The Enduring Value of the U.S.-Japan Alliance

William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Remarks at the University of Tokyo
Tokyo, Japan
October 27, 2011

Thank you for the generous introduction, Professor Kitaoka and your warm welcome. It is truly an honor to be here today at Tokyo University.

Todai’s faculty, graduate schools and research institutes rank among the best in the world. I know that you count among your alumni multiple winners of the Nobel prizes for Chemistry, Physics, Literature and Peace. I am particularly honored to be speaking in this hall, named for Dr. Masatoshi Koshiba, who is a Fulbright alumnus and who received the Nobel Prize for physics in 2002.

As an American, I am gratified to know that Todai has an excellent American studies program. And as a diplomat, I appreciate the historically important role that Todai has played in educating many of Japan’s top diplomats, several of whom I have had the pleasure to work with throughout my career. So again, it is a pleasure and an honor to be with you here at such a prestigious and historic institution.

It is certainly fitting that my first trip to Asia as Deputy Secretary of State should begin in Japan. Fitting, but no longer trailblazing. As you may recall, Secretary Clinton made Japan the very first country she visited after becoming Secretary of State. President Obama’s first stop in Asia was also Tokyo, and I should add that the first foreign leader to meet with President Obama in the Oval Office was the Japanese Prime Minister.

The continued, tremendous importance of Japan to the United States is clear to all of us here today. And, in our words and our actions, it is clear to the entire world. Ours is truly a global partnership -- ranging from our bilateral security alliance; to our common efforts on regional and transnational challenges; to our incredibly important economic relationship; to the friendship and people-to-people ties that enrich our respective cultures and bind us together ever closer.

I’ve had a series of meetings in Tokyo with a number of senior officials from across the government and across party lines. They all share a bipartisan commitment to the centrality of the U.S.-Japan alliance -- a view that Prime Minister Noda clearly expressed to President Obama in New York last month. These days, our own politicians seem to disagree about almost everything -- but they all support a robust relationship with Japan.

My visit here builds on the many close consultations we have already had with Prime Minister Noda’s government, from the President and Secretary of State's meetings in New York last month to the visit of the Secretary of Defense to Japan just this week. This intensive engagement will continue through the upcoming multilateral meetings next month that they will both attend -- the G20 in France, the APEC Leaders meeting in Honolulu that President Obama will host, and the East Asian Summit in Bali. America is a resident military, diplomatic and economic power in the Asia-Pacific -- and we will remain an Asia-Pacific power. No region of the world matters more to our future in the new century unfolding before us.

As Secretary Clinton has stated many times, the U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of our engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. Sixty years ago our partnership rose out of the ashes of war to become one of the strongest alliances that our nations have ever known. This partnership has underwritten the peace, stability, and prosperity of the region and in many ways provided a context for the region’s tremendous economic growth and dynamism.

Under our alliance, the United States is committed to the security of Japan and to strengthening peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region -- two goals that are inseparable and mutually reinforcing. This alliance -- which underpins so much of our wider regional engagement -- is built on the strong foundation of shared interests and values, democratic ideals, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

It is important to put the significance of our alliance in a global context. Today the world and the United States stand at a pivot point. As Secretary Clinton has said, the Asia-Pacific region is now a key driver of global politics, and greater U.S. commitment here is essential. After World War II, America built a strong and lasting network of institutions and relationships across the Atlantic -- one that pays off to this day. We must now do the same across the Pacific.

The time has come for the United States to redouble our investments as a Pacific power, a strategic course set by President Obama from the outset of his administration and one that is already yielding benefits. These benefits go both ways: just as Asia is critical to America's future, an engaged America is vital to Asia's future.

And there is no question that our treaty alliance with Japan is the fulcrum for our strategic turn to the Asia-Pacific.

One measure of the strength of our alliance is in its impressive ability to adapt to meet new and emerging challenges. That was never clearer than in March of this year when our governments launched the largest joint military operation in our history in response to Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The success of what we called Operation Tomodachi provided a powerful demonstration of what we can accomplish together, as friends, and the lessons learned from this operation have further enhanced our joint capabilities. This experience vividly demonstrated something that I think most Americans and most Japanese had only understood in the abstract -- that our alliance is an unbreakable bond between our people and nations, not just a paper treaty or a series of military bases.

I want to take this opportunity to underscore the steps we are taking to further strengthen our bilateral alliance and our efforts to improve regional and global cooperation on a range of pressing issues. In June of this year, the historic Security Consultative Committee or “2+2” Ministerial meeting reaffirmed our mutual security commitments and laid out a plan for the alliance going forward.

In particular, we will realign our forces in Japan to better meet these priorities while reducing the impact of our presence on local populations. In this process, we will continue intensive consultations to ensure that these initiatives advance our common strategic objectives. I am pleased to note that we are already making great progress toward these goals.

Our common objectives include both bilateral defense and regional security issues of critical importance. We must deter provocations and stop proliferation activities by North Korea, while working toward the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula through the Six-Party process. At the same time we must further develop our capacities to respond to non-traditional threats such as those to our space and cyber networks. We must defend the principle of freedom of navigation, eradicate piracy, and develop strong regional cooperative mechanisms for addressing maritime issues in a manner consistent with international law. It is not a short list.

The United States and Japan share a strong commitment to advance the effectiveness of important regional groupings such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the East Asia Summit. These organizations are critical to the development of a more mature Asia-Pacific security and economic architecture, which will in turn promote the region's stability and prosperity. Japan and the United States, as two leading democracies committed to the rule of law and peaceful resolution of conflict, are natural partners in the continued development of these and other regional multilateral institutions and mechanisms. In addition to formal groupings, we have valuable trilateral consultation with countries such as Australia and the Republic of Korea, and are expanding this type of consultation to include nations as diverse as India and Indonesia. These dialogues will further build capacity to convene likeminded nations to resolve both regional issues and specific challenges.

But as I said, this relationship is not just bilateral or regional. This is a global partnership. And together we are working to resolve challenges far beyond the ocean and the region we share. In Afghanistan, Japan is the second largest bilateral donor after the United States. Our partnership has resulted in great progress in the development of the Afghan National Security Forces as well as in innovative governance and development projects.

In the Middle East, Japan has made vital contributions to Iraq’s reconstruction and development over the past decade, with projects not just in Iraq’s energy sector, but in water supply and irrigation. Japan's long history of assistance to support peace in the Middle East reflects its commitment to solving even the thorniest global problems, and we appreciate Japan's strong support on the need for democratic change in Syria and for the ongoing transition in Libya.

As we confront new threats from Iran, we welcome Japan’s commitment to sanctions against individuals and organizations that support terrorist and proliferation activity, in blatant violation of Iran’s international obligations.

In Sudan, we welcome Prime Minister Noda's recent announcement that Japan will send Self-Defense Forces engineers to support the United Nations Mission there.

An in Burma, we are beginning to see promising signs of change that we all hope may lead to meaningful and permanent improvements in the situation there. We welcome Japan’s key role in encouraging the move toward a more democratic government and society.

And of course closer to home, we are working together to facilitate the peaceful rise of China as a nation that plays a constructive and responsible role in the region and in the world commensurate with its growing economic stature. Both of us seek to engage China in ways that promote greater respect for the rule of law and adherence to international norms.

With such deep and extensive trade and investment between two of the world's largest economies, the prosperity of both our nations is as closely linked as our mutual security. As Secretary Clinton powerfully reiterated in New York just two weeks ago, it is impossible to separate issues of diplomacy and security from those of economic growth and prosperity. Both are essential sources of strength and leadership on the world stage.

While we each face many economic challenges domestically and as a result of the global financial crisis, this year Japan has also coped with the monumental task of recovering from the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency. While much reconstruction remains ahead, it is a testament to Japan's resilience how quickly the nation has reopened for business. It is simply remarkable that nearly all major infrastructure has completely recovered. And the government of Japan has committed itself to an ambitious and thoughtfully-planned recovery effort to help disaster-affected communities regain their livelihoods. As Vice President Biden noted during his August visit, the United States will be at Japan’s side, as a friend, to assist wherever possible in this recovery.

As our countries deal with challenging economic climates at home and abroad, we must work together to further deepen our mature economic relationship, to harness the dynamism of growth in the Asia-Pacific region and put it to work for our peoples. This includes breaking down barriers to trade. APEC presents precisely this kind of opportunity, with its goal for promoting trade in environmental goods and services and in facilitating business travel between economies.

But more can be done. The United States is currently engaged in negotiations with eight other countries for a cutting-edge, high-standard, multilateral free-trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. This agreement will not only lower the barriers to trade, but raise the standard of economic competition -- paving the way for not just growth, but better growth. We welcome Japan's interest in TPP, recognizing of course that Japan’s decision to pursue joining will be made based on its own careful considerations of its priorities and interests.

Even as we tackle these big economic questions, we need to keep supporting the building blocks of our economic growth -- our joint innovation, research, and development, across fields in science, technology, and energy. It will be important for us to work more closely on establishing new strategic direction in these fields to help drive our economic growth further.

Alliances like ours -- even as they revolve around complex issues such as global security and economic prosperity -- are founded upon our shared values and common bonds. Ties between our people give this alliance its full meaning. And in our efforts to strengthen our people-to-people connections, few tools are as powerful or have as lasting an impact as when we send our young people overseas to learn each other’s languages and cultures.

More than 35,000 people have now taken part in exchange programs sponsored by our governments -- programs like the Fulbright Scholarship, the Mansfield Fellowship, and the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, or JET. Exchanges between our government officials also play a key role in fostering mutual understanding. More than 750 officials have taken part in government exchanges, including members of the Japanese Diet and our Congress. Nearly 4,000 Japanese professionals have learned about the United States in our International Visitor Leadership Program -- including Nobel laureates, bestselling authors like Haruki Murakami, and four prime ministers. Similarly, the Fulbright program boasts four Nobel laureates from Japan. The inescapable conclusion is that these exchanges attract remarkable people and help them become leaders in their fields.

Our people to people ties are strong -- but not self-sustaining. As I often say, diplomatic relations are like riding a bicycle. Either you keep pedaling forward or you tip over. As recently as 1997, Japan was America’s number one source of exchange students. Today, Japan ranks sixth. Fourteen years ago, twice as many Japanese students were studying in America as are there today.

We are committed to reversing this trend -- and we know that the Japanese government is also committed to turning it around as well.

We are reaching out to ensure that younger Japanese business leaders understand the value of employees who know both of our cultures. We are calling on our own American JET alumni network to convince more students to study in America.

We are committed to maintaining our funding for flagship programs like the Fulbright Scholarship. And we are providing scholarships to the American Field Service and other organizations to give young people from the prefectures hardest-hit by the tsunami a chance to spend part of next summer in America. And as we work to attract your students, we are sending more of ours -- 5,700 to Japan last year; a significant increase.

As Secretary Clinton says when describing these programs, we have seen how generations who study and live together give life to our alliance. We have seen how foreign visitors and overseas travel -- with all its occasional frustrations and small triumphs and human interactions -- can build character and perspective. I challenge those of you here at Todai, to consider some form of study in the United States, whether it be for a brief summer exchange; a year abroad; or for your graduate studies. Become a part of the next generation that continues the tradition of educational and cultural exchanges between our two nations.

All these areas that bind our two nations so strongly -- our enduring security alliance, our global partnership, our close economic and trade relationship, our people-to-people ties -- are testaments to our deep mutual trust and friendship. As I emphasized earlier, this relationship has underwritten the peace, security and prosperity of the region for decades. Looking ahead, we must continue to build on this history to make our partnership even stronger and more agile for the extraordinary challenges and opportunities we face.

The United States is strongly committed to Japan. The United States is strongly committed to increasing our engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. And the United States is strongly committed to connecting the next generation in both our societies to one another. With young leaders like you, there is no limit to what we can achieve together.

Thank you.