Japan has been a key element in US global policy since the US occupied the country after the Second World War. The Japanese and US ruling classes want to see greater Japanese military power.
Despite constitutional limits on military activity, Japan’s forces are large. Military spending is rising, and cooperation with the US on weapons programmes has been stepped up.
US bases in Japan are supposed to be used only for Japan’s security. But according to the Pentagon they “remain the critical component of US deterrent and rapid response strategy in Asia”. This “enables the US to respond more rapidly and flexibly in other areas”.
There are indications that the US is shifting its regional military presence away from South Korea and concentrating it in Japan.
The continuing hostility of most Japanese people has been the main barrier to the US’s plans. The decision to send Japanese troops to Iraq, even in a “non-combatant role”, was deeply unpopular.
The end of the Cold War has not led to a reduction in the strategic importance of Japan to the US. The reason is China. The US perceives the expansion of Chinese economic power to match its military strength as a threat to its interests.
The US is pressuring Europe to maintain a ban on arms sales to China. There has also been a big shift in US policy towards India. It looks as though the US wants both India and Japan to police its interests against China.