Sixth Annual Sasakawa USA Security Forum focused on new security challenges for the U.S.-Japan alliance

April 30, 2019

(Joy Asico/Asico Photo)

The Sixth Annual Sasakawa USA Security Forum focused on challenges facing the alliance in the Indo-Pacific region and how the United States and Japan can work together to meet these challenges. The day-long conference, held April 24, 2019 at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., attracted attendees from the U.S. government, news media, think tanks, academia, foreign embassies, and business.

With an overall theme of “The U.S.-Japan Alliance: New Security Challenges,” the forum featured opening remarks by Shinsuke J. Sugiyama, Japan’s Ambassador to the United States, a keynote address by General Ryoichi Oriki, former Chairman of the Japanese Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a conversation between Admiral Dennis Blair (ret.), Chairman of Sasakawa USA, and Dr. Yoichi Funabashi, Chairman of the Asia Pacific Initiative. The event also featured five panel discussions on topics ranging from the United States’ and Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategies, to Japan’s changing security strategy, and the role of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in a changing society. With a diverse group of 20 expert panelists, and many audience questions, this year’s forum generated an active discussion on timely topics in the alliance.

Ambassador James Zumwalt (ret.), CEO of Sasakawa USA, opened the forum by introducing Ambassador Sugiyama. The Ambassador spoke about the strategic alignment of Japanese and American thinking about the Indo-Pacific region as reflected in the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee joint statement from Friday, April 19. He also stated that Japan must do more to defend itself in close cooperation with its ally, the United States.

After a video greeting from William Hagerty, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Admiral Blair introduced the conference keynote speaker General Oriki. He discussed how the U.S.-Japan Security alliance was adapting to the changing security environment in East Asia by deepening cooperation. In response to the rise in Chinese military pressure, Japan has begun to reinforce the Self-Defense Forces capabilities on Okinawa. General Oriki reiterated Ambassador Sugiyama’s point that Japan would take the lead for its own defense, but would fulfill this mission in close cooperation with the United States.

(Joy Asico /Asico Photo)

The two morning panels focused on Indo-Pacific regional developments. Dr. Michael Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), moderated the first panel discussion, “The Indo-Pacific Strategy: Is it More than Countering China?” Dr. Evan Feigenbaum, Vice President for Studies at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Masanori Nishi, former Japanese Vice Minister of Defense; and Yuki Tatsumi, Director of the Japan Program at the Stimson Center, offered their views on changes to the Indo-Pacific region. While China was not the only factor, its rise presented challenges for the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Panelists discussed if the United States and Japan were “winning the influence game.” Beyond serving as a security provider, countries in the region were looking for American leadership to promote economic prosperity. Chinese behavior has left the door open for continued U.S. engagement, but nations in the region are concerned about the diminishing presence of the United States. In contrast to the United States, Japan has stepped up its regional outreach and countries in ASEAN and South Asia have warmly welcomed Japan’s engagement, including its capacity-building measures. Panelists agreed that Japan and the United States should continue to reach out to other like-minded countries such as Australia and India to promote their shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The panel also shared their views on the role of the Korean Peninsula and South Korea’s role in the region.

The second morning panel, moderated by Matthew Goodman, Senior Vice President and Senior Advisor for Asian Economics at CSIS, discussed the competition for economic influence in the Indo-Pacific Region. Panelists included Ambassador David Shear (ret.); Dr. Mireya Solis, Philip Knight Chair in Japan Studies at the Brookings Institution; Tsuneo Watanabe, Sasakawa Peace Foundation Fellow; and Tobias Harris, Sasakawa USA Fellow for Economy, Trade and Business. They spoke about the rapidly shifting economic landscape in the Indo-Pacific Region. While Japan has stepped up its game by rescuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after the U.S. withdrawal, the United States lacks a credible and nimble economic strategy in the region. The United States and Japan can best advance their interests by coordinating their economic statecraft. Both countries, panelists said, are interested in promoting global rules on issues like disciplines on government subsidies, forced technology transfers, favorable treatment of state-owned enterprises, and rules on the digital economy. Doing so would require the United States and Japan to resolve their bilateral trade issues first.

The panel also discussed the extent of influence China is gaining in the region through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the role of the United States and Japan in China’s BRI. One speaker pointed out that U.S. and Japanese financing for infrastructure would give recipient countries more bargaining power as they negotiated financing deals with China.

(Joy Asico /Asico Photo)

Admiral Blair and Dr. Funabashi then engaged in a conversation about the security environment in Asia. Despite the recent improvements in Japan-China relations, Dr. Funabashi thought it would be difficult to resolve territorial disputes in the East China Sea. The two experts agreed that, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pursued an energetic outreach program with Japan’s Asian neighbors, Japan-ROK relations are strained to an extent decidedly different from previous difficulties. The two thought leaders also discussed the impact of domestic politics on the U.S.-Japan alliance, including the future of U.S. leadership in the liberal world order and the need to mitigate the political impact of job losses resulting from globalization.

In the afternoon, Dr. Sayuri Romei, Sasakawa USA Fellow for Security and Foreign Affairs, moderated a panel called “Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG): Pacing the Threat?” Panelists included Dr. Eric Heginbotham, Principal Research Scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Dr. Kathleen Hicks, Senior Vice President at CSIS; Lieutenant General Koichi Isobe, Resident Fellow at Harvard Asia Center and retired Japan Ground Self-Defense Force; and Nina Wagner, Defense Department Chief of Staff for the Assistant Secretary for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities. The speakers discussed the NDPG’s highlights and alignment with the United States’ National Defense Strategy, key priorities for implementation, and aspects open to question. Japan’s NDPG focused on high-end threats, defense of outer islands, and resilience.

Panelists also lauded the guidelines’ focus on improved cost-competitiveness and air and maritime capabilities. The guidelines also stress a seamless response and a whole-of-government approach including in the new domains of space and cyberspace. The Department of Defense panelist welcomed the NPDG, which she said positions Japan to be a regional leader and strong partner of the United States. Speakers also called for U.S.-Japan joint operational planning and discussed the need to accelerate progress toward “jointness.”

Copies of The New National Defense Program Guidelines: Aligning U.S. and Japanese Defense Strategies for the Third Post-Cold War Era, a new Sasakawa USA book on Japan’s NDPG and the implications for the alliance is available here.

(Joy Asico /Asico Photo)

In “Japanese Society and Security: The Role of the Self-Defense Forces,” James Schoff, Senior Fellow in the Asia Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,  moderated a discussion among Professor Takako Hikotani, Columbia University; Lieutenant General Masayuki Hironaka, retired Japan Air Self-Defense Force; and Professor Andrew Oros, Washington College. This panel focused on social issues relating to the JSDF and the Japanese public perceptions toward the JSDF. One issue discussed was Japan’s declining population and its impact on the SDF’s recruitment efforts. One speaker underscored the need for Japanese public discourse on the role and raison d’être of the SDF. The panel introduced polling data indicating growing acceptance of the JSDF among the Japanese public and its missions of defense of Japan and disaster response. The panel also discussed the changing civil-military relations in Japan from “containment” to “engagement,” emphasizing that civilian control over the military is firmly embedded in the SDF.

Ambassador Zumwalt chaired the final panel with David Helvey, Defense Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Keiichi Ichikawa, Minister for Political Affairs for the Embassy of Japan in the United States, where they discussed the recent U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee meeting among the Japanese and U.S. Foreign and Defense Ministers.

The two government speakers commented that these ministerial discussions represented a strong alignment of the two countries’ perceptions about regional security threats. They agreed on the imperative to work closely with like-minded partners in the region, to expand alliance efforts to new domains such as space and cyberspace, and to sustain efforts to realign U.S. forces in Japan, particularly on Okinawa.

The forum concluded with comments from Admiral Blair. He reviewed key conclusions from the conference, noting General Oriki’s comment that Japan was determined to defend itself, while working closely with its U.S. ally. Blair also noted a strong convergence of views on the security situation in the region saying that this alignment reflected strong alliance coordination and communication. He praised both allies for increasing their military budgets, but said more was needed. Although the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance is moving forward, Blair stated that it needed to advance even faster in response to a deteriorating security environment. He recommended that the United States and Japan consider a combined operational command structure to strengthen deterrence.

For more information on the event, including video coverage of each panel and bios of each speaker, read “Sixth Annual Sasakawa USA Security Forum.”


Photography by Joy Asico /Asico Photo.


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