Editorial: State of the Union address

Cooperative diplomacy will be put to the test

It is clear from his State of the Union address what U.S. President Barack Obama has set out to accomplish in his second term.

Most of the address was devoted to domestic issues such as economic recovery. Compared to his first term, during which he advocated cooperative diplomacy and got high marks from the international community, Mr. Obama appeared to place a greater emphasis on domestic matters.

With reference to North Korea, which recently conducted a nuclear test, the president warned that the U.S. would “lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.” Nevertheless his foreign policy package leaves a lot to be desired.

World affairs are once again in growing turmoil. From here on out Mr. Obama’s diplomacy will truly be put to the test.

In his State of the Union address the president fleshed out the specifics of the direction he laid out in his January inaugural address.

The key phrase in the address was his determination “to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.” He also stated that more jobs and higher pay would be priorities. It was noteworthy that the president cited the promotion of renewable energy and the conclusion of the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) as ways to accomplish these goals.

His strategy of promoting growth in Japan and other countries by getting them into a free-trade zone again became apparent.

Another feature of the speech was the president’s bold outline of liberal measures such as gun control and the expansion of immigration. Perhaps he perceived that he had the support of the people.

But it is clear that, on the heels of the fiscal cliff issue that arose at the end of last year, the Republican Party will put up roadblocks.

The focus is likely to be on fiscal reconstruction for the foreseeable future. In his address the president proposed putting off budget cuts that will automatically take effect this year, including some in March, and advocated balancing these cuts with measures to boost the economy. But there is no guarantee that the Republicans, who have been calling for a major reduction in the budget deficit, will be willing to make concessions.

Whatever happens will have an effect on the global economy. We would like to see the two parties overcome their differences and reach a compromise.

We are concerned that the administration’s efforts will be taken up with internal matters and that foreign affairs will end up on the back burner.

Mr. Obama’s pride in the fact that he achieved results in the area of foreign affairs seems to be behind the administration’s shift to an emphasis on domestic affairs. To be sure, the president brought an end to the war in Iraq, which exhausted the American people, and he has stated that he will bring the war in Afghanistan to a close by the end of 2014.

But we hope the president will not forget that it was he who called for “a world without nuclear weapons.” The global nuclear weapons situation has further deteriorated with North Korea’s nuclear test. The problem of Iran’s nuclear development is also a long way from being solved. Now is the time for the world’s biggest nuclear power to take the lead in the effort to eliminate nuclear weapons.

In his speech, the president declared that he would seek further reductions in the nuclear arsenals of both nations in negotiations with Russia, but that is not good enough. If the president strongly condemns North Korea, the United States should commit itself to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and a halt to subcritical nuclear tests.

China is gaining power both economically and militarily and has maintained a tough stance on the Senkaku Islands and other issues. The president’s handling of China will also be called into question. But Mr. Obama did not refer to these issues in his speech. John Kerry, the newly appointed Secretary of State, is believed to place importance on China. Not saying anything about China may be viewed as a demonstration of consideration for China.

How should Japan engage with the U.S.? The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said it intends to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and to keep China in check with U.S. military might. In any case, differences in the approaches of the two nations to China may emerge. Meanwhile, it seems likely that the U.S. will apply more pressure on Japan to take part in the TPP negotiations.

A Japan-U.S. summit is slated for the end of this month. Japan will likely be asked to pursue proactive diplomatic strategies that take into account the significance of Mr. Obama’s second term.

(Originally published on February 14, 2013)