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Japan's uneasy citizens and the U.S.-Japan alliance

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Publication Date: January 2001

Publisher(s): East-West Center

Author(s): Sheila A. Smith

Series: AsiaPacific issues ; no. 54

Topic: Government (Foreign relations)
Military and defense (Military bases and buildings)

Type: Report

Coverage: Japan United States


Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. and Japanese policy-makers have successfully reaffirmed the U.S. Japan security alliance. Yet, even as they have done so, a series of events has revealed a deeper ambivalence in Japan about the terms of the alliance. These events began with the 1995 rape of a school girl in Okinawa by U.S. servicemen, focusing attention on the social costs to residents of hosting U.S. forces. In 1999 came North Korea's launch of a missile over Japan, raising doubts among many Japanese about their alliance partner's ability to protect them. Most recently, the outcome of the 2001 sinking of the Ehime Maru training ship by a U.S. nuclear sub seemed to many to sacrifice Japanese citizens' interests to those of the U.S. military. Taken independently, these developments may seem temporary setbacks to policymakers, but together they suggest that there is increasing impatience among Japan's citizens with the way the alliance is managed. This disconnect between the public and policymakers could, if untended, have serious implications for the U.S. Japan alliance.