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Why move U.S. troops stationed in Japan?

Closer ties call for joint command operations.

May 16,2006
On May 1, the defense and foreign affairs policy chiefs of the United States and Japan approved an agreement on how to carry out the realignment of the U.S. Forces in Japan, reflecting the changed security climate in Northeast Asia.
The joint statement issued by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld of the United States and Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso and Minister of State for Defense Fukushiro Nukaga as good as declared to the world that Japan will be the future military hub of the United States in Northeast Asia. It also showed that Washington seems to want to take its hands off the Korean Peninsula and shift its attention to Japan in order to carry out its global defense strategy in the region, with a strong focus on counterbalancing the growing military power of China, security experts said.
Japanese military experts said the agreement allows the United States to create a joint U.S.-Japan command headquarters that will upgrade the military partnership between the two countries to the top level. The foreign and defense ministers of Washington and Tokyo also said in their joint statement that the alliance has entered a new stage.
The core of the realignment project aims at rearranging the military capabilities and location of the U.S. troops in Japan. U.S. Forces Japan and Japan’s Self Defense Forces are to cooperate and share military bases and intelligence.
Until now, the two countries’ militaries have operated separately, but the realignment project is aiming at incorporating the two for joint operations.
According to the plan, the U.S. Army’s 1st Corps headquarters in Washington State will move to the Zama U.S. Army base camp in Kanagawa by 2008. A combined military operation headquarters will work from there, and the Japanese media have been highlighting the significance of the change.
The new headquarters will be the command post for the future operations of the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy to counter any emergency on the Korean Peninsula and for anti-terror campaigns.
Furthermore, Japan’s Self Defense Forces will build their new central command center for ground troops in the same area by 2012.
Japan’s air force will also move its command headquarters to the U.S. Air Force base of Yokota, Tokyo. Japan’s naval forces’ image data collectors, now at Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi prefecture, will move to the U.S. military base in Atsugi.
In other words, Japan’s armed, air and naval forces will be merged with the U.S. military in Japan and will operate together with it.
“The United States appeared to select Japan as a headquarters in Northeast Asia to carry out its global strategy, based on the assessment that the risk of war on the Korean Peninsula has been reduced significantly,” said Kensuke Ebata, a correspondent with the British military weekly Jane’s Defense and a professor at Takushoku University. “Japan was selected because it is superior in various factors including political stability, infrastructure and financial resources.”
Other military experts said the United States appeared to decide that the South Korean forces have continuously upgraded their capabilities, and were capable of handling the situation on the Korean Peninsula alone at a primary level.
In case of any emergency, the United States planned to carry out operations jointly with Japan through its new headquarters in Japan.
To this end, military specialists said, the realignment plan includes the construction of new emergency runways at the Tsuiki base in Fukuoka prefecture and at the New Tabaru Air Force Base in Miyazaki prefecture, both located close to the Korean Peninsula.
“Separately from how things are going on with the realignment of the U.S. Forces in Korea, including the disassembly of the Combined Forces Command there, the United States made clear its intention to use Japan as its regional post in Northeast Asia,” a senior official at Japan’s Self Defense Forces said.
The news about the U.S.-Japan plan to integrate their military operations made headlines in the Japanese media soon after it was announced.
The Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported that the two countries’ relations had entered a new era, in which Tokyo and Washington will together cope with threats to the region’s peace and stability.
The Mainichi Shimbun said the two countries made a declaration that they will form “a world-level alliance” to jointly handle newly emerging factors of instability, such as terrorism and China’s growing power.
Last year, a senior U.S. military official also voiced concern about China’s growing military presence in the region. China was continuously strengthening its naval forces, and Admiral Gary Roughead, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said China’s reinforcement of its naval power will eventually lead to its entry into the Pacific. He said that the United States could not rule out the possibility that such a development would create a conflict with the United States in the region.
While the Japanese media and military experts have attached great significance to the U.S. troops’ planned realignment in Japan, Japan’s political opposition parties pointed out that no agreement has been made as to how Washington and Tokyo will divide the financial burdens to carry out the relocations.
The opposition parties said the two countries have agreed to share the cost of relocating U.S. marines from Okinawa to Guam, but no other agreement has been made yet. They said the matter would be thoroughly examined by Japan’s legislature.
The United States had initially asked Japan to pay 75 percent of the cost to relocate the U.S. marines to Guam from Okinawa, but made a concession in the end by lowering Tokyo’s portion of the share to 59 percent, saying it was taking the importance of the two countries’ military alliance into account.


by Kim Hyun-ki, Choi Hyung-kyu


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