In these post-Cold War days, the governments of the United States and its allies still routinely expose their citizens to the risks of death and destruction in the name of national security. The people of northern Italy complained for years about low-flying U.S. military aircraft, but Rome simply ignored them. In February 1998, when a U.S. jet sliced through a ski-lift cable and plunged 20 people to their deaths, the pilots argued that their charts were inaccurate, their altimeter did not work, and they had not consulted U.S. Air Force units permanently based in the area about hazards. They hit the cable at 108 meters, whereas they were supposed to maintain an altitude of at least 300 meters (600 meters according to the Italian government). They were also not supposed to go faster than 827 kph but were actually traveling at 993 kph. Nonetheless, the American court-martial exonerated everyone involved and called it a “training accident.”
Since 1975, Japanese municipalities, like those in Northern Italy, have also tried to protect their inhabitants from the menace of U.S. forces, particularly by trying to prevent U.S. warships from entering their harbors with nuclear weapons on board. Kobe began by asking incoming foreign vessels to submit certificates that they do not carry nuclear weapons. The U.S. refuses to do this, but allows the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to fax letters to local authorities saying it is convinced that a particular U.S. vessel is not carrying nuclear weapons. The ministry, however, knows the opposite to be true. In 1997, the National Security Archive at George Washington University released a highly classified U.S. government document dated April 29, 1969, stating that “Japan now acquiesces in transit by naval vessels armed with nuclear weapons” (see www.seas.gwu.edu/nsarchive/japan/okinawa/okinawa.htm ). When this document was released, NHK devoted a television special to it (May 14, 1997).
The Japanese Diet is currently debating new Japan-U.S. defense guidelines — treatylike commitments that if enacted will allow U.S. forces to occupy and use Japanese ports and airfields in the event of a U.S.-designated security “emergency.” In response, many Japanese localities have started to require Kobe-style documents. Their desire to have some control over these “floating Chernobyls” is understandable. The most important case is Kochi Prefecture, where Gov. Daijiro Hashimoto, the younger brother of former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and no leftwing firebrand, has asked the prefectural assembly to pass a law requiring “nonnuclear certificates” before allowing warships to enter Kochi ports. He claims that he is merely following the national government’s three nonnuclear principles.
Needless to say, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Agency and the Liberal Democratic Party — urged on by the American Embassy — have all replied that Hashimoto cannot do this. They have also started to squeeze Kochi financially, just as they did last year with Okinawa in order to defeat Gov. Masahide Ota.
Perhaps an even more interesting case is that of Shintaro Ishihara (coauthor of the best seller “The Japan That Can Say ‘No’ “), who is currently running for governor of greater metropolitan Tokyo on a platform of “the Tokyo that can say ‘No.’ ” Among the things to which he wants Tokyoites to say ‘no’ is Yokota Air Base. Japan’s central government is appalled by Ishihara’s suggestion and an official at the Defense Agency quickly said that “given the base’s importance to U.S. forces, it is inconceivable for the United States to give it up without a guarantee that alternative land will be provided.”
But this assumes that U.S. forces will continue to be welcome abroad, despite both the arrogant and reckless behavior of the troops and the dangers to which host countries are exposed by the Pentagon’s increasingly self-assigned adventures: bombing Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Serbia and — perhaps soon — North Korea. Other governments may one day decide that their security would be better served by not having the “world’s policeman” on their premises. Until they do so, they not only risk incidents such as the one in Italy; they also risk being platforms for U.S. military policies of which their own people and governments may not approve.
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