Roos stresses need for U.S. forces in Japan

by Masami Ito

The United States must maintain forces in Japan to react swiftly to urgent threats in the region, including the biggest concern — North Korea — with its missiles and ongoing succession issue, U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos said Friday.

In a speech at Waseda University in Tokyo, Roos expressed concern over Pyongyang’s development of ballistic missiles and the possibility of regime collapse. Its current leader, Kim Jong Il, reportedly suffered a stroke in August 2008 and is thought to have passed the torch to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un.

“The possibility of a regime collapse particularly in the context of leadership succession is a growing concern,” Roos said. “A North Korea that falls into internal disarray would pose monumental security challenges to this region.”

Roos asserted that the U.S. military presence in Japan was important to deal with such risks as North Korea and China, with its “well-funded military modernization.”

“The fundamental role of U.S. forces in Japan is to make those who would consider the use of force in this region understand that that option is off this table,” Roos said. “The forward deployment of U.S. forces puts us in a position to react immediately to emerging threats and serves as a tangible symbol of our commitment.”

Japan-U.S. ties have been strained recently over the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa. While stressing the importance of deterrence, Roos also said it was vital that the U.S. “reduce the footprint of our forces in heavily populated areas.”

In 2006, the U.S. and Japan, then led by the Liberal Democratic Party, agreed to move Futenma to Camp Schwab.

“The arrangement is certainly not perfect, no compromise ever is,” Roos said. “But what makes this issue especially difficult is that our two nations studied and debated virtually every conceivable alternative for more than a decade before deciding that the current plan is the best option to enable us to close Futenma as quickly as possible without degrading our ability to fulfill our treaty commitments.”