Trump Likely to Take ‘Harder Line’ Against Japan, Other Allies in Second Term, His Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper Warns

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Then U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is seen with then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2019.

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. President Donald Trump likely will take “a harder line” toward U.S. allies and partners, including Japan, if he is reelected this November, according to Mark Esper, who served as defense secretary during the first Trump administration.

In an exclusive interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun, Esper suggested Trump might press Japan to increase its “host nation support,” the financial support Tokyo provides to Washington to offset the cost of stationing U.S. forces in Japan, and also quickly end U.S. assistance for Ukraine.

“[Trump] is clearly advancing a more isolationist foreign policy,” said Esper. Trump, who recently clinched the Republican Party nomination for this year’s presidential election, has said his second term will be about “retribution,” Esper said, adding, “I’m concerned that he’ll continue to chip away at our democracy, at our institutions.”

Esper suggested that because a second term would be Trump’s last, the prospect of reelection “won’t restrain him the way it did during his first four years.”

Esper indicated that Trump might use the metric of whether U.S. allies such as Japan, South Korea and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are contributing 2% of their gross domestic product to defense when deciding his diplomatic approach to those nations.

The Japanese government has set a goal of increasing defense- and security-related spending to 2% of GDP by fiscal 2027.

“Trump may or may not say that’s good enough,” Esper said. “He may put pressure on Japan to increase host nation support and commit to buying more arms” from the United States.

Esper, who served in the U.S. Army, was appointed defense secretary in July 2019. He was dismissed in November 2020 after disagreements with Trump on issues including the response to street protests over racial injustice. Since then, Esper has kept his distance from the former president.