TOKYO: Fifty years ago U.S. and Japanese officials signed a security treaty that has outlasted 10 U.S. presidents and 22 Japan prime ministers, and things show no sign of slowing down yet.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the alliance, approximately 200 Japanese and American servicemembers and government officials gathered together Jan. 19 at the U.S. Embassy. Most in attendance were infants or not even alive in 1960 when the two countries signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, but today they are dignitaries and generals charged with upholding and enhancing what the two countries have called “one of their most important alliances.”

“I don’t think we can say it enough about how much the relationship between the U.S. and Japan means to our two countries,” said Lt. Gen. Herbert J. “Hawk” Carlisle, 13th Air Force commander, who represented U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Pacific Air Forces at the event as the senior-ranking U.S. military member. “In the past 50 years the growth of the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, and the incredible ascending of Japan to its place as a world leader, has been nothing short of extraordinary. President Eisenhower called this an ‘indestructible partnership.’ I would add it’s an indestructible and indispensible partnership for both countries.”

Members from each branch of the Japan Self-Defense Forces and U.S. military attended the event, which underscores the nature of the joint environment and the importance of each service component in maintaining peace and security in the region.

Although Japan’s constitution restricts their military force to self-defense only, since the signing of the treaty the Japan Self-Defense Forces have played an increasingly global role in providing security, stability and humanitarian assistance. Japan forces supported operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom for years with maritime refueling and reconstruction assistance. Maritime forces are helping anti-piracy efforts in the Horn of Africa. And now, Japanese Airmen are delivering supplies and medical experts to Haiti to help with disaster relief efforts following the devastating earthquake there.

“I think all of those events are a direct result of the cooperative planning and training that is a result of our very strong alliance,” said Navy Capt. Jim White, U.S. Embassy defense and naval attaché.

The treaty, signed during the height of the Cold War, gives the U.S. access to bases, infrastructure and other support in Japan in exchange for the U.S.’ commitment to aid in the cooperative defense of Japan should an armed attack occur here. The Cold War ended two decades ago, but both countries pledge to continue the long-standing partnership.

“We face new challenges now with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and regional nuclear threats,” said Rear Adm. Tsutomu Anzai, Maritime Self-Defense Force director general of administration. “To overcome these new challenges, we’ll need a very good relationship and strong alliance between Japan and the United States.”

The admiral believes the two nations can strengthen the alliance with more top-level military and political dialogue, by integrating operations and communication between all ranks in counterpart and joint services, and through bilateral exercises.

The two defense departments will get the chance to demonstrate and enhance the alliance’s strength during a major bilateral, joint exercise known as Keen Edge, which runs Jan. 22 to 28. All U.S. and Japanese services are involved in the command post exercise, and this year even the PACOM commander and his staff are participating.

The security treaty makes bilateral exercises like Keen Edge possible and successful because the treaty is what authorizes U.S. forces to be based in Japan. Building mutually beneficial relationships here requires frequent personal and professional, face-to-face engagements, which is one of the key reasons for U.S. forward presence in Japan.

Those relationships are built on a “shared vision of peace, prosperity, democracy and regional stability,” said Lt. Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., commander of U.S. Forces Japan and 5th AF, which combined with 13th AF Detachment 1, serve as the U.S. Air Force’s “face” in Japan.

That shared vision is likely to last well into the future, which puts no expiration date on the security treaty.

“This is another beginning for the alliance with the United States,” said Air Self-Defense Force Col. Yutaka Takahashi, lead liaison officer for 5th AF. “We’ll have to work hard together, enhance each other’s capabilities and help each other out, but this vital alliance should last another 50 years.”