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During the Cold War, the United States shared some of its important defense technologies with Japan as a way of encouraging Japan to increase its defense capabilities and help achieve other US foreign policy objectives.
But this was strictly a one-way arrangement. And it should now change.
That is the central finding of a report, "Maximizing US Interests in Science and Technology Relations with Japan," issued earlier this month by the National Research Council's Committee on Japan.
Dr. Richard J. Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science and head of the department, is vice chair of the NRC's Committee on Japan and, with his graduate students, played a role in developing the report. Another member of the committee is Dr. Mildred S. Dresselhaus, Institute Professor and professor of electrical engineering and physics.
"The report," Professor Samuels said, "is bound to have a major impact in refocusing strategic thinking in the US on our relationship with Japan."
The Committee on Japan organized a special Defense Task Force to examine the question of how the United States should manage scientific and technological relations with Japan in the post-Cold War era.
The study was based on the premise that Japanese industry, building on the technological and manufacturing base created through licensed production of American technology, "is now able to produce the most advanced weapons, and can independently develop less sophisticated systems."
Additionally, the Defense Task Force said, Japanese industry "has diffused know-how acquired through military programs to gain important footholds in certain high-technology commercial sectors such as aircraft and space, and has developed considerable strengths in a variety of commercial technologies with significant and growing defense applications."
Despite several US-Japan agreements and Department of Defense initiatives over the past 15 years, the report said, transfer of both military and commercial technologies from Japan to the United States to support US national security "has been minimal."
The Defense Task Force concluded that future US-Japan cooperation in defense and dual use technology "must involve greater reciprocity in technology flows than has been the case in the past." This enhanced reciprocal cooperation, the report said, "will require greatly expanded Japanese technological contributions to meeting US and common security needs."
Elaborating on this central finding, the Defense Task Force said that the international security and economic environment that exists today and is likely to prevail in the foreseeable future "no longer justifies this trade-off with Japan."
It continued: "The United States has a continuing interest in enhanced Japanese contributions to the security alliance through expanded participation in peacekeeping activities, pursuit of foreign policy initiatives that serve common interests, the acquisition of improved defense capabilities within the framework of the alliance, and increased host-nation support.
"The United States also continues to have an interest in allowing Japan to purchase major US systems off-the-shelf. However, the time has passed when defense cooperation featuring primarily one-way transfers of technology from the United States to Japan could be justified by US security interests.
"In order for US-Japan cooperation to advance US interests in the future, it must feature greatly expanded Japanese technological contributions to US and common defense needs."
In the long run, the report said, the US-Japan alliance "will be best served by defense technology collaboration that can stand close scrutiny and attract sustained support from the political leadership and broader publics of both countries.
"This implies a partnership," the report added, "in which contributions, risks and opportunities to benefit from cooperation are comparable."
The report noted that Japanese industry "is strong in a wide variety of technologies, such as advanced materials and optoelectronics, in which commercial product advances increasingly set the pace and are modified for use in defense systems."
Although "a perfectly balanced flow of technology in the defense relationship is not a realistic expectation for the foreseeable future," the Defense Task Force said, it believes that more rapid progress toward greater reciprocity "is necessary and achievable."
Significant obstacles remain, the report said, and overcoming these obstacles "will require redoubled efforts and goodwill on the part of both countries."
As part of the process of reducing and eliminating barriers to cooperation, the Defense Task Force said, the US government should seek from the Japanese government:
(1) a clarification of the arms export principles and a public statement to the effect that export of items embodying substantially commercial technology that undergoes minor modifications for defense applications is not restricted, and
(2) a change to the 1983 exchange of notes stating that Japanese military technologies transferred to the United States are exempt from transfer restrictions, with changes addressing legitimate Japanese concerns and including provisions for the payment of royalties.
Meanwhile, the report said, the Department of Defense should develop new mechanisms for facilitating technological collaboration between US and Japanese companies to address common defense needs.
"One promising approach," it said, "would be a program to fund US-Japan industry research and development on specific enabling technologies-including the adaptation of commercial technologies-targeted at applications in future weapons systems."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 6, 1995.