TOKYO -- The arrival of Donald Trump as president of the U.S. presents a major challenge to the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and other countries "do not pay us what they should be paying us" for the hefty defense expenditures the U.S. shoulders, Trump said during his campaign, drawing cheers from his supporters.
The price of security
Former Vice Finance Minister Shunsuke Kagawa, who died last year, once examined Japan's defense budget when he was an official working on allocations. He eventually cut the so-called "sympathy budget", the term used to describe funds provided by the Japanese government in support of U.S. forces stationed in Japan, such as those to cover wages for Japanese workers at military bases.
Japan paid 6.2 billion yen ($57.17 million at the current exchange rate) when the program began in fiscal 1978. As the budget swelled to a record 275.6 billion yen in fiscal 1999, Kagawa visited the U.S. military headquarters to make a plea for putting off any spending that could be delayed.
It was the first time the Japanese government had made such a request. The move surprised the U.S., but it eventually accepted a budget cut.
The Foreign Ministry and the Defense Agency (now the Ministry of Defense) could not believe that Kagawa directly negotiated with the U.S., in effect going over their heads, and both resorted to rollback campaigns involving lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who represented the defense industry.
As a result, the cut in the sympathy budget for fiscal 2000 was trimmed down to 100 million yen. No matter the size, "the first budget cut remained as a fact," Kagawa said proudly.
The budget has since continued to be reduced. In fiscal 2015, it totaled 189.9 billion yen.
The U.S. may think it possible to extract more funds from Japan, while Japan may consider that a moderate increase is a good buy if it satisfies the Trump administration.
Opening a different door
But there has been almost no debate in Japan on why the budget is necessary. Lawmakers have said no more than the Japan-U.S. relationship is the cornerstone of Japan's diplomacy.
The late former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who signed the Japan-U.S. security treaty, described the U.S. forces stationed in Japan as the nation's "watchdog."
In his book "On War," Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian general and military strategist, said that when a country tries to save another country from a crisis, it does not show the same zeal as for addressing its own exigency.
Can the security of Japan be ensured with an alliance it has purchased?
Trump shows little interest in fine rhetoric when he bundles the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Australia and other countries as "alliance partners sharing the values of liberalism and a market economy."
The French newspaper Le Monde has said Trump would not sacrifice the U.S. for the sake of its allies.
Under the circumstances, calls for Japan to be self-reliant are gathering steam. Defense Minister Tomomi Inada has proposed two studies: one for the possibility of Japan becoming independent on the defense front, and another about ways to reinforce the country's U.S. alliance and cooperation with other allies.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has surrounded himself with many advocates of autonomous self-defense. Chances are high that they will call for reinforcing Japan's Self-Defense Forces rather than increasing the sympathy budget.
But can a world full of countries with independent defense systems last long? "War is costly" is probably the sole theory acceptable to Trump. Does this represent an advance or setback in the Japan-U.S. bond?
The coming ascendancy of President Trump poses a major test for Japan, perhaps as significant as when U.S. vessels under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry arrived on the shores of the island nation in the 19th century and changed the country forever.