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Is ‘Kobe Formula’ spanner in works?

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

On March 18, 1975, in a show of defiance against Japan-U.S. military policy, the Kobe Municipal Assembly passed a resolution that became known as the “Kobe Formula.”

From that day forward, the resolution said, any ship carrying nuclear weapons would not be allowed to enter Kobe harbor, and would have to officially declare it did not have any nukes on board. French, Indian and Italian naval vessels agreed to cooperate, but the U.S. Navy refused.

In the nearly four decades since, there has been little pressure on the part of the United States to change it. Following the Great Kobe Earthquake of January 1995, the U.S. offered to dispatch its navy to Kobe for humanitarian assistance. Partially due to the Kobe resolution, the various offers were mostly declined.

In the late 1990s, there was a half-hearted push by some American diplomats in Kansai to overturn the resolution (U.S. Navy officials, by contrast, said that was not something they were seeking). Due to stiff opposition in the Kobe assembly, however, the effort went nowhere.

Today, while many Kobe politicians, especially in the Liberal Democratic Party, say the resolution is outdated, none see the advantage of fighting to overturn it. Those who back it, including opposition parties and their supporters, gather each March 18 to commemorate the resolution’s passage and to call for an end to nuclear weapons.

What will happen, though, to the resolution under the new rules for collective self-defense?

Given the emphasis Hyogo Prefecture in particular is putting on the need to have a comprehensive disaster plan in place for major earthquakes, and given the fact that Tokyo and Washington are moving forward with plans to increase U.S. participation in disaster relief efforts based on the lessons both sides learned from “Operation Tomodachi” after the March 11, 2011, mega-quake and tsunami, it seems fair to conclude that ports near Kobe, such as Osaka and Himeji, might see more military activity in the name of joint training for natural disasters.

Under Article VI of the 1960 U.S.-Japan security treaty, the United States is granted use by its land, air and naval forces of facilities and areas in Japan. A natural disaster or military emergency in which Kobe harbor is ordered by the Japanese government to serve as a major base for relief operations might lead to a U.S.-Japan naval presence in the port.

Short of that, however, it appears Tokyo and Washington are, for the moment, content to sail past Kobe and its rough political waters as they navigate a new relationship based on Japan’s reinterpretation of collective self-defense.