Japan’s new Afghan contribution necessary if refueling halted: Nye

Japan should find an alternative way to help stabilize Afghanistan if the incoming administration ends Tokyo's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around the war-torn country, according to renowned U.S. scholar Joseph Nye.

''The Indian Ocean refueling, I think, it's a symbolic Japanese support...finding a substitute for refueling is important if they decide to stop refueling,'' he said in a recent interview with Kyodo News, calling for a more ''civilian-based contribution.''

''Japan has talked about a more equal alliance. That includes the ability of Japan to help the United States. So that's part of equality,'' he said. ''I think Americans are saying, 'If not refueling, then what?'''

Japan's presumptive prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, suggested Thursday there is no change in his policy to end the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission, which has been in place since 2001.

Nye, a Harvard University professor emeritus of international political science and a former assistant secretary of defense, said he told then leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan, including Hatoyama, in a meeting in Tokyo last December that they should exercise caution when discussing relations between Japan and the United States.

''I said that as a matter of friendly advice, they ought to be very careful on how they made certain statements...for example on the refueling'' so the U.S. Congress would not interpret them as suggesting any pullback from the bilateral alliance, he said.

Nye was upbeat on the future course of the alliance.

''I'm optimistic that the U.S.-Japan alliance will stay as strong as ever because it's based on the self-interests of both countries and I think it's also based on 50 years of experience,'' he said. ''The underlying importance of the alliance remains as important as ever.''

But Nye said many Americans were ''surprised'' by Hatoyama's recent essay carried by U.S. media that seemed to be against U.S.-led globalization and in favor of a greater Japanese focus on Asia.

''The feeling was that the criticism of globalization seemed odd since Japan has benefited so much from globalization,'' he said, adding the essay ''had more to do with campaign rhetoric than it did as a real blueprint for Japanese foreign policy under the Hatoyama administration.''

Nye expressed concern about the Hatoyama administration's plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station outside Japan's Okinawa Prefecture, despite a 2006 Japan-U.S. accord on the transfer of the facility within the prefecture.

''What worries me is that it took us so long to get the agreement we have that I would hate to see us trying to perfect it and waste as much time in the future as we've wasted in the past,'' he said.

''If you are going to improve the agreement without delaying the agreement, that's fine. But that would turn out to be hard to do,'' the professor emeritus said.

The relocation of the Futemma base by 2014 is a key item of the 2006 agreement. Japan and the United States also agreed that 8,000 Marines and 9,000 of their family members will be moved to Guam from Okinawa in connection with the Futemma base relocation.

Asked for his advice to Hatoyama, Nye said that with the Japan-U.S. alliance being ''one of the most important relationships in the world,'' it is vital ''to be careful to maintain it and not to let small issues disrupt it.''

Nye served as assistant secretary of state under the Jimmy Carter administration and as assistant secretary of defense under the Bill Clinton administration.

He is known as the author of a major post-Cold War U.S. defense strategy for East Asia in 1995 and as a person who pioneered the theory of ''soft power,'' which comes from diplomatic and cultural means.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on Sept. 10, 2009)