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Building a stronger alliance

by LT. GeN. Bruce Wright

Japanese and U.S. military professionals are building upon their partnership to collaboratively respond to unpredictable security challenges that can lead to instability in Asia and the world. U.S. forces remain deeply committed to the Japan-U.S. Security Alliance and being sincere, credible partners for our Japanese military counterparts. We have been busy as we effectively improve our readiness to defend the flags of both the United States and Japan.

Based on three different military assignments in Japan and through my frequent interaction with Japanese friends, I believe the Japanese public values the security alliance with the U.S. My sense is that most would say that U.S. forces in Japan are important for Japan’s defense and many support a strong Japanese defense posture to ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens.

Why? Across the East-Asia Pacific region, recently modernizing and significantly larger standing militaries than those of Japan and the U.S. — with histories of regional hostilities — continue to cause international concern. For many years the Japan-U.S. Security Alliance has helped reassure both Japanese citizens and those of other nations that peace and stability can be an achievable goal. More recently, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun and Gallup Inc., 39 percent of Japanese and 46 percent of Americans said they think the two countries share “very good” or “good” relations.

Yet, according to the polls, the public in both countries is increasingly discouraged about the relationship, with 54 percent of Japanese saying they did not trust the U.S. This higher-than-expected figure motivates my effort to help raise the public’s awareness of one of the essential pillars of the Japan-U.S. Security Alliance: Japanese and U.S. military cooperation and increased interoperability. From my vantage point, the public may not be fully informed about our military forces who share the same intense dedication to the defense and security of Japan, and stability across the East-Asia Pacific region. Most important we remain ultimately committed to give our lives to preserve safety and freedom for both our nations.

While some experts express concern and second guess the future of our long-standing security alliance, the partnership between our two militaries continues to grow in strength and capability. Over the past three years the most senior civilian leadership of our two governments has provided consistent, effective policy direction to undertake the most significant improvements in alliance military interoperability in the history of the alliance.

The transformation centers on strengthening the Japan-U.S. security arrangement based upon three pillars: commitment to common strategic objectives; updating the roles, missions and capabilities of both partner-nations’ militaries, and a realignment of both militaries to better enable an enduring presence of U.S. military partner forces in Japan.

An interconnected set of U.S. and Japanese force posture realignments, often referred to as the “Road Map for Realignment,” constitutes a comprehensive package of force-posture changes. These realignments are the result of almost three years of consultations between the two governments. The secretaries of state and defense and their Japanese counterparts finalized the agreed road map on May 1, 2006. U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi, Shinzo Abe, and Yasuo Fukuda have all endorsed these realignments.

From Hawaii, the commander of U.S Pacific Command, Admiral Tim Keating, is applying his previous in-Japan command experience and providing credible and capable leadership to strengthen the Japan-U.S. Security Alliance. In Tokyo, the U.S. Embassy and Headquarters, U.S. Forces Japan “Country Team,” led by Ambassador Tom Schieffer, has worked closely with Japanese ministry and military leaders to coordinate in-Japan implementation of the road map.

Both governments are taking unprecedented and substantive actions to ensure the cohesiveness of our alliance and our two militaries for the next several decades. Both sides recognize that stable basing of U.S. forces in Japan reassures regional partners, deters potential aggressors, and provides capabilities that can be flexibly deployed and employed in contingencies supporting Japan’s defense and regional peace and security. Stable, enduring basing, and just being good neighbors, required a new framework to reduce frictions with the local communities that host U.S. forces. This fresh approach resulted in bold changes to force structure and basing, and also better integrates Japan’s own very capable and complementary military forces into the transformation.

Long-needed changes in Okinawa are the centerpiece of the Road Map for Realignment. Following the construction of the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) in a less-populated northern Okinawa location at Camp Schwab, the U.S. will close and return Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Okinawa government. Futenma is an airfield surrounded by a high-density population in central Okinawa and its closure will greatly reduce noise levels there. Contingent on progress toward completing the FRF, and once appropriate facilities on Guam are available, approximately 8,000 III Marine Expeditionary Force Marines and their families will move to Guam. This reduction will allow the U.S. to consolidate its residual forces on Okinawa (about 10,000 III MEF personnel will remain), enabling the return of significant land areas in the more densely populated part of southern Okinawa.

Other significant changes across mainland Japan include: collocating select Japanese ground and air units with complementary U.S. forces on U.S. bases; facilitating civilian aircraft movement through airspace over the Yokota Air Base; and relocating most Carrier Air Wing Five fixed-wing squadrons from Atsugi Air Facility, near Tokyo, to Iwakuni Marine Corp Air Station in a less densely populated area in Japan. Prior to finalizing the road map, the two governments also agreed to replace the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier with the nuclear-powered USS George Washington in 2008.

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