On May 2, 2017, Sasakawa USA hosted its Fourth Annual Security Forum, bringing together government officials, academics, and security experts at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. to discuss Asian security within the context of the U.S.-Japan alliance. The event was renowned as a success, providing diverse views on challenging issues with panel discussions on topics such as congressional views on trade, U.S.-Japan defense policies, the North Korean threat, and cybersecurity cooperation. In addition, results of the Sasakawa USA tabletop exercise involving the Senkaku Islands were discussed.
The forum opened with remarks by Sasakawa USA Chairman, Admiral Dennis Blair, who set the stage by remarking on the continued importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance and trilateral defense cooperation strategies in today’s precarious security environment.
The first morning panel responded to high concerns about President Trump and Prime Minister Abe’s Asia policies. Matt Pottinger of the National Security Council recognized that there has been uncertainty on the path the U.S. will take towards Asian engagement, but remained firm that the Trump administration views Japan as essential for U.S. prosperity. Japan’s Ambassador to the U.S., Kenichiro Sasae, reiterated Pottinger’s statements, referring to the personal exchanges and good relationship between Trump and Abe. Daniel Russel of the Asia Society Policy Institute and Yoichi Funabashi, co-founder of the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, also promoted strengthening the alliance, but both regretted the push for more bilateral approaches for defense. Funabashi also lamented the U.S. abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and urged for more diplomatic engagement in Asia as opposed to the current focus on military activities.
In the next panel, James Kendall, Fellow of Common Challenges at Sasakawa USA, announced the results of the Tabletop Exercise (TTX), held March 28-30 at the Lockheed-Martin Center for Innovation (“The Lighthouse”) in Suffolk, Virginia. The exercise included experienced Japanese and American specialists and retired officials, and mirrored decision-making processes in hypothetical crises between Japan and China over the Senkaku islands. Despite tense situations, all three teams, China, Japan and U.S., were able to maintain the status quo. Blair, Georgetown University Professor Dennis Wilder, and Sasakawa USA Fellow Hideshi Tokuchi shared insights gained from the exercise and expressed the importance of these games in preparing for potential crises.
The next panel focused on Congressional and Diet views on economic relations, with Japanese Diet members Keizo Takemi (LDP) and Yukihisa Fujita (DPJ) along with U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen. With the U.S. withdrawal from TPP, Japan is ready to play a leading role in trade in Asia. Keizo emphasized, however, that for Japan to sustain a good balance of power in Asia, it needs to establish a multilateral framework, referring to TPP. He also said that the U.S. must take a leading role in trade in Asia. Larsen reiterated that the U.S. should balance hard and soft power to maintain a stable presence in Asia.
U.S.-Japan defense capabilities and cooperation strategies were discussed in the subsequent panel. Chris Johnstone, Northeast Asia Director for the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, referred to the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance for addressing security challenges. While former Japanese Minister of Defense, Itsunori Onodera, expressed concerns over the advancement of North Korean missiles, he urged Japan to establish first-strike capabilities for deterrence. Randall Schriver, CEO of Project 2049, expanded that if Japan pursues ballistic missile defenses, it needs to stay closely coordinated with the U.S. to ensure sound doctrine and understanding of intent. The panel agreed that intelligence operations to support counterattacks need to be addressed between the two allies.
The next panel, led by Chris Nelson, Fellow of U.S.-Asia relations at Sasakawa USA, included Masanori Nishi, Former Japanese Vice Minister of Defense, Michael Green, CSIS Senior Vice President for Asia, Sheila Smith, Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, and Evans Revere, Brookings Institute’s Senior Fellow for Asian Policy. The panel addressed the growing threat of a nuclear North Korea and how the U.S., Japan, and South Korea can coordinate their defenses. Since the threat of North Korea is evolving, U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral relationship is more important than ever before. Nishi questioned cooperation with China, referring to its divergent interests with Japan. Green agreed, suggesting that China’s complacency with North Korea’s activities will lead the U.S. to embrace a collective security regimen.
The final session of the day, moderated by Bud Roth, Fellow for Cyber Security at Sasakawa USA, addressed cybersecurity threats and the importance of U.S.-Japan cooperation in this area. William Saito, Special Advisor on Cyber for Japan’s Cabinet Office, said that Japan, which currently falls behind in software industry, should utilize the opportunity to lead in cybersecurity. The panel agreed that there continues to be a significant lack of communication between government and the private sector. Melissa Hathaway of the Harvard Belfer Center warned that without proper malware clean up and security enhancement of integral infrastructures, both the economies of both the U.S. and Japan will suffer.
Click here to view the videos of the event in English and Japanese, and click here for the agenda and speaker bios. For media coverage of the Annual Security Forum, click here for a round up of articles and videos.