In East Asia and in Europe, twentieth-century history unfolded the
same way: the uneven distribution of technology, which leads to violent
consequences, and uneven development after both world wars. In both
regions, a large, tradition bound, nationalistic state with a long history
of international control, which lagged in incorporating the practices and
teachings of the French and the industrial revolutions (Russia and China),
suffered an assault by an upstart nation-state (Germany and Japan) that
adopted these innovations at astonishing speed. Germany and Japan launched
these assaults as part of their quests to build empires in their regions,
and to fight their less advanced neighbors.
Just as Germany attacked Russia in the two world wars, so, at the
other end of Eurasia, Japan twice assaulted and defeated China. In the Sino-
Japanese War of 1895 the Japanese seized control of Taiwan and in 1931
extended their fight to Manchuria. In 1937 their attack on northern China
marked the beginning of World War II in Asia.
Coinciding with the two world wars was another political trend of the
twentieth century: the assumption that the United States has a global role.
American policies in both Europe and East Asia followed similar pattern.
The United States aligned itself, following the balance of power; first she
aligned with one side, then the other, depending on which posed the
greatest throat to American interests.
In Europe, the United States first sided with Russia (as an ally of
Britain and France) against Germany in World War I, then turned against the
Communist party that replaced the tsar in 1917; Washington did not
establish relations with the Soviet Union until 1933. America then forged
another alliance with Russia against Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1945, then
shifted its allegiance once again to form an intense anti-Soviet alliance
with West Germany and other Western European countries during the Cold War.
The United States pursued a similar course in East Asia. At the
beginning of the twentieth century American investors favored the Japanese.
The United States was sympathetic to Japan for its successful wars against
China in 1895 and against Russia in 1905. The American Open Door Policy of
the 1890s sought to achieve privileges for the United States in China, as
well as Japan. As Japanese power increased however, America started to gain
fear. Washington started to oppose the imperialistic ideals of Japan, which
meant the support of the object of their imperialism: China. Tensions with
Japan eventually led to Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific.
During that conflict the United States tried to assist China by sending
arms and other supplies as well as military advice. After World War II, and
especially after the Communist victory in the Chinese civil war, the US
switched sides yet again, making moves with Japan to oppose Communism in
East Asia was different from Europe in that most of the modern period
a second outside power took part in military and political affairs. Tsarist
Russia occasionally cooperated with China, but more often exploited it, in
the nineteenth century acquiring more Chinese territory than any other
foreign power. For much of the twentieth century Russia’s and then the
Soviet Union’s main enemy in East Asia was Japan. Russia fought a losing
war with Japan in 1905 and Soviet troops fought with Japanese troops on the
border on Siberia and Manchuria in 1939. Russian ignored Western desire to
declare war on Japan, however, until the final days of World War II, when
Soviet forces entered Manchuria and Korea and seized many islands that were
in Japan’s possession.
At the outset of the Cold War the politics of security in the region
were simplified by the Communist victory in the Chinese civil war and the
Sino-Soviet Friendship Treaty of 1950. This made allies of the two large
Communist countries. In response Washington organized a countervailing
As in Europe, the United States placed a large force in the Asia-
Pacific region to stop Communist aggression. In Europe the American
military presence took the form of a large group of armed forces in
Germany. In East Asia the US deployed largely, although not only, naval
forces. IN established a series of bases in the Pacific, a kind of
“floating chain-link fence” around eastern Eurasia, including the western
borders of the Soviet Union and China.
Unlike in Europe, the American military commitment in Asia was not
based on a single multinational alliance; there was no Asian NATO. There
was a series of military agreements between the US and many non-Communist
countries in this region; the most important was the Japanese-American
Security Treaty of 1951,
While the American commitment to East Asia was different, it had the
same purpose as in Europe: to prevent the spread of Communism. But the two
regions were different in an important way. The US fought two wars in Asia,
in Korea and Vietnam. In both cases, it was opposed by China, on the first
occasion directly, when Mao ordered troops into Korea, on the second
indirectly, with China sending arms to North Vietnam and stationing troops
on its borders.
The American presence in both regions also enveloped in a restraining
embrace the illiberal power that was defeated in World War II. The American
forces in Asia insured a “come back” of Japans policies of the 1930s just,
as NATO was a mechanism to prevent the German policies that provoked
European wars in 1870, 1914, and 1939. And just as the non-Communist
countries in Europe preferred that Germany didn’t have a fully independent
security policy, so too were the non-Communist Asian counties happy to see
their conqueror under the protective wing of a more powerful country. The
American presence provided insurance against a revival of the dangers of
the past as well as protection against the present day threat from the
Communist powers, what was called “double containment.”
Japan, like Germany, did have an independent foreign policy and chose
not to acquire nuclear weapons. Japan went so far as formally to renounce
war altogether through the constitution that it adopted, under American
sponsorship, in 1946. In Japan, as in Germany, the traumas of war, defeat,
and occupation inculcated a deep hatred to waging war. Because of this,
these countries were left behind many countries that were in an aggressive
arms race. To be safe, Japan equipped itself with and army and a navy,
which were known as the “Defense Forces” but for most of the Cold War
period, spending on these forces did not exceed one percent of the nation
GDP. One percent of the worlds second largest economic output an array of
military hardware, but the Japanese were scared to use it, even more then
Germany. During the Cold War Japan pursued an almost pacifist foreign
policy, made possibly by American protection.
The policy of double containment had similar political and economic
consequences in Europe and East Asia. It made normal relations between
Germany and Japan, one the one hand, and their former adversaries, which in
turn made possible the economic reintegration of Germany into Europe and of
Japan into East Asia. That triggered a boom of historic proportions in both
regions, which probed decisive to the outcome of the Cold War. Double
containment, by providing both a ticket of admission for Germany and Japan
into the economic community and a barrier to a communist assault against
that community, it created a framework for the extraordinary economic
growth of the second half of the twentieth century.
In the wake of the Cold War, Russia wanted Germany to be in NATO as a
safety during the East-West conflict. In East Asia, the Japanese-American
alliance reassured as well as delayed the major Communist power, the People
Republic of China, even as the Cold War was still underway. This was
because in 1972, China aligned itself with the United States in opposition
to the Soviet Union and thus became associated with the American system of
alliances in East Asia.
When the Cold War ended, what was a Soviet military presence
disappeared. Much of the large army on the Chinese border was withdrawn
and the Soviet fleet disintegrated. In the first post-Cold War decade, in
both East Asia and Europe the American military presence served the purpose
of reassurance, a “safety blanket” for the non-communist countries. In East
Asia, the Jap-American Security Treaty, the foundation of that military
presence, reassured the other Asian countries that Japan would not conduct
the same actions that they did pre-Cold War, while also reassuring the
Japanese that they would not have to do so.
The deployment of American troops in the Western Pacific, like the
American forces in Western Europe, acted as a middleman uncertainty, a
buffer between countries that would have felt suspicious about one another.
American officials said this: “While the tensions of the Cold War have
subsided, many Asian nations harbor apprehensions about their closest
neighbors. An American withdrawal would magnify theses concerns. And so
America must stay engaged.”
The need for a middleman in the form of an American military presence
was in one way, less urgent in Eat Asia than in Europe. Nature had already
supplied, in the form of the Pacific Ocean, a liquid middleman between the
Japanese archipelago and all other Asian countries. Military operations,
especially the seizure of land, are more difficult across water than land.
In another sense the American security plan in which Japan was
wrapped during the Cold War was more valuable in the post-Cold War era than
then the protection of Germany. For unlike Germany, Japan wasnot
integrated into a larger, regions wide organization like NATO or the EU.
Germanys reputation for neighborliness, stood higher in Europe then did
Japans in Asia Japan had made fewer, weaker, andlessconvincing
declarations of remorse about it’s wartime actions against it’s neighbors.
In the twenty-first century the case against keeping American
military forces in the Pacific was the same as the case against keeping
them in Europe: The Japanese, like the Europeans, were free riders, and the
time had come for them to assume responsibility for their own security
including the costs. If threats to security kept on happening in Asia, with
the collapse if the USSR and the end of the Cold War these were not, as
they had been during that conflict mortal threats to the United States. The
existence of such threats therefore could not justify continuing the
military deployments on which the policy of containment had been based. To
the extent that American allies were threatened, they coulddefend
themselves without the American army, navy, and air force. From this point
of view, the post- Cold War American presence was an exercisein
babysitting for people who were fully-grown.
The case in favor of continuing the American military presence was in
one way easier to make for East Asia than for Europe, for it was primarily
a naval presence and Americans preferred navies to armies. Navies are
mobile and thus useful anywhere in the world. They incorporate advanced
technology, an American national strength. They can also stay out of harms
way and are therefore less likely to sustain casualties. And Navies are
associated with the economic benefits of trade, a decided factor in the
modern World. But if technology made the American military presence in Asia
easier to the people who had to ultimately pay for it, politics, economics,
and history mad it less so.
For the last two decades of the Cold War the US was at odds with
Japan over trade between the two countries. Not only did Japan run a trade
surplus with the US, but also the level of foreign investment in Japan was
lower then in virtually every other industrial democracy. These economic
facts gave rise to a view of Japan as an economic predator, a view that and
increasing number of Americans can to see in the 1980s.
Japans allegedly sinister approach to international economic matters
was the theme of a best-selling novel by Michael Crichton (Rising Sun, from
handout) that achieved the ultimate plan for any writer, for his book to be
made into a Hollywood movie. Its message was expressed in a phrase
(handout) about the Japanese: “business is war.” The assault by Japanese
business on the United States was a war, that readers of his book and
viewers of the movie were left in no doubt, the American side was losing.
To the extent that these ideas were public opinion. They cut the desire to
devote blood and money into Japans defense.
Resentment of Japan in the US was counterbalanced by the conviction
that the dangers of the Cold War required political solitude between the
two countries, however justified Americas economic grievances might be. But
as the Cold War wound down, Japan seemed a candidate to displace the fading
Soviet Union as the main threat to the United States, which would surely
have put the pristine Security Treaty in jeopardy.
In the post-Cold War decade this did not happen. In the 1990s the two
economies reversed course. While the American economy soared, the Japanese
economy slumped. Over the course of the decade the political agendas of the
alliance seemed shaky enough to require adjusting the balance of military
responsibilities between Japan and the United States. Japan then agreed to
provide more support to American forces in the Pacific and to provide it
over a wider part of the region then during the Cold War.
A potentially greater threat to the alliance was the emerging
discontent within Japan regarding the subordinate role in its own region
and a corresponding desire for all of the prerogatives, including the
military ones, of a great power. Such sentiments were present at the outset
of the twenty-first century, and while they did not command anything like
majority support, they had the potential to do so. However, the chief
threat to the post-Cold War peace in East Asia came not from Japan, but