When President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met privately in Tokyo last year, Biden delivered a message that was both strategic and real.
U.S. support for a tougher defense and security posture in Japan is understandable, but Biden has made clear that if he can offer anything to support — or provide cover for — such an effort, it should be on the table.
Eight months later, the fruits of that one-on-one meeting were marked by another. This time the backdrop is the Oval Office.
“Let me be very clear,” Biden said as he sat next to Kishida, surrounded by cameras. “The United States is fully, utterly, utterly committed to this alliance.”
For Biden and his national security team, Kishida’s visit is both a culmination and a continuation of the foundational efforts of this administration since it took office. It is a relationship that goes beyond a single bilateral relationship at a time when geopolitical tensions and risks converge with ways to reshape the security posture of allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region.
China has rapidly expanded its military capabilities, while also becoming increasingly explicit about its territorial ambitions. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked Europe’s largest armed conflict since World War II. All the while, North Korea has rapidly accelerated its missile tests and its own provocative actions.
For Biden, a destabilizing geopolitical climate creates an opportunity to support allies’ efforts to build security and defense capabilities — something that national security adviser Jack Sullivan sees as a new twist on President Ronald Reagan’s core foreign policy concepts. Version.
“For Reagan, it was peace through American power,” Sullivan said in an interview with CNN. “For Biden, it’s peace through the strength of America and our allies.”
As the current government enters its third year, the groundwork laid has shown real, if sometimes uneven, progress with Germany, Australia and, most definitely, Japan.
In December, Kishida unveiled a new national security plan, marking the country’s largest military build-up since World War II, doubling defense spending and facing growing pressure from regional rivals including China. threatened to change its pacifist constitution.
The decision marks a sea change in the U.S. and U.S. security alliances in the Indo-Pacific region.
“We believe we can make significant progress, but I don’t think anyone thought it would go this far, this fast,” a senior administration official told CNN.
This is also a time when Kishida is facing his own political challenges at home — challenges that Biden is more than willing to try to help moderate.
Senior administration officials said Kishida’s visit was a window into two years of fine-tuning work by Biden’s team, which has created a sea-shifting environment for strengthening U.S. alliances at a time of heightened tension.
“We started laying the groundwork for all of this long before Putin crossed the Ukrainian border,” Sullivan told CNN. “Above all, this is a huge diplomatic priority.”
This is an order issued by Biden in the early days of his administration, and Sullivan is its main architect. As the government seeks to build on existing bilateral and regional alliances, officials have urged their counterparts to speed up spending and update their own security and defense spending strategies.
They will make sure that people understand that the United States will be there to assist any process that takes place, whether that be through building up defense capabilities, changing the U.S. military’s posture, or Biden himself, with explicit support, political cover or — in this case Kishida — people Dream White House meeting.
A confluence of geopolitical events that dovetail with that strategy has reshaped security strategy, and over the past few years, allies may have been unnerved by fears of rising regional tensions, or by adversaries willing to take action to match escalation disturbed.
However, this approach has successfully led to a new willingness to test previous regional risk assessments. Allies have not lost that, Sullivan said.
“We made them believe that when they go out with a branch, we’re not going to saw that branch,” Sullivan said.
Days before Kishida’s visit, the United States and Japan announced a significant strengthening of their military ties and an upgrade of the U.S. military’s force posture in the region, including the stationing of a newly restructured naval force with advanced intelligence, surveillance and the ability to launch anti-aircraft missiles. ship missiles.
It was one of the most significant shifts in U.S. military posture in the region in years, one official said, underscoring the Pentagon’s desire to move away from past wars in the Middle East and toward a future in the Indo-Pacific.
It also sends a clear signal of enduring U.S. support for Japan’s strategic shift — something that administration officials have made clear will be an important part of their regional strategy for years to come.
“When you think about it in terms of long-term impact, it’s a huge increase in cybersecurity capabilities in a geographically significant place,” the official said.
For a president and administration with a keen focus on China, leaning toward — and building — a long-term important alliance with Japan has been a focus from the start. Biden invited Kishida’s predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, for the first visit by a foreign leader of his presidency.
The decision was made to elevate the Quad – an informal alliance of the US, Japan, India and Australia – to leadership. The United States has included Japan in its Indo-Pacific strategic consultations. Administration officials have sought new areas of cooperation in economics and technology, the officials said.
But if China’s actions started a steady shift in Japan’s overall posture, Russia’s actions accelerated it to a different level.
Japan has been a staunch partner throughout the United States’ efforts to unite its allies in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Kishida has been outspoken about his views on Russia’s actions not only in Europe, but also in the Indo-Pacific region.
“I myself have a strong sense of urgency that Ukraine today could be East Asia tomorrow,” Kishida said in a keynote speech in Singapore last June, outlining the shift in security strategy he was weighing.
By the time Kishida meets Biden in Cambodia in November, he will lay out the specifics to the U.S. president in another one-on-one meeting.
He also made it clear that he would accept Biden’s proposal at a private meeting in Tokyo. The Biden administration needs to issue an immediate statement in support of the proposal.
Biden agreed, and on the day Kishida publicly announced his plan, Sullivan quickly issued an official statement calling it a “bold and historic step.”
Kishida also requested an invitation to the White House shortly after the Dec. 16 announcement.
On January 3, the White House publicly announced Kishida’s plan to visit China.
Less than two weeks later, Biden was waiting outside the White House when Kishida pulled up in a black SUV.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been closer in America to Japan,” Biden said shortly afterwards, as the two sat in the Oval Office.