Left to Right: Kitazawa, Gates, Matsumoto, and Clinton. Photo by: US Dept. of State

The 2011 “2 Plus 2″ Meetings: Strengthening and Expanding the US-Japan Alliance after 50 Years


Secretaries of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Robert Gates met with their Japanese counterparts, Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa in Washington, DC on June 21 for the “2 plus 2” talks. Formally known as the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee (SCC), the purpose of the meetings is for the countries’ diplomatic and military leaders to periodically reexamine and reaffirm the US-Japan alliance. This week’s “2 plus 2” talks were the first of their kind in four years and the first between the Obama administration and the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan.

In their post-meeting remarks, Secretary Clinton commented that the United States and Japan are “cooperating more closely on a wider range of issues and challenges than ever before.” The joint statement issued at the close of the talks outlined common strategic objectives and highlighted areas in which both allies can enhance alliance foundations and cooperation, regionally and globally, while strengthening deterrence and contingency response.

While reaffirming commitment to objectives outlined in the 2006 SCC proceedings, such as working toward a denuclearized Korean peninsula and encouraging a responsible Chinese role in regional stability and prosperity, the leaders expanded the common strategic objectives of the alliance to cover more varied geographical and topical ground. The new objectives include bolstering trilateral security and defense cooperation with the Republic of Korea in addition to Australia, promoting trilateral dialogue with India, and encouraging Russia’s “constructive engagement” with the Asia Pacific. Beyond the defense of Japan and cooperation in the prevention of terrorism, the leaders welcomed increased cooperation in defending the global commons beyond the freedom and safety of sea lanes to include outer space and cyberspace.

Foreign Minister Matsumoto stated that as a result of the tremendous US-Japan cooperation in response to the March 11 disasters, particularly the joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission Operation Tomodachi, “the awareness of the importance of Japan-U.S. alliance has only increased, not just in the two governments but amongst the peoples of our two countries.” The leaders promoted efforts to continue cooperation in HA/DR through joint exercises, and began discussions on establishing regional HA/DR logistics hub in Japan.

Defense Minister Kitazawa announced that the removal of the original 2014 deadline for the implementation of the Futenma plans, but stressed that the leaders are mutually striving for the earliest possible relocation. The leaders pledged to move forward on implementation of the force realignment initiatives agreed on in 2006 that would address the perennially complicated issue of US military bases on the Japanese island of Okinawa. The document released on the Progress of Realignment confirmed that the replacement facility for the Futenma base, located in the Okinawa’s Ginowan City, will be built at the less congested Camp Schwab to the north. The 8,000 personnel of the III Marine Expedition Force will be relocated from Okinawa to Guam. The plans for a V-shaped runway built on reclaimed land, which has long been the target of local and environmentalist protest, have also been confirmed, though the governments are open to an additional environmental impact survey if it can be completed in haste.

The meetings were the last Secretary of Defense Gates would participate in before he steps down on June 30. He praised the ability of the US Military and Japan Self-Defense Force to work side by side in the aftermath of the March 11 disasters as justifying the years of investment in the alliance by both nations and proving to the next generation the value of the alliance. He closed his remarks on a personal note, saying that since he took office in 2006: “one of the most positive changes I saw… was an extraordinary improvement in U.S.-Japanese relations. Those ties have only grown and deepened in recent years. I leave this post convinced that the future of our alliance is a bright one that will continue to be the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific.”

Click here to read the full text of the Joint Statement of the US-Japan Consultative Committee.