Underplaying the 'Okinawa Card': How Japan Negotiates its Alliance with the United States

Australian Journal of International Affairs

Author/s (editor/s):

H. D. P. Envall

Publication year:


Publication type:

Journal article

Find this publication at:
Taylor & Francis

H. D. P. Envall, ‘Underplaying the ‘Okinawa Card’: How Japan Negotiates its Alliance with the United States’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 67(4) 2013: 383-402.

The US military bases in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa have long been a source of domestic political opposition to the US–Japan alliance. As an alliance management issue, the ongoing troubles surrounding the bases raise questions as to when and why states adopt particular bargaining strategies when dealing with allies. Why, for instance, has the Japanese government not made greater use of this ‘Okinawa card’ when negotiating alliance issues with the USA? Even though highlighting particular domestic problems as a part of a negotiating strategy (known as tying hands) should appeal to a weaker ally such as Japan, this article argues that in the Okinawan case the reverse has been true. Japan has generally, though not always, sought to minimise or downplay domestic opposition to its alliance agreements, essentially preferring a cutting-slack to a tying-hands approach. The Japanese experience suggests that when states which are directly dependent on an alliance for their security see their security environment as unstable, they view tying-hands strategies as too likely to undermine their bargaining credibility. Maintaining credibility is important in an alliance bargaining context because it is a way for such states to signal their commitment to an alliance and so guard against abandonment.

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