Is the U.S. Obligated to Defend Japan’s Senkaku Islands Against China? Probably

by Julian Ku

As things continue to get ugly between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, the U.S. has tried to stay out of the way.  Still, although the U.S. has tried to stay neutral on the territorial dispute, it appears the U.S. is obligated by treaty to defend any incursion by China into the Senkaku/Diaoyu. From Article V of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security:

Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.

The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are plainly under the administration of Japan, even if Japan does not have sovereignty over the islands.  I don’t know exactly why this “administration of Japan” language is used, nor why it is one-sided (Japan has no obligation to assist the U.S. if U.S. territory is attacked). In the U.S. -Philippines Defense treaty, the area covered by the treaty is “the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties.”  The Korea Treaty does have similar language “administrative control” language, although I am assuming it does so in order to exclude North Korea.

So the U.S. is basically on the hook for a defense of the Senkaku/Diaoyu. And what’s worse, Japan doesn’t have to help the U.S. at all in defending its own territory.  Looks like the Japanese got themselves a nice little deal here.

8 Responses

  1. A great little deal. Can’t understand why Japan doesn’t have military bases in Iowa. However, having considered the bevy of posts on those embassy attacks, what I’m left pondering is whether this treaty would mean the US could nuke Beijing should a Chinese fishing trawler sail close to the islands and proceed to throw a barrage of eggs and/or bottles at the shore?

  2. Isn’t the “one-sided” nature of the treaty a result of the fact that the US wanted Japan to forsake all military action?  I notice that the treaty was signed for the US by a man named Douglas MacArthur who had a little something to do with the peace clause in Japan’s constitution.

  3. Correction:  The treaty was signed by Douglas MacArthur 2nd, the general’s nephew.  Apologies.  I think the larger question, about US support for the peace clause in Japan’s constitution, stands.

  4. Having a security agreement with the U.S does not imply that the United States will defend their allies without condition. (Eg: Israel must have U.S approval before attacking Iran/Lebanon/Egypt etc)

    The current terrortorial dispute is clearly driven by Japanese nationalist interest, the U.S has too many to lose and nothing to gain from a full scale conflict with China, not Militarily or Economically. And we all know that NO American Soldier will everdie for a Japanese cause, it can only happen the other way around.

    Finally, the U.S – Japan mutural security agreement is more or less designed to restrict Japan’s military capability rather then protecting them. It is a tailor made system that corresponds to Artical 9 of the Japanese constitution, it effectively stops them from re-arming again as long as the agreement stands. It is NOT anything like the U.S – U.K security agreement. One of the VERY last thing an average American cares about is the territorial sovereignty of some Japanese Island near Taiwan.

    China is not about to be nuked over Japanese interest, America will ensure their interest is put ahead of anything else.

  5. You don’t seem to know much about post world war 2 Japan. After WW2 the US limited Japan’s military power so it won’t ever start a war again. That is the containment policy the US implemented after WW2 to contain communism.  Japan wouldn’t have a large military power in return the U.S. would defend Japan against communist countries.  The countries around Japan have nuclear weapons but Japan doesn’t have any, zero. That’s because the U.S. wanted it that way. Even though Japan doesn’t have any nuclear weapons, America’s nuclear weapons serve as a deterrent to anyone who attempts to attack Japan. That’s the security pact between Japan & the U.S., the U.S. would defend Japan in return Japan would be America’s dependable ally in Asia. So the U.S. will most likely not expect Japan to help defend America’s territory(Of course the US military is the mightiest in the world so it wouldn’t need any help to defend itself) but Japan has helped the U.S. in overseas wars especially the war on terror in places like Iraq and Afganistan.  You’re saying Japan is getting a good deal here but don’t you know Japan has paid billions of dollars to the US for having US military bases in Japan? That is one of the political issues in Japan today, people are saying Japan is paying too much to the U.S. Ever since the 70’s when Japan started to pay host nation support fees Japan has paid a total of over 30 billion dollars to the US through the years. So there’s no wonder why the U.S. wants to be in Japan because it is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to the U.S. annually on defense. The US troops in Japan are there not only to defend Japan but they are also sent to other places like Afganistan and Iraq. Even though Japan may not be able to help defend the US in defending its own territory, Japan helped the U.S. in the Iraq war financially. Japan paid out $500 million dollars to Iraq’s post war reconstruction. So Japan pays the highest amount of host nation support among America’s allies which includes Germany and Italy and the UK. So don’t think Japan is the only one getting a good deal, the U.S. in defending Japan is getting a good deal also. You get the picture? Japan has been paying billions of dollars to the pentagon. Also the Japanese airforce is buying the new F-35 airplanes from the U.S. One F-35 costs over 100 million dollars and Japan is scheduled to buy 42 of them. Who else in the Western world pays billions of dollars to the U.S. military?  That’s why when it comes to the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa, Leon Penetta is urging Chinese defense ministers not to get into a military conflict in the region. Leon Penetta has to protect his client, er excuse me ally.

  6. Hi Darth:

    Thanks for your responds and I will make this short.

    Your responds are based on analysis of military capabilities, and I will start with what I agree with you:

    1) U.S/Japan has far superior military hardware, personal training, combat experience and morale.

    2) In any full scale conflict, I would predict the following:

    If China is fighting a full scale war Japan alone (conventionally), restricting to naval and air battle only, both countries would lose. I would give credit to a 3/1 – 5/1 Kill ratio in Japan’s favour. But China has the number, so eventually it will just break even one way or another.

    3) If the U.S backs Japan, Chinese sailors will all have to learn how to swim again. all Chinese air force and naval forces will be wiped. Both U.S and Japan will suffer some casuality but they will live on.

    4) U.S will undoubtably back Japan if Japan is under attack from any agressor, period. (That the Japanese mainland, excluding disputed terroritores)

    I am not going to go through the defense budget and specify specific military hardware such as the 400 F35’s or whatever.. because I already agree that the U.S/Japan force are far better.

    And I am telling you, all these hardware superiority equates to absolutly nothing in this case.

    The problem this time is, Senkaku does not belong to Japan. As you mentioned, I know very little from world war two but I do know that Taiwan belongs to the Qing dynasty of China. And in the early 19th Centruy Japan invaded pretty much half the China. I will fast forward this to a September 1945 where Japanese signs the instrument of Surrender which includes “the Unconditional surrender of all IJA forces” from all occupied land.

    Senkaku was part of Fromosa (Taiwan), Taiwan was part of China (Today’s ROC).

    The real owner of Senkaku, should have been Taiwan. But U.S handed jurisdiction over to Japan in 1972. Japan has effective control of the region eversince. (Despite PRC/ROC continously claims that they are the owner of Senkaku).

    For almost 40 years, this is not been a problem until Japan made a stunt to purchase this island, oficially “Claiming” it as Japanese territory, Which I have to say its pretty much redundent as it practially owns it anyway.

    This forces China to react. China has never dared to send anything as much as a survey ship near Senkaku, nor does Taiwan. But purchasing the island erases any hope for peaceful discussion.. it is the first true provation from Japan since the end of world war 2.

    And we all know what the Japanese have down in Asia in world war 2, long ran hatred is boiling up this time. Not just with China, but with South Korea and Russia. Japan is stirring up territorial disputes from all side.

    The real question is: Should Uncle Sam protect Japan from it’s own agressive provocation against other country?

    If you are still looking at thing scuh as defense budget or F35’s, or military strength in general, then clearly you have not understood the question at all.

    Defending Japan physically through military strength and fighting for Japan’s interest are two completely seperate topic. While Uncle Sam has came to Japan’s protection militarily, Uncle Sam has never cared about Japanese interest, they’ve never did and never will!!!

    I have weak understanding of WWII, but my understanding is that this strong allience between Japan and the U.S originated from two guys who’s nickname was Little boy and Fatman, so that was a romentic start to a lifelong friendship in the 40’s

    In the 60’s Japan was no more then a floating Marine base to counter the Soviet.

    In the 80’s American engineered the collapse of Japanese Economy and the lost decade (or two) were ensured. Stealing billions from the Japanese economy.

    Japan is America’s yes man in asia, we all know that. They had to do what the U.S tells them not becuase they want to but because they HAVE TO, hence they have been supportive to the US (Der). Would you reckon you got yourself a good end of the deal if a particular country defeated all your conventional forces, dropped two nukes on you and occupied you since while paying billions of dollars for their prepetural occupation so that they can rape your women and exploit your land?? i hope the answer is no.

    The allience is not based on blood like U.S – UK or religious based like U.S – Israile. Japan purely a defeated country with no choice much like a men turns to another men in life imprisionment.

    I don’t doubt the usefulness U.S/Japan mutural defense pack, I don’t doubt the firepower of JASDF or JMSDF. I just doubt that the U.S would fight for a Japanese cause. And I say again, the move to purchase Senkaku was a Japanese Cause, within Japanese Interest and Japanese Interest only. It is an act of agression, in fact is just short of actually declearing war.

    Should US go fight Japan’s war?

  7. Well I just had to respond to the person who wrote this article because it says as though Japan was getting a good DEAL from the US without sacrificing little. Again it says “nice little deal here.”  It sounds like Japan wasn’t sacrificing anything and getting alot in return that’s why I had to remind the person who wrote this that Japan had been paying the U.S. billions of dollars in defense so the U.S. was getting a nice deal from Japan too.

    It says “Defending Japan physically through military strength and fighting for Japan’s interest are two completely seperate topic. While Uncle Sam has came to Japan’s protection militarily, Uncle Sam has never cared about Japanese interest, they’ve never did and never will!!!”

    Fortunately post WW2 there has not been any attack on Japan so we shall see what happens in the future. This Senkaku situation might be a test between Japan – US relations.  

    You should take a look at this letter.   China sent a letter of appreciation to the Japanese in 1920 for rescuing 31 Chinese fishermen around the Senkakus. In the letter it clearly says Okinawa Senkaku Islands admitting Japanese ownership of the Senkaku Islands. This is displayed at a museum in Okinawa.

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  1. […] something to gain), but not when it does possess the islands (and has something to lose). The US is probably obligated to defend Japan against others, making war between the world’s two greatest military powers more probable […]