There is a classic scene in The Devil's Advocate where Al Pacino, who plays the devil, talks to Keanu Reeves about God teasing humans. And he utters this memorable line: "Look, but don't touch. Touch, but don't taste. Taste, don't swallow."
That must be how the Japanese are feeling after the US Air Force deployed the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor to their country for the second time in two years.
The 12 F-22A Raptors will be based at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa as part of a three-month deployment in support of US Pacific Command's security obligations in the Western Pacific. They will spend the next few months conducting air combat training alongside Kadena's Boeing F-15s, and will work to integrate with all of the aircraft assigned to the 18th Wing.
It is unclear if they will take part in joint exercises with their Japanese counterparts, but the sight of the Raptors will be like a rapier into the heart of the Defence Ministry in Tokyo. Japan craves for the F-22, which if they have the choice would be selected for the F-X competition to choose a new generation of fighters. The US Congress' Obey Amendment, however, prevents Washington from exporting the F-22 and Tokyo has so far been unsuccessful in its attempts to overturn that and get access to information on the aircraft.
Things could change after President Barack Obama took office in January, and there has been a renewed attempt over the last month to put pressure on new administration to relent.
Publicly, Lockheed Martin says that it has to wait for the Congress' or the President's directive. Privately, its officials are keen on exports to extend the F-22 production line beyond 2010 and keep several high-paying jobs at home. Selling the aircraft overseas would reduce the unit to the USAF and make strategic sense for Washington, say observers.
"I find the U.S. policy in this case incomprehensible," James Auer, director of the Center for US-Japan Studies and Cooperation at the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies, says in a recent article in World Politics Review. "The U.S. has always said it favours a relationship of trust . . . and Japan is located in a very dangerous part of the world."
Dan Blumenthal, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, points out in a recent article in The Weekly Standard that "exporting the F-22 to Japan makes sound strategic and military sense" by improving alliance relations, furthering the country's Asia-Pacific defence policy, and creating jobs.
Japan remains hopeful and it is likely to make another push for information on the F-22 in the coming months. However, it is running out of time. The problem is that the US Congress has to debate this issue at a time when it has so many other pressing matters, and doubts remain on whether the Obey Amendment would be overturned or even if its restrictions are eased.
In the meantime, the Japanese will continue to ache as they see the F-22s on their soil for training exercises until this is resolved. And the tease will continue, with no end in sight.