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Allies and Allies

It's worth remembering that America has important friends outside of Europe.

11:00 PM, Feb 22, 2005 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
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LET US TALK OF ALLIES, but not, at least for once this week, of Europeans.

After all, the United States is human history's one and only superpower. Our security concerns are genuinely global; our political principles are universal. So why should we obsess primarily about how we are regarded only in Paris or Berlin?

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is an irritating man, to be sure, but all the more so for being intermittently insightful. One of Rumsfeld's rules is that the mission determines the coalition. In the early 21st century, the United States has two important missions if it is to achieve its strategic goal of preserving today's Pax Americana: (1) Transform the politics of the greater Middle East; (2) Contain the growing military power of the People's Republic of China.

Who else is interested in tackling those tasks?

Very few other nations have much hankering to sign up for both missions. But several might. To begin with, Japan appears to be undergoing a true strategic renaissance, even to the point now of pushing the Bush administration to take its responsibilities in East Asia seriously and not sublimate the problem of China entirely to concerns in the Middle East. Indeed, there's an instructive study to be done comparing Japan's recent revitalization with Germany's continuing geostrategic decline. How much war guilt is too much war guilt? In the brief pause between the Eurolove-fests of the past two weeks, it was leaked that Japan has essentially agreed to conduct a joint defense of Taiwan with the United States. This is a huge development and an act of real courage by the Japanese government.

Japan's embrace of U.S. primacy in East Asia also makes its contributions to American adventures in the Middle East far more significant than they would first appear. Even after the first Gulf War, Japan contributed a tremendous amount to offset the costs of U.S. military operations; it continues to be a reliable contributor--despite the slowing of economic growth in Japan--but now is participating directly in military and reconstruction operations. It's not simply that the Japanese regard this as the price of a firm alliance with the United States--they also see the grand strategic connections of global politics. Tokyo well understands how unrest in the Middle East creates potential unrest in East Asia.

What can Japan bring to the table?

Like the United States, Japan has developed a fully modern economy without succumbing to post-modern politics. With the North Koreans popping missiles above the home islands and a rising China just across the sea, Japanese strategists are focused, and are animated by a sense of urgency hard to find even in London. Lately it seems like the Japanese take the military balance across the Taiwan Strait even more seriously than the Taiwanese do themselves.

Militarily, the Japanese also have a lot to offer. Not the least of these qualities is location--airfields and other facilities in Japan are absolutely essential to the conduct of any significant U.S. military operations in the region. Without access to these airfields, a defense of Taiwan would be close to impossible. Further, the Japanese "Self-Defense Force"--the euphemism which identifies the Japanese military--is a very capable force, especially the navy and air force, with a relatively high degree of interoperability with U.S. forces. The Japanese have been taking steps to improve upon both their own capabilities and their compatibility with U.S. forces, including in controversial areas such as missile defense. Again, this is in contrast to most European forces, which are falling farther behind American technological and tactical standards.

But perhaps the most important aspect of the improving U.S.-Japanese alliance is its demonstration effect. While Europeans--well, French, Germans, and Belgians--are so self-referential that it's likely that the Japanese lesson will be lost on them, others will be paying close attention not only to the Japanese embrace of Pax Americana but to the reasoning behind it. In simplest terms, that reasoning is as follows: The spread of free and representative governments occasioned by the Pax Americana is not only morally good, but tends toward peace and prosperity; China and radical Islamists, by their own assertions, take issue with the current international order; and the use of military force is occasionally and lamentably necessary to preserve and protect that order. Ergo, a military alliance with the United States makes sense.