The benefits for Japan of a U.S. military withdrawal

TOKYO —

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

Author Infomation

Taoka Shunji
Taoka Shunji
Taoka Shunji was a defense writer of the Asahi Shimbun (1968-2004), Senior Fellow of CSIS (1974-75), Guest Fellow of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (1986-87), and Co-author of "Superpowers at Sea" (1988, Oxford Univ. Press). He is presently a TV commentator.
  • 3

    qwertyjapan

    Oh my. The American posters aren't going to like this article. I can hear them sharpening their keyboards right now.

  • 0

    BertieWooster

    Nice to see a factual article on the US military presence and the massive support that Japan extends to it - on JT of all places!

    The US forces in Japan are an anachronism. WWII ended more than 70 years ago. They should have left YEARS ago. Still, better late than never.

    Bye!

  • 1

    sangetsu03

    The claim that the American military protects Japan is false.

    Any claim otherwise is ludicrous. The author is a shill of Abe, who, with Japan Inc, would love to create an immense Japanese military-industrial complex. This would be a boon to both Japan Inc, and greedy politicians who can derive great power and graft from the immense amount of taxpayer spent to support such a complex. The $4.8 billion that Japan would not have to spend to support the US military presence would immediately be spent enlarging the Japanese military, the prime beneficiaries being Mitsubishi, Mitsui, etc.

    Abe and Japan Inc are of course not thinking of creating a force which actually fights in a shooting war. But a cold war with China would allow both to divert huge amounts of public money into military spending projects, enriching their friends and associates, and indirectly, themselves. America spent trillions in the cold war, Japan would love to be able to spend more money, after all, that is what politicians do.

    War, whether a shooting war, or a cold war, is about money, power, and profit, and the Japanese people should be thankful that Japan's constitution has kept Japan out of both.

    But money talks, BS walks.

  • 0

    turbotsat

    It's a win for the USA, too.

    Bye .... don't let the door hit ya where the Good Lord split ya ...

  • 0

    Aly Rustom

    I agree pretty much with everything this article has to say.

  • 2

    edojin

    Pull the U.S. military out and what will you have ... why none other than the military of China and Russia playing around right on Japan's doorsteps. The above article is interesting ... but the writer should have interviewed somebody in charge somewhere rather than making it his opinionated article. There's more to this issue than meets the eye (in this article).

  • 5

    lincolnman

    Well, it’s pretty clear where this author’s politics lie. Speaking of lie, there are quite a few in this article – but lets be fair to the author - maybe he is merely uninformed, so let’s just call them non-factual.

    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.

    Non-factual. The correct total is 186 billion yen or 2.3 billion dollars. The author provided no reference for his figures – I’ll provide mine: http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/n-america/us/security/pdfs/arrange_ref6.pdf Note figures are 2012 annual dollar amounts that were capped each for five years per the 2011 Special Measures Agreement. Besides being non-factual, it was also taken out of context – Japan’s total defense budget for 2015 was 505 trillion yen or 41.4 billion dollars. Host nation support to the US alliance is just 5.5% of Japan’s total defense budget. So for 5.5%, Japan gets a security guarantee that includes 50K personnel and the US nuclear umbrella. Not a bad deal.

    What is also left unstated regarding that $2.3 billion is that all of it stays in Japan – not a penny goes to the US. It pays the salary of the 23K Japanese employees at US bases (who spend that money in Japan), it pays for facility construction (done by Japanese companies), and it pays for some utilities (which are all in Japan). Again, not a bad deal.

    About all the U.S. pays for are the troops’ salaries.

    Non-factual. I don’t believe the Japanese government bought the USS Ronald Reagan. I don’t believe they bought the 2 squadrons of F-15s at Kadena or the 2 squadrons of F-16s at Misawa. The new P-8s on Okinawa, etc., etc….

    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.

    Non-factual. The author needs to attend a military strategy class instead of shouting at SOFA plated cars outside Camp Schwab. 1) The US has 4 SM-3 capable ships that are integrated into the bilateral missile defense of Japan. These ships, along with similar Japanese ones, would engage any missile threats to Japan. 2) Japan currently has very little amphibious capability – they had none before last year. Any defense or re-taking of the Senkaku islands will be done via an amphibious operation. Elements of the USMC in Okinawa and USN at Sasebo would support that effort. There are many more examples but we don’t want to get too long…

    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.

    This is not only non-factual, it is fantasy. Every Japanese administration had begged the US military to remain in Japan, to include the left-leaning DPJ government in the 2000s. The plain fact is that the Japanese are afraid; they’re afraid the unstable Dear Leader may launch a nuclear or chemical/biological missile just because someone made a funny movie about him. They’re afraid of the Russians who now routinely send nuclear capable bombers and submarines around Japan’s borders. And they’re deathly afraid of the Chinese who want to carve out 90% of the South China Sea and by default hold sway over sea lanes that bring 80% of Japan’s energy needs.

    The author is factually incorrect, militarily uniformed, and geo-politically naïve.

  • 3

    Strychnine

    Just remember this...

    When the bases go, the dollars go with them. It's a double-edge sword.

  • 1

    CyburneticTiger

    Taoka Shunji was a defense writer of the Asahi Shimbun (1968-2004),

    Oh, please consider the source and logical though would lead you to see why a writer for Asahi would twist things in such a way.

    You're entitled to what you want to believe Shunji san but as a guy once in the service I know why I was in Japan. Yes we were ready to defend other allied nations in the Pacific but it was preached to all ranks that our primary mission was to ensure Japan's security.

  • 0

    turbotsat

    lincolnman: ... Japan currently has very little amphibious capability – they had none before last year. ...

    WTH?!?! Freeloaders!!!

  • 2

    domtoidi

    Japan has no amphibious capacity because Japan hasn't planned on invading another country in the past 70 years, like the US has done so often since then.

  • 0

    MsDelicious

    lincolnman

    Finally someone got it right. Thanks for posting facts with links and not fantasy and hearsay.

    Those big loud fighter jets flying in and out of Atsugi do not have a red dot on them either people.

  • -1

    JuliusCaesar

    "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."

    Answered in sarcastic Vin Diesel voice: "If you say so...."

  • 0

    Wolfpack

    This article contains numerous factual inaccuracies that can be seen as nothing more than anti-American propaganda and talking points. Yet I agree with the authors view that Japan should see what life is like in East Asia without it's only real ally supporting them. The current configuration and placement of America forces in Japan are causing more harm than good to the mutual relationship. I would like to see happen what happened with the Philippines. After the US leaves the countries can reassess their defense needs without the burden of the past coloring the relationship. I also think it would be a healthy thing for the Japanese people to feel what it is like to be alone against China, Russia, and North Korea without anyone committed to assisting them. It might give them a newfound appreciation for the value of the American defense relationship.

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