Sasakawa USA Blog

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

‘Why Japan Will Spend Billions on F-35s’ published in the National Journal

Mackenzie Weinger, Policy Editor for the National Journal, was one of eight rising U.S. journalists covering U.S. national security and defense issues who participated in a week-long study trip to Japan in December 2018 as part of the Sasakawa USA Emerging Experts Delegation (SEED) program. Weinger published “Why Japan Will Spend Billions on F-35s” in the National Journal on December 19, 2018.

Read the full text of her National Journal article below or download a PDF version.

Why Japan Will Spend Billions on F-35s

By Mackenzie Weinger, National Journal

TOKYO—Japan plans to shell out billions of dollars to purchase F-35 fighter jets in an effort to counter both regional security concerns and massive pressure from President Trump to drop more cash on U.S. military equipment.

“In total, we’re buying 147 F-35s from your country,” Keitaro Ohno, the parliamentary vice minister of defense for Japan’s ruling party, told National Journal and other U.S. publications last week in Tokyo.

Trump has long sought to bolster the U.S. arms industry, often acting as a salesman for domestic weapons manufacturers in meetings and public appearances with foreign leaders. Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, meanwhile, not only wants to improve his country’s defense capabilities with this F-35 buy, but likely hopes it will serve as proof of Tokyo’s increased commitment to its own defense and as leverage with a president hyper-focused on Japan’s trade surplus with the U.S.

Tokyo this week officially announced plans to buy 63 F-35As and 42 F-35Bsthe pricier short-takeoff-vertical-landing variant, to replace about 100 aging fighter jets. That’s worth an estimated $10 billion to U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, although the final contract value could differ.

Japan already had 42 F-35As on order. With this new commitment, the country will become the largest foreign buyer of the U.S.-made fighter jet.

Tokyo’s new defense posture is tied largely to China’s military buildup, Japanese officials told National Journal, although threats posed by North Korea and Russia also factor in. “This trigger is—to be straight out—China, the expansion of China,” Ohno said.

But Trump is likely another trigger for Tokyo. The president has repeatedly and publicly pushed for Japan to buy military equipment from American manufacturers and has often criticized the country over its trade surplus with the U.S.

In a September news conference following meetings at the United Nations, the president said he’d “just asked Japan” about defense spending. “I said, ‘We’re defending you. You’re a very wealthy country. You’re sending us millions of cars. You’re making a fortune. We have a tremendous trade deficit with you. And we’re defending you and we’re subsidizing your military with a massive amount of money,’” Trump said.

Or, as the president put it at a November 2017 news conference in Tokyo, “the Prime Minister of Japan is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should. And we make the best military equipment, by far. He’ll be purchasing it from the United States. … It’s a lot of jobs for us and a lot of safety for Japan.”

Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that although there is a clear need to replace an aging fleet, this week’s announcement also reflects Japan’s approach to dealing with Trump.

“How many F-35s ordered has been affected by the Trump administration calling on Japan to do more, spend more,” Smith said. “He said, ‘Buy more modern weapons, create more American jobs,’ and Japan will be buying the F-35 off the shelf, from U.S. factories.”

Asked whether the F-35 purchase is more about pleasing Trump ahead of bilateral trade talks with Washington next year or countering China, Koji Murata, a professor of political science at Doshisha University in Kyoto, replied, “The answer is both.”

Tokyo’s plan to introduce F-35Bs and more F-35As makes tactical and strategic sense, U.S. and Japanese defense officials say. The U.S. is Japan’s only military ally, and the country’s postwar constitution heavily restricted its military capabilities.

“We are increasing our defense effort very significantly, but without the U.S., Japanese security policy cannot stand,” a senior defense official in the National Security Secretariat said in an interview in Tokyo last week.

Rear Adm. Karl Thomas, who commands the U.S. Navy’s largest battle force, said Japan’s acquisition of U.S. military equipment lends itself to greater integration between the two defense forces.

“That right there bakes in some interoperability that we may not have with some other navies of the world. They fly airplanes that are very similar to ours. … Their data links are the same as our data links, so we have a special relationship,” Thomas, commander of the Japan-based Combined Task Force 70 and Carrier Strike Group 5, told reporters last week on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

The new decision to procure F-35Bs connects to both operational and geographical concerns, given that Japan is an island nation with few long runways. The aircraft will also be placed on Izumo-class destroyers that are set to be transformed into aircraft carriers under the government’s newly announced defense-policy guidelines.

As Capt. Katsuyoshi Motoyama—the commanding officer of the JS Izumo, the lead ship of the Izumo class—told U.S. reporters last week, the short length of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s largest ships means they can’t launch F-35As. But the refitted helicopter destroyers would be sufficient for the pricier F-35B variant, which is capable of vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings, and does not require a catapult launcher.

This massive purchase is an effort to develop the country’s airpower capabilities and address the growing threat China poses to Japan, particularly remote island chains, Ohno said.

“When it comes to the security environment, their activity in the South China Sea and East China Sea is still going on and has not changed a lot,” he said. “Face to face, we are smiling, but under the table we are kicking each other.”

Japan’s decision to beef up its defense forces and buy American-made military equipment must also be seen in the context of the current U.S.-Japan relationship, Smith noted.

“I think it’s pretty clear that Abe and Trump both have an interest in better Japanese capabilities given the neighborhood Japan lives in. I think they’re both on the same page on these weapons sales,” she said. “Will it affect [U.S. Trade Representative Robert] Lighthizer and others who are actually negotiating trade? I can’t say yes for sure, but it doesn’t hurt, obviously, that this has been one of the outcomes already negotiated and decided.”

Reporting in Japan was conducted during a Sasakawa USA-International Center for Journalists fellowship program.

Sasakawa USA appoints new President

Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Satohiro Akimoto as our new president, effective January 3, 2019.  Akimoto will work with Admiral Dennis Blair (ret.), Chairman of the Board, and Ambassador (ret.) James Zumwalt, Chief Executive Officer, to advance Sasakawa USA’s mission of strengthening U.S.-Japan relations through education, programs, and research.

Akimoto brings to Sasakawa USA extensive experience in the business and non-profit world.  “In recognition of Satohiro Akimoto’s tremendous contributions as a Sasakawa USA Board member and as a frequent participant in our Washington programs, we decided to bring him on board full time in order to strengthen our ties with businesses and counterpart organizations and provide strategic advice on strengthening our mission,” Blair said.

Akimoto is the founder of Washington Insights LLC, a geopolitical risk analysis and consulting firm which he established in Washington, D.C. in May 2016. He was a senior vice president for the Mitsubishi Corporation with expertise in geopolitical, macro-economic, and business strategy. Akimoto received a Ph.D. in Sociology and an MA in East Asian Studies from Harvard University and a BA in law from Keio University.

“Sasakawa USA would like to thank former President Junko Chano for her many years of valuable service to the organization,” said Admiral Blair.  “We look forward to continuing to work with her closely in her role as the Executive Director of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Japan and as a member of the Sasakawa USA Board of Directors.”

Sasakawa USA and HyperQube sponsored a cybersecurity capture-the-flag contest

On November 29, Bud Roth, Non-Resident Fellow for Cybersecurity at Sasakawa USA, and Craig Stevenson, CEO of HyperQube, announced the winners of the Capture-the-Flag contest sponsored by Sasakawa USA for students of schools affiliated with Keio University’s International Cyber Security Center of Excellence. On stage at INCS-CoE’s Seventh Biannual Cyber Security Conference, Roth and Stevenson ran through the competition and how its participants fared.

Seventy-eight students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), George Mason University, Georgia Tech, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, Tokyo University, Keio University, and more, participated in the elimination phase. They were given approximately three weeks to hack into four machines. Two participants broke into all four and eleven successfully exploited three machines.

The thirteen finalists were given five days to exploit seven machines in a segmented network environment. All thirteen compromised at least a few machines, but only two hacked into all seven and one hacked into six of the seven.  Based on this outcome, Roth and Stevenson announced the following winners:

Individual winners

1. Emanuele Uliana, Royal Holloway, acquired seven flags

2. Claudio Rizzo, Royal Holloway, acquired seven flags

3. Atsushi Kanda, IISEC Japan, acquired six flags

Schools with most points

1. Royal Holloway, University of London, 28 players, 71 total points

2. University of Cambridge, 23 players, 43 total points

3. University of Tokyo, 12 players, 19 points

Schools with highest average points
1. IISEC Japan, 3 players, 4 points average

2. Royal Holloway, University of London, 28 players, 2.53 points average

3. Oxford, 6 players, 2.17 points average

In addition, three students were able to find vulnerabilities in the game platform itself and disclosed these to HyperQube, which graciously hosted the games. HyperQube awarded the following three students a $50 gift certificate and an Ethical Disclosure Award:

• Roberto from RH

• Mert from Turkey

• Alistair from Oxford

The event was a lot of fun and a learning experience for everyone, Roth said. At the event’s end, he noted, “The goal here was to attract talented students to cybersecurity and help them build an international network of future colleagues. Cyber crime is a cross-border problem and today we contributed in a small way towards a cross-border solution.”

INCS-CoE was established in November 2016 by Keio University and collaborating members from American, British, and other Japanese universities to address cyberthreats through international collaborations.

Japan’s pacifism and America’s gun culture: Views from a Global Classmates Summit participant

Author’s note from Shun Wetlesen, a freshman studying at Pacific University: “I am half-Japanese and half-American which has resulted in my strong interest in U.S-Japan relations. This summer I was selected to participate in the Global Classmates Summit, held in Washington, D.C. from July 26 to August 4.”

Students participating in the Kizuna Across Culture’s Global Classmates Summit visited Sasakawa USA in July 2018. Shun Wetlesen is third from left, in the back row.

The Global Classmates Summit is a ten-day gathering in Washington, D.C. where students have the opportunity to learn more about U.S.-Japan relations directly from government officials and scholars. Twelve students, six from Japan and six from the United States, are selected every year from schools participating in Kizuna Across Cultures’ Global Classmates program. The program seeks to connect American and Japanese students through an online cultural exchange. As a participant, I experienced first-hand how talking with students from Japan inspired me to continue my study of not only the language but the culture as well.

During the summit, the participants met with various government officials, academics, and think tank experts whose mission is to bring Japan and the United States closer together. Each evening, we would come together to go over key issues we had learned about during the day. Inspired by our meeting at Sasakawa USA where my fellow American participants and I learned about the significance of Article 9 in the Japanese Constitution, we spent one evening discussing Japanese pacifism and U.S. gun culture. We were able to discover that, despite their opposing nature, the two cultures shared many similarities.

Through our discussion, we found that the Japanese and American students had trouble understanding the other side’s perspective. For the American students, a commitment to pacifism seemed like a sign of weakness. Americans had always been taught that the world is not fair: we as a people had fought against the British in order to obtain the freedom that we now enjoy. As such, the word “fighting,” in America has become synonymous with perseverance and carries a positive connotation. On the other hand, our peers from Japan viewed fighting negatively as it brought only images of war, violence, and suffering. We were at a standstill until we recalled our conversation with Dr. Sayuri Romei, Fellow for Security and Foreign Affairs at Sasakawa USA, about the significance of Article 9 in the Japanese Constitution. Although there are many different opinions surrounding the inclusion of Article 9 in Japan’s constitution, our group came to the conclusion that the Japanese commitment to pacifism is a sign of strength. Article 9 was not only a way for Japan to make amends for the atrocities committed during World War II, but also a symbolic promise by the government to hold the importance of the citizens’ safety and well-being over the government’s own agenda.

Despite Article 9’s historical significance and large presence in Japanese political culture, recent activity and conflict in the Asia-Pacific region has opened up discussion about the possible revision or even annulment of the amendment. Additionally, the generational divide has fueled further debate about its significance. The older generations in Japan tend to be supportive of Article 9, while the Japanese students did not have the same passion for its preservation. As the discussion continued, we were able to attribute the changing attitudes towards Article 9 to differences in how the subject was taught and promoted in Japanese education.

The generational divide seen in Japanese society is also apparent in today’s gun culture debate in America. Just as pacifism was taught in Japanese schools, older generations in America were taught the importance of the Second Amendment and its symbolism for American freedom. However, as time went on, the Second Amendment has become less relevant. Additionally, the rise in mass shootings and gun violence has lit a fire underneath both Millennials and Generation Z, resulting in movements like March for Our Lives. These changes have contributed to the debate over the Second Amendment’s validity in today’s society.

Through our discussion, we were able to highlight the major similarities between Article 9 and the Second Amendment. First, they are both so intertwined with the respective countries’ culture and national identity that making any changes will require significant action. Second, the laws were created in the context of past experiences and have become less practical in today’s society. Third, while many from the older generation are heavily in favor of the law, the younger generation do not have the same conviction.

It came as a great surprise that we were able to have such a complex conversation with students from Japan. Thanks to the help of Mrs. Ayako Smethurst’s interpretation, we were able to speak in our native languages, and still have an in-depth discussion on various issues.

The ability to have these conversations highlighted the importance of bringing together the next generation of global leaders. Communication and cultural exchange is imperative between the youth of the world to promote a world of understanding, rather than misunderstanding.


The 2018 Holiday Season – The Norm or a Calm Before the Storm?

President Donald J. Trump meets with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan during a bilateral meeting Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The G20 Summit in Argentina offered a glimpse of what international meetings of world leaders are supposed to be. The world public was treated to images of smiling statesmen and women in relaxed surroundings, communiques endorsing multilateral cooperation for peace and prosperity, and many eagerly awaited side meetings on individual issues. Heads of the world’s two largest economies—the United States and China—agreed to take a 90-day break in their escalating trade dispute, the British prime minister had a chance to make her case directly to other leaders about Brexit, and the Russian president and the leader of Saudi Arabia played the spoiler role by high-fiving in their adjacent seats.

Relations among countries in Asia are for the moment in relatively quiet and constructive phases. In addition to the U.S.-Chinese commitment to negotiations, Japan and Russia are discussing the long-standing issues of a formal end to World War II and the status of the disputed Northern Territories. North Korea is grumbling about a lack of U.S. gestures of good will, but refrains from provocations, and there is talk of a second summit meeting between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un. The new normal in the South China Sea includes close encounters between American and Chinese warships, but neither side seems inclined to escalate. Indeed, the most important bilateral relations that are deteriorating are between Japan and the Republic of Korea, which amount more to loss of opportunities than threats to peace. Only the cloud of trade negotiations hangs on the otherwise bright horizon of U.S.-Japan relations.

Can these positive trends continue, or is East Asia in a “phony peace” that will soon be replaced by economic and even military tensions and crises?  What can the countries in the region do to turn this period into a longer period of positive relations?

The course of the U.S.-China relationship will have the most widespread effect on the region.  However current issues are resolved, the economic, political, and security competition between a rising China and established United States will continue. However, the form that competition takes is important for the region. Until about 2012 the competition was primarily economic and commercial. Political and military relations had elements both of cooperation and of competition. At that point, a confident and impatient China decided to assert itself in the region in a more aggressive manner, especially in the South China Sea, to proclaim rather than minimize its mercantilist economic and business policies, and to tighten its internal controls. The United States responded with more assertive security and economic policies of its own.

For the United States, slowing trade with China has also exacted an economic as well as a domestic political cost.

Both countries have now had a chance to experience the effects of this sharper phase of the relationship. China’s economic growth has been slowed by downturns in international investment and trade, and it has antagonized all its neighbors to the south and east. For the United States, slowing trade with China has also exacted an economic as well as a domestic political cost. It is likely that both countries will enter the negotiations early next year looking for ways to restore better economic relations. Success will require concessions by China on issues of intellectual property protection, subsidies to state-owned enterprises, and treatment of foreign companies in the domestic market. It will require concessions by the United States of restrictions on Chinese investments and lowering of recently imposed tariffs. Prognostication is difficult, but it appears that China realizes it has overplayed its hand in recent years, that it should follow Deng Xiaoping’s counsel of patience for a while longer, while the United States seems to realize that tariff wars cause casualties on both sides. The chances for compromise on trade issues seem promising.

Prospects on the Korean Peninsula seem less so. No summitry can obscure the basic incompatibility of American and North Korean objectives: The United States insists on the “final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea, while the DPRK considers its nuclear capability to be essential for survival. With President Trump stating recently that he is in no rush to complete denuclearization, there is perhaps room to cobble together a set of political gestures, limited economic measures and nuclear declarations and inspections that will prolong the current situation. However, it seems inevitable that North Korea will return someday to a new provocation phase of its cyclical policy pattern. We have always been able to count on North Korea to unite its foes through outrageous behavior, and there is little reason to believe that things have changed.

Finally, what are the prospects for U.S.-Japan relations?

In Buenos Aires, Prime Minster Shinzo Abe again was the wise leading senior statesman we have come to expect at these gatherings in recent years. With Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel having announced her retirement, he has become the most experienced, constructive, consistent, and active democratic leader on the world scene. President Trump, with an anthropomorphic approach to international relations, clearly values his friend Shinzo Abe. American and Japanese policies are exactly aligned on the North Korean and Chinese challenges, and it is difficult to believe that the seasoned trade negotiators in both countries cannot come up with an agreement that both leaders can accept. That both countries are looking to stabilize economic relations with China should help them reach agreement between themselves. In summary, the prospects for positive and solid U.S.-Japan relations are good.

It is very much in the interests of both the United States and Japan that their Alliance remain solid and their foreign policies aligned.  Together, they can handle the challenges of a dynamic and potentially dangerous region; divided, the future is much darker.