It is time to transform the US-Japan alliance

It is time to transform the US-Japan alliance

During Donald Trump’s presidency, an ominous cloud has drifted over the U.S.-Japan alliance: the impending negotiations over burden-sharing.

In 2020, Washington and Tokyo were slated to renegotiate the level of host-nation support that Japan provides to defray the cost of stationing American personnel on its soil. Given the hard-line that Trump has taken in similar talks with South Korea — demanding a fivefold increase in annual payments — it is all too easy to imagine how mishandled negotiations could drive a wedge between America and Japan.

Fortunately, these discussions were delayed, and if Trump is defeated in November they may occur largely after he leaves office. But rather than simply kicking the can down the road, Washington would be better served to jump-start a more fundamental discussion about the nature of burden-sharing, one that has the potential to transform the U.S.-Japan alliance.

At the heart of the burden-sharing question is an undeniable reality: As the geopolitical environment becomes more threatening and the challenge from China becomes more severe, the U.S. needs Japan to do more, both in the bilateral alliance and beyond. But the Trump administration’s narrow focus on financial burden-sharing ignores the many ways in which Japan is already doing more.