How Japan Can 'Win' With Trump
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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign leader to meet Donald Trump after his election as U.S. president last November. On Feb. 3, James Mattis will visit Japan on his first overseas trip as the new U.S. secretary of defense. This early engagement suggests that Tokyo can play a pivotal role in shaping the Trump administration's foreign and security policy. But Japanese officials must be smart in pitching alliance cooperation to capture this controversial leader's imagination. Japan is in a unique position to do this, given the many ways it could help Trump achieve his more mutually beneficial goals, at home and abroad.
First, for an American president skeptical about the value of alliances, Japan can pitch itself as a model ally that is no free-rider but in fact shares the burden of maintaining peace in the Pacific. Japan underwrites American forces stationed there, making them cheaper to deploy in Okinawa than they would be in California. Japan is increasing its defense budget and deploying sophisticated military capabilities not only to defend itself, but to help protect America, for instance by collaborating in missile defenses to protect against North Korea's threat to the U.S. homeland. Japan is expanding its military ties with U.S. partners including India, Southeast Asian nations, and NATO, which in turn reinforces their capacity to work with America's armed forces. Japan supports America's global posture, including by supporting missions in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Second, a stronger Japanese alliance can help make America "great again," Trump's overarching aim -- by magnifying U.S. power and influence as it increasingly comes under challenge, including from revisionist powers. China and Russia have few allies, and none of consequence -- the differentiator between the U.S. and its peer competitors is that Washington has an alliance network that spans the globe. Greatness is in part a function of "followership" -- and many countries, starting with Japan, want to partner with America. Japan's continued support for the U.S. alliance will make it easier for Trump to achieve his goals in Asia -- including preventing Chinese domination of the region. This makes the U.S. better off and is a key part of its comparative advantage against rivals.