The current U.S. security posture in East Asia leaves it with few options should a crisis escalate.
China and Japan are increasingly at each other’s throats. America wants to stand between them, but because of its military presence on Japanese soil, it can only actually stand behind Tokyo. As Japan develops independent, offensive military capabilities, an untenable situation is taking shape: In the future, the United States may have little control over the outbreak of war but a virtually automatic commitment to involvement in it. Instead, a more elastic commitment would give the U.S. greater leverage to restrain Japan and contribute in a balanced way to regional stability.
Faced with greater diplomatic pressure from Beijing and belt-tightening in Washington, U.S. allies like Japan have started to rearm in earnest. Asia is quickly becoming “the most militarized region in the world.” U.S. partners and allies in the region plan to spend 53 percent more between 2013 and 2018 than they did in the previous five-year period. Japan’s security posture in particular is undergoing sweeping changes. Last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reversed a decade of cuts, seeking the largest increases in defense spending since the end of the Cold War.