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Paul Wolfowitz, the No. 2 man in the Pentagon, is U.S. deputy
secretary of defense and was assistant secretary of State for East Asia during the Reagan administration. He spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels in Washington on Sept. 5. Sept. 8 is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-Japan peace treaty.

How has the strategic security situation changed in Asia in the 50 years since the U.S.-Japan peace treaty was signed?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Overall, the situation is very positive. Thanks in part to the end of the Cold War, but also to the economic success of the non-Communist countries in the region, we have achieved a degree of stability there not seen in centuries.
Even North Korea, which remains a danger, is anachronistically weak. We should not take the danger lightly, but there can be no doubt in anyone's mind that they are not on the right side of history. That is something that could not be taken for granted only 20 years ago.

We haven't arrived at this Pacific tranquillity by leaving things alone. The U.S.-Japan security alliance has been crucial to achieving this result. It is the most important relationship, bar none, that the U.S. has. That was true 50 years ago, it is true today, and it will likely be true 50 years from now. It is the keystone in the arch of stability.

Though immeasurably more tranquil now than for centuries, reportedly U.S. threat assessments call for more focus on Asia in the future and less on Europe. Is that so?

Let me emphatically reject the idea that we are moving our focus from Europe to Asia. Like it or not, the U.S. is a global power with global responsibilities. We have to assess our commitments and capabilities according to the conditions in particular regions and deploy resources accordingly.

It is obvious that the environment in Europe, with the exception of the Balkans, is even more benign than in Asia. Indeed, the fact we can still meet all our commitments even though the U.S. defense budget is down to a level of U.S. GDP not seen since before Pearl Harbor is a statement of just how benign the global environment is today.

Having said that, the review we have undertaken since the outset of the Bush administration confirms that the uncertainties in Asia are much larger than in Europe.

Though there is every reason to believe we can manage the situation and the truce will hold there, the regime in North Korea is committed to astonishing levels of military armament. Again, I think we can manage the situation in the Taiwan Strait peacefully, but that peace has been challenged more than once in the last 10 years. Then there is the emergence of China as an increasingly powerful nation.

That doesn't mean China is the new enemy. The goal is to bring a more powerful China into a prospering Pacific community. Nothing is more important to accomplishing that than close cooperation between the U.S. and Japan.

The U.S.-Japan link not only creates a security balance in the region but also a framework in which others have positive incentives to cooperate.

For all of Japan's troubles, it is still the second largest economy in the world behind the U.S. If the two of us speak together, everyone else listens.

One of the ways to strengthen the force structure in Asia without more U.S. troops is by Japan "reinterpreting" its peace constitution to allow its "self-defense forces" to become a normal military. This is what Prime Minister (Junichiro) Koizumi wants. Does the U.S. support that? After all, Germany has deployed troops in the Balkans.

The Germans made that decision on their own. And it is up to the Japanese to make their own decision on this issue.
We've been able to work with Japan over 50 years within the current interpretation of the Japanese constitution. The reason we have been so successful is not only because there is room for skillful interpretation of the constitution, but because our common purpose is to create stability in the Pacific and not allow any country to impose its will on other nations.

If the Japanese feel the need to change this, it is up to them.

But is this something that will not raise hackles in the
Pentagon, though it might in the rest of Asia?

WOLFOWITZ: One of the reasons the Japanese are so careful on this is because they are concerned how other nations will react. And the Japanese should be.

You mentioned the German example. They, too, have had to be careful about the reaction of others. There is a tendency, because of the history of Japan, for some nations to overreact. People in the Pentagon, you are right, do not overreact to this idea, though we fully understand the need to tread carefully.

Obviously, one of the attractions of the U.S.-Japan mutual security
treaty is that it allows Japan to meet its security needs with forces and defense budgets that are not a threat to its neighbors.
I'm sure the Japanese government will tread very carefully and
deliberately on this issue. And I think that is a good idea.

The other aspect of security in the region is how a rising China, which opposes the U.S. missile shield as undermining its small nuclear deterrent, views the strategic aims of the U.S. Reportedly, the Bush administration has told the Chinese it will "acquiesce" in their nuclear modernization as a means of demonstrating the shield is not aimed against them.

Is that true?

That is categorically untrue. We have concerns about a whole range of missile issues with the Chinese -- from proliferation of missile technology to countries hostile to the U.S. to their buildup of short- and medium-range missiles that threaten their neighbors, potentially Japan, to the possibility of an increase in their long-range offensive forces.

They have been engaged in modernization of their missile forces as well as active proliferation long before the U.S. developed any plans for a missile defense.

What is striking, and not sufficiently noted, is that the Chinese are as opposed to theater nuclear defense as they are to U.S. national missile defense. I can only interpret that as a concern that -- let me put it this way: Our missile defense plans are not a threat to anybody. They have the potential of taking away the ability of some countries to threaten others.

I hope China is not in that category. But it is up to them to decide. Some of their behavior at least raises the question.

China holds the opposite view. Recently, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said: "People cannot but ask what on earth is the real intention behind a U.S. missile defense system. Is it really to defend against the threat from a few so-called 'problem states' or for greater military advantages over other big countries?"

How will President Bush respond to that argument when he arrives in China next month?

The real question is why countries like North Korea or Iran, with significant help from China and their good friend Pakistan, are investing in short-, medium- and even long-range missiles that threaten our allies, our deployed forces and ultimately the territorial U.S.

If they weren't engaged in those programs, we would be looking very differently at investing billions of dollars in missile defense. The U.S. can probably arrive at a system that can ward off limited attacks by fairly rudimentary countries. Both China and Russia understand perfectly well that this is a capability that poses no threat to them -- even if there is diplomatic, political and perhaps strategic leverage in complaining about it.

(c) 2001, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 9/5/01)