Insight: Japan unease over U.S. alliance adds fuel to Abe’s security shift

In public, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government lists a more assertive China and a volatile North Korea as its top security concerns.

Behind the scenes, though, another concern is growing: that the United States may one day be unable or unwilling to defend Japan, interviews with Abe advisers, politicians and security experts show. The worries are adding momentum to Abe’s drive to beef up Japan’s air and naval forces while loosening constitutional limits on action its military can take abroad.

Japanese angst over the country’s security alliance with Washington follows years of double-digit defense spending increases by Tokyo’s arch rival in Asia, China. Unpredictable North Korea, whose missiles can hit Japan, has meanwhile pushed ahead with nuclear and missile programs despite international sanctions.

“If you are a strategic thinker or alliance planner you have to be ready for the worst case scenario,” a former Japanese diplomat close to Abe told Reuters, citing concerns about a decline in U.S. military capability and readiness.

Japan has even begun studying whether to boost its limited ability to make a pre-emptive strike on enemy bases, although such a costly and controversial step seems unlikely soon.

Besides strengthening its own capabilities, Japan is seeking closer security ties with Southeast Asia, India, Australia and even Russia as a hedge against any U.S. decline.

Despite such assurances and President Barack Obama’s decision to strategically rebalance U.S. forces to the Asia-Pacific, Tokyo still worries whether Washington can maintain the will and wherewithal to defend Japan.

That is partly due to the perception in Japan that U.S. power is declining longer term as China’s clout grows and the growing importance of Sino-U.S. economic ties.

Japan has relied entirely on the United States for deterrence even as threats from China and North Korea have grown, said former defense minister Gen Nakatani who now serves as an LDP deputy secretary-general.

“If you think about what would happen if the United States withdrew, we must consider (acquiring) the capability to respond, because we cannot just sit idly and await death.”

Full article: Insight: Japan unease over U.S. alliance adds fuel to Abe’s security shift (Reuters)

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