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Coping with the "Iranian Threat" under the Japan-U.S. Alliance

Osamu Miyata

Associate Professor
University of Shizuoka

 

Japan and the United States have both common goals and differences regarding the Middle East. Japan financially supports the Palestinian Authority and has sent to the Middle East peacekeeping forces mainly composed of the Ground Self-Defense Forces. These measures support U.S. efforts to settle the Palestinian issue. Furthermore, oil is crucial to both Japanese and American energy security.

Oil is more important for Japan than the United States as Japan depends totally on imports. Japan's oil demands naturally affect its policies toward the Middle East, thus forcing it to take a different tack than the United States. As Iran's oil is critical for Japan's energy security, Japan cannot totally follow the U.S. containment policy toward Iran.

This paper clarifies the importance of Iran for Japan and the domestic factors behind U.S. sanctions against Iran. The paper also predicts the future development of Iran's domestic politics and examines China's policy toward Iran. As China accomplishes its remarkable economic development, oil and gas from the Middle East will become important for China, too. If the United States continues to pursue a policy of containment, the West could lose its influence in the Middle East, while China and other Asian countries strengthen their relationships with "isolated Middle Eastern countries" such as Iran.

Finally, this paper suggests what policies Japan should take to secure energy and at the same time maintain a friendly relationship with the United States. If Japan and the United States promote their interests in the Middle East, they should work to strengthen the realistic tendencies of Iran by striving to encourage democratization and the free market economy, rather than pursuing severe containment policies. Japan and the United States could ensure their energy security by cooperating to realize the political and economic stability of the Middle Eastern countries. In this regard, when Japan's policies differ from those of the United States, Japan should ask the U.S. understanding of Japan's stance, so that both the friendly relationship with the United States and Japan's national interest can be promoted.