The NIKKEI [Pg. 2 (Full), 08/13/08] reports: Kent Calder, an American political scientist knowledgeable of Japan and a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, addressed the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo yesterday. In his speech, he indicated that a change of government, should it take place in Japan, could become a “destabilizing factor” for the continued presence of U.S. forces in Japan. 

In the Diet, the leading opposition Democratic Party of Japan (Minshuto) has been calling for the government to cut down on Japan’s burden of sharing the costs of stationing U.S. forces in Japan (omoiyari yosan or literally “sympathy budget”). With this DPJ standpoint in mind, Calder indicated that Japan’s cutback in its host nation support for U.S. forces could lead to a substantial reduction of the U.S. military presence in Japan. He said: “Japan will be unattractive as a base location. With the advancement of information and telecommunications, there is no need to concentrate bases.” He stressed, “Japan should be well aware of the impact of this on the alliance.”

Click below for Zurui’s comment!

Zurui’s Comment:

I have to disagree with the comment regarding Japan becoming unattractive as a base location and no need to concentrate bases. The advancement of information and telecommunications does not replace the need for a forward deployed force.

Approximately 8,000 US Marines and their 9,000 family members will be moved from the Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam. America will keep good on its promise to close or consolidate up to five bases in Japan. The US steps to consolidate, realign, and reduce U.S. facilities and areas are consistent with the objectives of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. This means that Japan’s Self Defense Force will have to take a greater role in maintaining security in the Asia-Pacific region. Does Japan’s constitution allow for this? Will Japan’s neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region feel comfortable with the idea of seeing the Hinomaru rising in the East?

One has to remember that seven of the world’s largest armed forces are located in the Asia-Pacific region. The unpredictable security climate in the Asia-Pacific region (e.g., the Takeshima/Tokdo dispute, a rising China, the Taiwan issue, the unstable DPRK regime, piracy in the Strait of Malacca, conflict in South West Asia, terrorism, other) requires that the US rapidly respond. For instance, considering the number of humanitarian crisis in the Asia-Pacific region recently, removing too many bases and troops will potentially diminish the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

If the US had to respond to a conflict on the Korean Peninsula and needed troops from the Continental United States, it would take a Carrier Task Force (CTF) traveling at 20 knots 11-days to reach the peninsula. If it had to respond to a Middle East crisis it would need 20-days to reach the Gulf of Oman. On the other hand, it would take that same CTF two-days to reach the Korean Peninsula and 11-days to reach the Gulf of Oman if the US maintained forward deployed forces in Japan. The first troops to arrive in response to Iraq invading Kuwait leading to the first Gulf war were the Marines from the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Okinawa.

Having a MAGTF as part of the CTF forward deployed in Japan is a plus for regional stability. While the anti-American protests over the few, all be it sometimes heinous, crimes committed by US Forces Japan (USFJ) military or civilian personnel grab the headlines, those incidents do not serve as the norm for the overwhelmingly majority of hard working and dedicated USFJ personnel assigned to Japan. 

Does the DPJ understand the level of significance of the USFJ in Japan? If the US moves out of Japan, who will take its place in the region? Will it be Japan? No, most likely it will be China. Is this something that Asia-Pacific countries want? The US and Japan are arguably the two countries whose interests will be most impacted by China’s future direction but it seems that the DPJ is not thinking about what the rest of the region thinks.

Knowing that there are five US defense treaties in Asia (Japan, Republic of Korea (ROK), Republic of the Philippines, Thailand and Australia), the US has an obligation to uphold their end of the bargain (by the way, Japan has two bilateral security deals, the US and Australia). The US Forces Korea (USFK) troops are in Korea to maintain peace and stability and if necessary fight to protect the ROK and its democratic values. If North Korea (with possible reinforcements from China) decides to roll south of the demilitarized zone, USFK troops would need logistical support and troop reinforcements that would most likely come from Okinawa and mainland Japan.

With a USFJ troop level kept at 100,000, the US force presence has two effects: one is the political and psychological effect (keeps the bad guys at bay) and the other is the effect to respond to crisis (such as war on the Korean Peninsula) in the region. I believe that 100,000 friendly troops in-house (Okinawa and mainland Japan) is a better option than a DPRK/China presence at Japan’s front door. After all, the Korean Peninsula could become a dagger pointed at the heart of Japan.

Many mistakenly believe that the US is only in Japan to protect the nation from aggression (or as some say, “to protect Asian nations from Japan”).  While certain geo-strategic dilemmas can arise from a U.S. decline and China’s rise in the Asia-Pacific region, a change of government, should it take place in Japan, could not only become a “destabilizing factor” for the continued presence of U.S. forces in Japan but more importantly, for the peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Lastly, host nation support and the SMA are very important to both the US and Japan. If host nation support does not pass the Diet, it would affect the security arrangement. However, the DPJ’s call for the government to cut down on Japan’s omoiyari yosan does not address a key point:  host nation support is all in yen (e.g., yen payments to Japanese workers on USFJ bases, contract laborers, utility and construction companies) which means all the money stays in Japan. It NEVER leaves Japan. What happens if host nation support is decreased? The political component to the SMA is very domestic (a.k.a. economic stimulation for the local economy) and is something that is not presented in a bilateral context. Therefore, if the DPJ wants to talk about reducing the omoiyari yosan, it should present all the facts and issues. It seems that the DJP once again misses (or hides) not only the international but domestic points of view.

To view the Guam relocation plan, click here.