines, written under the supervision of the five-year-old National Security Council Staff, provide guidance for the development of Japan’s defense capability for the next decade.

Earlier this month Sasakawa USA held a conference on these guidelines (a video of the conference is on our website), and the consensus of the Japanese and American expert participants was that the guidelines were a glass both half full and half empty.

Although there are many positive features of the NDPG, they are inadequate in the very important area of achieving joint operations by the Self Defense Force. NDPG documents are always the tip of an iceberg, indicating the presence of much more substance unseen below the water line. However even tips of icebergs indicate overall direction and speed. The 2019 NDPG show a positive direction for Japanese joint capabilities, but the speed is disappointingly slow, much too slow for the security environment that the document itself accurately describes.

Even though they establish security policy for ten years, the guidelines do not set definite deadlines to achieve important joint operational capabilities. By 2029 the Japan Self Defense Forces must be capable of operating in multi-Service task forces under joint doctrine, with interoperable command, control and communications systems, with trained headquarters staffs and operational units skilled in operating with those from other services. The armed forces of many other countries grow weary of American adjurations concerning jointness, and sometimes dismiss them as mindless dogma. On the contrary, joint operations are a means to achieve greater military effectiveness from individual service capabilities when they operate in the same battle space. Integrated joint forces are the only way to combine the firepower of individual army, navy, and air force elements at crucial times and places across the entire battlespace. Forces without joint doctrine, training, communications, and attitude must play the equivalent of a zone defense in football or basketball and can be no stronger against a joint opponent than their weakest sector.

Interestingly, China is not one of those countries that resists the imperative of developing a joint operational capability. It has been making serious strides in transforming the PLA from an Army-dominated defensive force to a Navy and Air Force-led joint force on its eastern, maritime borders. Unless Japan makes the decision to embrace joint operations, it will face an opponent not only with superior resources, but also with superior warfighting doctrine and capability.

There are three specific areas in which the NDPG should have directed the development of joint task forces and operational concepts:

1. Joint air and missile defense

Aircraft and surface-to-air missiles have engagement envelopes of hundreds of miles. The NDPG states that all three of its services will have air and missile defense units:

“GSDF will maintain surface-to-air guided missile units and ballistic missile defense units; MSDF will maintain Aegis-equipped destroyers; ASDF will maintain surface-to-air guided missile units.”

In the tight battlespace around Japan, engagement zones of the aircraft and missile systems of the three different services will all overlap. Yet on the question of how these service units will be integrated into a joint missile and air defense force that can operate from a single common operating picture, that can be directed by a single commander against incoming missiles and aircraft, the document is frustratingly vague:

“SDF will build comprehensive air and missile defense capability comprising these [individual service] assets” and

“SDF will establish a structure with which to conduct integrated operation of various equipment pieces, those for missile defense as well as air defense equipment that each SDF service has separately used.”

What the NDPG should say is something like the following:

“By 2024 the SDF will establish a joint task force to defend Japanese territory from air and missile attacks.”

2. Joint amphibious operations

If there is any military operation that must be joint to be effective, it is an amphibious assault. There must be one commander who controls the naval and air forces to win air and maritime superiority before the landing force can launch, the same commander must direct the amphibious ground force that makes the landing and consolidates the beachhead, and the air and naval fires that support the ground forces once ashore. History is littered with stories of defeats caused by divided command of these complex operations, in which naval, army and air commanders failed to integrate their actions.  Unified command is essential.

Yet the NDPG states:

“GSDF will strengthen its ability to deter and counter threats by taking measures including: persistent steady-state maneuver such as coordinated [emphasis added] activities between ships and Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade and other mobile operating units as well as their various training and exercises.”

What the NDPG should say is:

“By 2024 the SDF will develop joint amphibious assault doctrine and procure necessary equipment to establish a joint operational command for amphibious assaults to recover remote islands that have been captured by an enemy force.”

3. Joint operational commands

The two joint task forces recommended above are tactical commands to deal with specific current threats and contingencies. There is a larger question of joint organization that Japan should have addressed in the 2018 NDPG.

Every advanced, large defense force except Japan has established joint operational commands with the responsibility for planning and training for known contingencies and developing the capability to react to surprise contingencies. All other nations have learned over time that individual service headquarters and even joint headquarters located in the capital cannot maintain the necessary operational focus. These headquarters staffs are consumed by questions of budget, personnel, equipment procurement, and responding to political authorities. While no country has the huge American joint command structure of regional and functional commands, they all (except Japan) assign the responsibility for planning, training, and conducting military operations to a separate staff, operating under the direction of political authorities, generally a ministry of defense. The services, in turn, are responsible for organizing, training, and equipping service units which are then assigned to joint operational commands for training and operations. Yet the NDPG states:

“In order to further promote jointness of GSDF, MSDF and ASDF in all areas, SDF will strengthen the Joint Staff Office’s posture [emphasis added] designed for effective SDF operations and for new domains, thereby enabling swift exercise of SDF’s capabilities. SDF will examine future framework for joint operation [emphasis added].”

This tentative guidance will ensure that Japan continues to rely on cooperation among its service units, rather than welding them into a joint task force that can take full advantage of their capabilities. What the NDPG should have said is:

“By 2024 the SDF will establish a joint operational command reporting to the Minister of Defense through the Chief of Staff, Joint Staff, to plan and exercise for the following contingencies: major disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons, Japan’s military actions in regional conflicts involving Taiwan and the Republic of Korea, and defense of Japan’s remote islands against attack. The joint operational command will be co-located where possible with the U.S. joint command that has responsibility for responding to the same contingencies.”

Press reports indicate that Japan is actually taking action to establish joint capabilities and organizations faster and with greater urgency than the vague language of the National Defense Program Guidelines. Perhaps the NDPG are written in such a tentative manner to avoid political controversy.  However vagueness carries its own risks:  Officers within the self-defense services will continue to resist the establishment of joint commands, with the perceived loss of service prerogatives; the Japanese public will not be prepared for joint operations when the need becomes even more glaringly obvious; most dangerous of all, Japan’s potential enemies will be overconfident that they can take advantage of Japan’s weak joint structure to conduct quick and successful aggression against Japanese territory and interests.  Prime Minister Abe has made historically important steps to improve the effectiveness of Japan’s self-defense forces, but establishing a joint operating structure remains unfinished business.