A report on mutual cooperation planning under updated 1997 Japan-U.S. defense guidelines will be submitted to a bilateral defense meeting in New York next month, according to Lt. Gen. Paul Hester, commander of the United States Forces Japan.

“We will present them with the first installment of our plan and give them a report,” Hester said during a recent interview with The Japan Times.

Hester spoke of steady progress in what he called a “brand new step” for Japan — building mechanisms to provide logistic support to U.S. forces in emergencies in areas surrounding Japan as stipulated in the updated defense cooperation guidelines.

Hester also said the USFJ will participate in a joint exercise with the Self-Defense Forces in February. The exercises will involve the two nation’s top leaders and focus on Japan providing logistic support to U.S. forces.

The Security Consultative Committee, or “two-plus-two” meeting, involves Japan’s foreign minister and Defense Agency director general as well as the U.S. secretaries of state and defense.

Since 1997, the two countries have concentrated on how Tokyo can provide logistic support — such as transport and medical supplies — to U.S. forces operating in undefined areas surrounding Japan.

Hester said the new plan describes “how we would in fact use logistic bases here if we need to,” but does not presuppose any specific conflicts. He said the plan, however, “covers all the logistic problems exactly.”

“Each year we will no doubt give (the two-plus-two meeting an) update of how our planning is progressing,” he said. “Planning never ends.”

The 1997 updated bilateral defense guidelines give Japan a larger role in cooperation with the U.S., while keeping within the restrictions of the Constitution — that the nation will never use force to resolve international disputes.

“It is an exciting time. Japan has recognized broader engagement in the Western Pacific,” he said, adding that the upcoming exercises will focus on Japan’s role under the new guidelines.

“During that exercise, we will in fact challenge ourselves. . . . How will they in fact support what the United States might be doing in the area surrounding Japan? What (hardware) is available for us to move equipment to Japan? Or maybe through Japan to another area?”

The upcoming exercises will in part focus on what the USFJ can do if they are unable to gain support smoothly from Tokyo. “What is important is that we have a mechanism (through which) we can ask the question so that we can get the answer from the right level,” Hester said.

He said exercises that presume bureaucratic problems in the decision-making process are common in the U.S. military. “Because this is all brand new to Japan, we will practice that for the first time with (the situation under) the new defense guidelines.”

Hester said he is unconcerned about possible resistance to cooperation from local governments or labor unions, noting it is Tokyo’s responsibility to secure the necessary support.

“This is a big change for Japan. This is very different from 1951,” when the bilateral security treaty was concluded. “It takes time to explain and make people comfortable with this new idea,” he added.

Hester said his forces in recent years have dramatically changed their training programs to reflect changing realities, citing greater emphasis on peacekeeping operations. “There are many places Japan can engage, if it wants to engage, in peacekeeping operations,” he added.

As to the heavy U.S. military presence in Okinawa, Hester said it is possible “in theory” to move a large number of personnel out of the prefecture. But he said doing so is unrealistic due to training, personnel and startup costs. “There is the efficiency of having them together as opposed to spread all around the world.”

Asked if the U.S. would continue to keep roughly 47,000 service members in Japan, he referred to a 1996 joint declaration by then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and President Bill Clinton, which said the two governments will adjust personnel based on the international situation.

“It is a question that needs to be addressed virtually everyday or certainly every year between our governments, as the international situation changes, and (the situation in Japan also changes).” (T.A.)

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