U.S. Ambassador hopes Japan will strengthen deterrence

The Yomiuri Shimbun
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel speaks to The Yomiuri Shimbun in Tokyo.

The Yomiuri Shimbun asked U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel for his thoughts on Japan’s strengthening defense capabilities. The following, edited for clarity, is excerpted from the interview.


The Yomiuri Shimbun: How do you view Japan’s discussions on strengthening defense capabilities?

Rahm Emanuel: Given what North Korea, China and Russia are doing, they are appropriately taking a look at what is the right response in collaboration with United States, their most important ally. We have found in the last 10 months a lot of things have changed based on a certain set of assumptions going back to the time when I worked for [former U.S.] President [Barack] Obama, and so we’re in the process of that reanalysis. What are the policy implications? What are the resource deployments? So Japan is doing the same thing. And it would be anything but irresponsible not to do that. When Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was first elected, he said he wanted to update three security documents. That was ahead of the curve, I compliment both the prime minister and his leadership team.

Yomiuri: If Japan manages to achieve the goal of getting defense spending to 2% of its GDP, will it give more diplomatic power to Japan?

Emanuel: Japan has tremendous respect in the international arena. So when you say does it add [diplomatic power]? Yes, it adds.

Yomiuri: Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used to stress that an emergency in Taiwan means an emergency in Japan. As China becomes more assertive, it seems that this view is gaining momentum within Japan. How do you view this development?

Emanuel: When China was deciding to conduct the exercises around Taiwan after [U.S. House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi’s visit, [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] had a choice. He decided consciously to fire five missiles into the Japanese EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). Japan’s southwest islands are 70 miles [about 110 kilometers] from Taiwan. You don’t need me to say what that means. President Xi told you how they view Japan. He sent you a message.

Yomiuri: What is your views on so-called counterstrike capabilities?

Emanuel: Obviously, Japan is going to consult with the United States. But they’ll self-determine what’s in their self-interest. They know what we can do, where the United States is, and where the threats are. Now they have to figure out what they bring to enhance not only Japan’s security, but also enhance the overall deterrence of the alliance. They know what it takes to be the full partner they want to be and what it means to have security enhanced.

Yomiuri: The new U.S. national security strategy mentions the Senkaku Islands for the first time.

Emanuel: Our obligations under Article 5 [of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty] extend to the Senkaku Islands. Obviously, anything that was to be done by a hostile entity to the Senkakus we see as a direct threat to Japan and would act accordingly. Part of getting ahead of that is deterrence. So we would act in a reaction. One of the things that we’re working on together is strengthening our deterrence, which means the exercises in the region near the islands, and exercises in the southwest islands.

Yomiuri: How do you see the future of the U.S.-Japan alliance considering Japan’s strengthening defense capabilities?

Emanuel: There’s a lot that comes into the definition of security and power projection. The military is part of that. But if that becomes your only tool, you’re actually leaving other pieces of your power presence, and the projection of that power on the sidelines. If you’re trying to project power in the enhancement of your national interest, you want to bring all of Japan. Your economic integration and trade with other countries — that’s power. Your investment in other countries’ development — that’s power. Does the military come to it? One hundred percent. Is it a big piece of it? One hundred percent. But if you make it the only game, then you have to succeed [at] that.

— Interview conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Yuya Yokobori

Rahm Emanuel

Born in Chicago. After serving as a senior advisor to former U.S. President Bill Clinton and a member of the House of Representatives, he was chief of staff from the beginning of the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 until 2010. He also served two terms and eight years as Mayor of Chicago until 2019. He is 62.