The United States is reviewing the role of its military bases in Japan in line with its plans for global troop redeployment (or “force transformation” as the U.S. Defense Department calls it). This is raising concerns that some realignment plans involving U.S. forces stationed here might exceed the geographical and operational limits set by the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi should stick to his stated position that these plans should be carried out within the framework of the treaty.

The government is not necessarily united on this issue. It is now in talks with the U.S. administration to coordinate views. Internal reviews are also under way, including discussions among the three Cabinet ministers concerned: Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, and Defense Agency Director General Yoshinori Ono.

One realignment plan calls for moving the U.S. Army’s 1st Corps headquarters in the state of Washington to Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture. The U.S. is said to be giving top priority to this plan as an integral part of relocating 5th Air Force headquarters at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo to 13th Air Force headquarters in Guam.

U.S. officials reportedly say relocation of both headquarters is vital to the global redeployment strategy, particularly with regard to a wide, volatile region — the so-called “arc of instability” — that stretches from Northeast Asia all the way to the Middle East. The chief concern is that U.S. bases in Japan might come to play a pivotal role in global U.S. military operations — a role that could go well beyond treaty provisions.

Article 6 of the pact states: “For the purpose of contributing to the security of Japan and the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East, the U.S. is granted the use by its land, air and naval forces of facilities and areas in Japan.” The government defines the Far East as areas north of the Philippines — namely, Japan and surrounding waters, South Korea and Taiwan. According to this definition, moving 1st Corps headquarters to Camp Zama would be outside the purview of the treaty.

Foreign Minister Machimura maintains that the realignment issue should be discussed from a broader perspective that takes into account new security threats, such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The scope of discussion will be limited, he says, if the debate is premised entirely on the security treaty, particularly the Far East clause.

Given the global reach of the U.S. strategy, Mr. Machimura’s comment seems to reflect concerns that talks with the U.S. may bog down if they are held within the limits of the security treaty and the Far East clause. In the Foreign Ministry, the prevailing view is that Japan should be willing to make certain concessions in return for U.S. measures to reduce the military presence in Okinawa, such as moving the Marines to an overseas location, and allow military and civilian flights at Yokota Air Base.

Past events seem to suggest that the security treaty, especially the Far East clause, is already out of touch with reality. In 1996, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and President Bill Clinton signed a joint security declaration redefining the role of the bilateral alliance as contributing to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. The deployment of about 3,000 Marines in Okinawa to the Middle East in connection with the Iraq situation has effectively expanded the scope of the treaty.

It does not follow, however, that the treaty’s stated aims should be altered implicitly in keeping with U.S. military transformation. The Japan-U.S. alliance is important, but this is not the same thing as saying that Japan should accept U.S. requests in toto. Considering the mistakes or misjudgments often made by U.S. policymakers in the past — most recently in Iraq — the government should not lose sight of the Japanese perspective in dealing with the U.S. realignment strategy.

To be sure, easing the excessive burden of military bases in Okinawa is an urgent necessity. It is open to question, though, whether Japan should agree to strengthening U.S. command functions here in return for reducing bases on Okinawa. In the long run, upgrading the role of U.S. forces in Japan seems unlikely to lead to the reduction of U.S. bases here.

The security alliance will change qualitatively if, in the name of building a better alliance, Japan strengthens its ties to the U.S. military strategy through the “flexible interpretation” or “redefinition” of the security treaty. This should not be allowed to happen. The question for Japan is what and how it should act to deal with new security threats and thereby promote regional and global peace in accordance with the pacifist principles of the Constitution. To this end, an in-depth debate on security policy should be conducted.

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