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How the US-Japan Alliance Operates

SNA (Tokyo) — Interview with Sayo Saruta, Director of the New Diplomacy Initiative:

I lived in Washington DC for a while. When I was there, I had the opportunity to personally experience how diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States are created. I am sure everyone is aware how strongly the US influences Japan. For example, should the US sneeze, their influence is so powerful that Japan could catch pneumonia.

Here in Japan, we think the US believes it problematic if Japan does not exercise its right to collective self-defense, to enact the State Secrets Law, or that bases should remain in Okinawa. There is a tendency to believe almost all people in the US think this way. But this is far from what is actually going on. There are a very limited, small number of specialists in Washington, the so-called “Japan Experts.”

My research leads me to believe that at the very most, there are thirty people. Some say that this could be as few as only five people. After many interviews, I can say that at most it is thirty and at least five people who are making all the decisions regarding US foreign policy towards Japan. That would not be a problem if the group of five or thirty people who make decisions on incredibly important foreign policy regarding Japan really thought carefully and thoroughly took into account various discussions, and listened to the opinions of people in Fukushima and Okinawan people.

However, the people who bring information from Japan to Washington, or if I were to elaborate, the people who are sending information to the group of five or thirty people, are strictly limited to influential people such as those in large, wealthy Japanese enterprises. They give money so that US-Japan Experts can broadcast their opinions in Japan. The Japanese government also gives sums of hundreds of millions of yen to thinktanks and lobbyists. Also, there are a selected few members of the Japanese Diet who have the access to tell the US what Japan is like, what they are thinking, and to suggest what should be done.

And so, this is the kind of information about Japan being transmitted. I call it the “Washington megaphone.”

If you say something in Japan and it is not very effective, the only thing you must do is buy an airplane ticket, stay the night in Washington and then make your presentation there. You would also want someone from among the Japan Experts, in other words, the pro-Japanese faction in Washington, to make a presentation on your behalf. It will then become very influential, and have a forceful effect on Japan. Then, Japan will panic when hearing the US’s opinion. It doesn’t matter who says it but we feel the entire US is telling us to enact collective self-defense or legislate the State Secrets Bill or to put TPP in place as soon as possible. But if you lift the lid and have a look inside, it is only the opinion of those five or thirty in the US.

I don’t think they are telling lies. However, these people will be well covered by Japanese media interviews. Another issue is that if you do not have a lot of money, you cannot create the right kind of situation and so there is a lot of money flowing out from Japan. It is Japanese people who are at the root of foreign pressure. I have become much more aware of this system.

I do not believe who is US President has any effect whatsoever. There are both Republicans and Democrats in that group which makes up the five or thirty people who create Japan policy. The issue here is that only very few people are in the group. People in the current Obama Democrat administration were in thinktanks at time of the Republican Bush administration. They researched policies and prepared to reenter the government with the next Democrat administration. Likewise, people in the current government will later move out, but the group of five or thirty people will leave and enter in a revolving door. There will be no big change in the policy framework at all.

I was able to interview people inside this system. There are certain conditions in order to enter the Japan community in Washington. If you do not meet these requirements, you cannot enter. If you ask what these conditions are, they include, first, further strengthening the US-Japan Alliance; second, to aim for the maintenance and expansion of the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region; and, third, to promote free market economies. If your opinion is slightly opposed to these three conditions, even if you object to only one of them, you cannot enter the Japan community in Washington. You will not be given the opportunity to state your opinion and you will not be able to exert influence through the Washington megaphone.

There are many Americans who have a diverse range of opinions. There are many famous scholars. However, they are not able to become a part of that group of five to thirty people who project influence on Japan. This is because they do not meet the three conditions.

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