Statements during the American election campaign by people uninformed or uninterested in foreign policy were like a mixture of bits and pieces stirred into a fruit punch. Yet there was a certain consistency of opinion that “we can no longer be the world’s policeman” and “we must fundamentally reevaluate our alliances.” With the end of the Cold War, the Eastern Bloc has disappeared. That the Western alliances remain unchanged is a historic anomaly. Reevaluation is sorely needed.
This year Japan is paying 556.6 billion yen ($4.8 billion) for the stationing of U.S. forces here, 165.8 billion yen ($1.5 billion) for land-leases, and, according to last year’s figures, 8.8 billion yen ($77 million) to subsidize the bases. About all the U.S. pays for are the troops’ salaries. If our costs go any higher, we should consider treating the U.S. military as a mercenary force under the command of Japan’s Self Defense Forces.
The claim that the American military protects Japan is false. There is no component of U.S. forces here with the mission to directly defend Japan. For example, the 7th Fleet is based at Sasebo and Yokosuka to maintain American naval supremacy in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The Marines, which are used in land warfare, ride aboard their ships. They do not defend Okinawa. The fighter aircraft at Kadena Air Base (Okinawa Prefecture) and Misawa Air Base (Aomori Prefecture) are deployed to the Middle East. All of Japan’s air space is defended by Air SDF. In Okinawa the U.S. Air Force’s ammunition depot at Kadena and the Navy’s storage facilities at White Beach have nothing to do with defending Japan.
However, if U.S. forces were to return to the United States, the American government would have to pay for them. Therefore, as has been noted in Congress any number of times, it is cheaper to keep them in Japan. According to the U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines, “Japan is fully responsible for the defense of its people and territory ... supplemented by U.S. forces.” Even if American forces were to leave, there would be no gap in Japan’s defenses. Should the U.S. seek to increase Japan’s financial burden now, it would violate the host nation support agreement (“sympathy budget”) concluded late last year for a five-year term, meaning that it is OK anytime for the U.S. to kick around Japan.
The benefits of withdrawing U.S. forces would include (1) solving the base problem in Okinawa, (2) relieving Japan of an annual burden of close to 557 billion yen ($4.8 billion), and (3) greatly reducing the nuclear threat since, if U.S. bases in Japan were removed, North Korea would have no reason for missiles targeting them, or South Korean and U.S. bases in Korea.
Realistically speaking, America is unlikely to relinquish its position as the world’s No. 1 sea power. If the U.S. wants to maintain naval supremacy in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, it cannot abandon its ship maintenance and repair facilities at Yokosuka and Sasebo. The U.S. currently uses the airfield at Iwakuni (Yamaguchi Prefecture) for planes assigned to its aircraft carriers, and the bases in Okinawa for Marines on stand-by for deployments. But the Marines do not have to be in Okinawa. They could move to the Ground SDF’s Ainoura Garrison, conveniently located in Sasebo (Nagasaki Prefecture) next to the U.S. Navy Base.
Finally, if in the future Japan told the U.S. it was free to pull out its forces, the U.S. would probably want them to stay. In the meantime, in demanding Japan pay more for them, Trump would seem to have his “trump card,” but Japan would actually have the upper hand. Overcoming the myth that American forces protect Japan would give us the chance to clearly assert our true interests. The Foreign Ministry and the administration would then need to muster the courage to let President Donald Trump play his card.
The Asia-Pacific Journal