Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Okinawa syndrome: Japan US blurred military alliance

Reporting from Okinawa JASDF air base

How to understand why the US Japan Military alliance put
itself into an impasse, appearing in a state of
confusion to the observers today following last Japanese
election, when the Democratic Party of Japan came into

While U.S. officials are eager for Japan to accept a
2006 agreement to move Marine Corps air operations on
Okinawa, Prime minister Hatoyama considers having a
mandate calling for changes in the US Japan alliance,
especially the Okinawa - Futenma issue. The whole
alliance fundamentals, jolted by the Japanese democrats,
is now getting blurry.

I have my own perception after years of work, interviews
and reports about US and Japan military bases. This is
the "Relocation" part.

I also selected to quote 2 articles I found informative,
from colleagues including 2 based in Tokyo. The first
report is from Asia Times Takahashi-san about the
genesis of US Japan relationship, the second one from
Halden and Pomfret of the WP which I found factual and
introducing the perception of the problem at this time
from Tokyo.


My own view of the problem is, first of all, that there
is not much respect here of the agreement settled under
prime minister Hashimoto Ryutaro in 1996 (the
administration headed by Prime Minister Ryutaro
Hashimoto reached an agreement in 1996 with the United
States on the return of Futenma Air Station to Japan.
The relocation issue has made little progress, primarily
due to the reluctance of the successive Japanese
governments and Okinawa locals) despite the 2006 deal.

Second, I agree with other observers that the 2010 50th
anniversary of the of the 1960 Revised Mutual Security
Treaty (which declares that both nations will maintain
and develop their capacities to resist armed attack in
common and that each recognizes that an armed attack on
either one in territories administered by Japan will be
considered dangerous to the safety of the other) would
be the appropriate agenda to elaborate an update
"alliance concept" between Japan and the USA.

With 3 elements:

. Time is precious and Hatoyama' s administration plays
the card of delaying any related decision prior to 2010

. The issue of the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan
was also scheduled for completion by the end of 2014.

. An Alliance to be defined

In short, the changes occurred in the North East Asia
region's modified the geopolitical configuration. So
THE question remains : Is the US-Japan alliance, simply
said, a local tool for peace and protection of the
Japanese archipelago by the US forces and not built as a
military alliance with various options of regional or
global "perspectives"?

Much has to be done by Japan on the Constitution and
therefore the issue is now to be or not to be settled by
Japanese politicians. This is where there is a major
problem today. The new Hatoyama administration appears
as being busy with current immediate needs to deliver
its Manifesto, especially the social and economical
promises to voters, and less busy on the need for Japan
to play a global military role.

In this regard, the current Japanese budget discussions
and conflict in the Hatoyama administration, and, the
issue of relocating the US Marine Corps Futenma Air
station in or out of Okinawa prefecture prove without
euphemism that a certain confusion reigns today at the
top - level of Japan executive power.

How the Hatoyama administration will get rid of this
state of confusion for a relation said to be essential
to both nations and the peace in this region? How will
Hatoyama answer to his coalition and the Japanese people
who voted for his Manifesto?

These are just a few thoughts of mine on this complicated
"non- consumed marriage", to quote friends of mine Lance
Gatling and Sam Jameson.

Following are the 2 articles of Asia Times & Washington Post

1) "Japan : A new battle over Okinawa" by Kosuke Takahashi


"... As Hatoyama's new administration undertakes a
thorough review of Japan's alliance with the US, one
which is likely to raise concern in Washington,
Japan-American relations face a fundamental political

Hatoyama and his center-left Democratic Party of Japan
(DPJ) unseated the pro-US Liberal Democratic Party
(LDP) in a House of Representatives election on August
30, ending the LDP's near-perpetual one party rule of
the past half century.

Nonetheless, the LDP appears to have finally completed
its historical mission in the post-Cold War era -
supporting Japan's military role as an anti-communist
bastion of the US against China and Russia.

The US "nuclear umbrella" has protected Japan against
potential adversaries such as China, North Korea and
Russia, while assuring other states in the region that
suffered under Japan's colonial rule that Tokyo would
not return to its militaristic past.

Due to the US nuclear deterrent, Japan has enjoyed a
generally stable strategic outlook, with its population
wary of major change and militarization since the end
of World War II, a legacy of the US atomic bombings of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Previous LDP
governments have mainly focused on national interests
and on economic growth.

The era of Japan's strong pacifism, as enshrined in the
US-imposed "peace constitution", determined the posture
and structure of Japan's military forces to defend the
nation and made the security alliance with the US the
centerpiece of Japanese security policy in the post-war

"The [Harry S] Truman and [Dwight D] Eisenhower
administrations saw a resurgent Japanese economy as the
engine of growth in the Asia-Pacific region," Cronin
said. "Providing an unsinkable aircraft carrier in
exchange for Japan's economic revival was a deliberate
political choice made by Washington and Tokyo based on
their vital interests at the time of the original 1951

During the 2001 to 2006 Junichiro Koizumi
administration, a symbol of Japan's reformist policy,
Japan aimed to strengthen bilateral military and
security ties with the US - a drive reinforced by
China's military buildup, North Korea's nuclear crisis
and the global threat of terrorism.

The US-Japan security alliance under former US
president George W Bush and Koizumi is often referred
to as a "golden era" between the two countries. Koizumi
deployed Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces (JGSDF) units
to Iraq to contribute to America's war against

The new leaders in Tokyo still regard US strike
capabilities and the nuclear deterrence provided by the
US as essential for Japan's overall security - as well
as for peace and security in the region - but they do
not necessarily see it as essential for the nation's
economic development. Enormous economic growth in East
Asia - especially in China, which is a 1.3 billion
consumer market - is changing the structure of
worldwide and regional business and industry.

Hatoyama has called for an East Asian "community" to
develop to the extent that it resembles an Asian
version of the European Union. He also advocates a
common Asian currency as a natural extension of the
rapid economic growth in the region. Hatoyama aims to
conduct a swift shift in Tokyo's axis of cooperation
towards other Asian nations.

The DPJ, the dominant party in the ruling coalition led
by Hatoyama, has advocated policies of multilateral
cooperation while calling for a more equal partnership
with the US. The DPJ has often refused to support US
policies, most notably the war in Iraq, and has
criticized post-war Japanese diplomatic policy as
"toeing the US line".

Japan's newly elected government was voted into office
on a platform of curtailing the US military presence on
Okinawa, where 75% of all US forces in Japan are
located. In an Upper House question-and-answer session
on October 29, Hatoyama said the review of Japan's
alliance with the US would be "comprehensive". He
later told reporters that it would cover Japanese
funding of US bases, the Status of Forces Agreement
(SOFA) and the relocation of the Futenma station.

Hatoyama said his government was exploring the
possibility of reducing Japan's host-nation spending on
US military bases. This so-called "sympathy budget"
began in 1978 and covers utilities and other expenses.

The allocation for fiscal year 2009 comes to 189.7
billion yen (US$2.1 billion). With government debt
expected to reach 187% of gross domestic product this
year, foremost among major economies, Tokyo no longer
wants to outlay the large sums of money it currently
pays to support US military forces in Japan. This
fiscal restraint also places a limit how much it can
spend to modernize its Self Defense Forces (SDF)

The SOFA, which governs US military operations in Japan
and legal arrangements for its personnel, has not been
revised for nearly half a century. A group of
governors representing prefectures that host military
facilities, such as the Okinawa and Kanagawa
prefectures, have called for a clause covering
environmental pollution and destruction at US military
bases in Japan.

In terms of the relocation of Futenma, the prime
minister said "various options" would be considered.
The government inherited the 2006 Japan-US agreement
that calls for relocating the base within Okinawa, but
Hatoyama has indicated that he will seek to relocate
the air station outside of Okinawa, possibly even
outside Japan.

Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has floated the
idea of merging Futenma's heliport functions with the
nearby Kadena Air Base - the largest US military base
in the Far East.


Under US pressure, Japan has also announced it will
spend as much as $5 billion over the next five years to
help with the reconstruction of war-torn Afghanistan.

"The majority of the Japanese won't accept that Afghan
aid," Japanese military analyst Toshiyuki Shikata (1)
told Asia Times Online. "Historically, Alexander the
Great, the British Empire and the Soviet Union all
failed to conquer Afghanistan. The US, as an oceanic
state, will have further difficulties to control
Afghan, which is just surrounded by mountainous areas
and lands. It's not cost-effective for the US."

End of quotes.

(1) Counselor to the Governor of Tokyo and a former
Lieutenant-General of GSDF, note added by Asian

2) Second and last quotes with the Washington Post.
"U.S. struggles to keep step with Japan's shifting
foreign policy"

"...A senior administration official said he thinks
Japan's new leaders will ultimately agree to the deal,
given the enormous public support for the security
alliance with the United States. "It'd be very
destructive to them domestically to be seen as casual
or indifferent to the alliance," he said. "In Japan,
it would be a dominant national issue, and so I think
the Japanese leadership has a huge stake in not being
seen as mismanaging this issue..."

Air-base in Okinawa, one of a dozen US military forces bases

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