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Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s Cabinet deserves praise for changing Japan’s policy stance regarding the Japan-U.S. security system. First, the Cabinet recently proposed a 15-year time limit on U.S. use of the facility that would take over operations of the U.S. Futenma Marine Air Station in Okinawa, which is to be returned to Japanese control. Second, it reduced Japan’s host-nation financial support of U.S. military bases by 2.5 billion yen under a fiscal 2000 government budget. These changes would have been inconceivable under the previous Japanese governments led by the Liberal Democratic Party.

The backdrop to the changes is made up of these factors:

* The end of the Cold War removed the Soviet military threat, the main target of the bilateral security system. The Cabinet sought to forestall the resurgence of domestic criticism of Japan’s blind pro-U.S. political stance as the security treaty entered its 40th year.

* Both Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and defense chief Tsutomu Kawara in the Obuchi Cabinet have objective and reasonable views regarding security.

* There has been a generational change at the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry, in which younger officials with objective viewpoints have replaced old bureaucrats who blindly accepted Japan’s pro-U.S. policy stance.

U.S. officials opposed Japanese moves to cut host-nation support on the grounds of fiscal restraint.

Host-nation support was established as a temporary measure under the initiative of the late Deputy Prime Minister Shin Kanemaru, the doyen of the LDP’s defense lobby, who claimed the funding was necessary to help deficit-plagued Washington. Did the United States forget that?

Okinawa has serious problems with the U.S. military presence. The government, in a Cabinet meeting, decided to discuss with Washington a 15-year time limit on U.S. use of the substitute facility to be built in the city of Nago. Japan’s defense chief Kawara took up this issue during talks early this month with his U.S. counterpart, William Cohen. Cohen, however, opposed setting a time limit, saying both governments should consult closely on defense policies “in response to changes in the international security environment.”

Washington’s position is that the substitute facility will never be returned to Japan as long as it is necessary to the U.S. military strategy in the Far East.

Although Japanese media played up the “reversion” of the Futenma facility to Japan, it was nothing more than the transfer of a U.S. military installation close to a downtown area to an easier-to-use, better location in the same prefecture. Furthermore, Japan will foot the bill for the transfer.

It is regrettable that the U.S. military presence in Japan, especially Okinawa, will continue, barring changes in U.S. military strategy and the Japan-U.S. security system, which is designed to protect Japan’s security and maintain peace in the Far East.

The military threat posed by North Korea provides a justification for Japan’s tolerance of the continued U.S. military presence. There has been progress in the dialogue between Japan, the U.S. and South Korea on one hand and North Korea on the other, a possible sign of future stability on the Korean Peninsula. But if peace and stability are established on the peninsula, Washington is likely to target China in its military strategy. Thus it is unconceivable for U.S. forces to withdraw from Okinawa.

Japan, the U.S. and China hopefully will make strong efforts to achieve peaceful coexistence and stability in Asia. However, we should remember that military bases on Okinawa are among the largest of the spoils won by the U.S. in the Pacific War and Washington is unlikely to give them up.

Against that background, Washington does not want Japan to promote friendship with its Asian neighbors, according to one Japanese military analyst. In my opinion, the Japan-U.S. security pact is an inevitable product of Japan’s defeat in the war and has benefited Japan in many ways. The end of the war has also given birth to Japan’s unrealistic pacifist Constitution.

It has been 54 years since the end of the war and 40 years since the implementation of the present security treaty. As a veteran who miraculously survived the fierce battle on Iwo Jima, I believe that now is the time for Japan to consider formulating an international security system, one that is not based on military strategy, to establish peace and stability in Asia.

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