Defense Agency chief Yoshinori Ono was forced Thursday to retract earlier comments supporting the U.S.-proposed transfer of command functions of the U.S. Army First Corps in Washington state to Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture.
The retraction reveals that there are conflicting views within the government on the extent of Japan’s alliance with U.S. military forces.
Ono and Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, both appointed late last month, had repeatedly floated ideas to expand the scope of the Japan-U.S. security treaty beyond the Far East — the area stipulated in the treaty under the unified government’s view.
But Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda had rushed to iron out differences in opinion between the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, Defense Agency and Foreign Ministry, and told reporters Thursday that he had urged Ono to withdraw his comments made in the Diet on Wednesday.
At a House of Councilors Budget Committee session Thursday, Ono said, “It is a matter of course that the current reviews on U.S. military forces in Japan should be conducted within the framework of the existing security treaty and related agreements. We are not considering a review of the Far East clause” of the Japan-U.S. security treaty.
Ono was referring to Article 6, which allows the U.S. military forces to use facilities in Japan for the purposes of contributing to peace and security of the Far East, the region north of the Philippines that includes Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
On Wednesday, Ono argued that the relocation of the U.S. Army First Corps headquarters would not violate Article 6 even if the scope of its functions took it outside the Far East.
Many defense experts argue that Article 6 has long existed in name only, given that the activities of U.S. forces in Japan have expanded globally.
U.S. military units, for example, have been dispatched from bases in Japan for attacks on Iraq.
But Foreign Ministry officials stick to their interpretation that U.S. military units were “moved” away from bases in Japan to places near Iraq first and then were given orders to go to Iraq, they said.
Foreign Ministry bureaucrats, however, are cautious about changing the scope of the treaty, some government officials say.
A government source said the Foreign Ministry rejected the offer to move the First Corps headquarters to Zama when government officials met their U.S. counterparts in Washington in late September “without hearing any explanation” from the U.S. side.
The ministry thinks “hearing explanations will be taken as the first step toward accepting the dangerous plan,” the source said.
First Corps, based in Fort Lewis, is a rapid-deployment force covering the Asia-Pacific region. Critics have said that the proposed transfer of the force’s command functions violates the Far East clause.
The most powerful driving force behind the command’s transfer is the Ground Self-Defense Force, according to people close to the bilateral negotiations.
Struggling to maintain its raison d’etre in the post-Cold War environment, the GSDF is eager to invite the First Corps, wanting to strengthen ties with the U.S. Army, they said.
Defense Agency chief Ono and others see this as a chance to give the Self-Defense Forces a more active role in the international community.
“The purpose of Japan-U.S. security includes the maintenance of world peace,” Ono said Tuesday.
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