The administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has played down Japanese public sentiment against the U.S. military presence, believing that most people approve of it in general but object when their own community is affected.

However, strong anti-U.S. military sentiment in various communities — exemplified by the opposition shown by Iwakuni (Yamaguchi Prefecture) residents in a March 12 referendum to a plan to host carrier-based warplanes at the U.S. Marine Corps air station there — could change the generally favorable public opinion. The government should closely watch public opinion on this issue.

As for the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, many Japanese are irked by reports that Washington is asking Tokyo to pay 75 percent of the estimated $10 billion cost to relocate 8,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam.

It is hard to understand why Japan must help pay the cost of building a new base on territory where Japan has no sovereignty. The spending is unwarranted, even if it is interpreted as part of host-nation support for the U.S. military.

Under Article 24 of the Japan-U.S. status-of-forces agreement (SOFA), Japan is required to defray only the cost of leasing facilities, related areas and rights of way. However, in 1978, then Defense Agency Director General Shin Kanemaru tentatively decided to make an exception for the Japanese government’s contribution of 6.2 billion yen a year to help pay part of the salaries of Japanese workers on U.S. military bases. The decision was made in light of increasing U.S. difficulties in paying the cost of maintaining military bases in Japan due to Washington’s growing budget deficits and the appreciation of the yen.

In 1987 Japan and the United States signed a special agreement, subject to review every five years, on host-nation support, which has expanded to cover repair and maintenance costs for military housing, most salaries for Japanese workers, on-base utility bills, and the cost of moving U.S. troops on drills. Under the 2006 government budget, host-nation support amounts to 232.6 billion yen.

Japan has been troubled by a sharp increase in budget deficits while trying to tame deflation since the economic bubble burst. The proportion of deficit to gross domestic product has increased to the highest level among industrial countries. According to statistics compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japan’s outstanding debt in 2005 skyrocketed to 161.1 percent of GDP, the highest among the seven leading industrialized countries and almost triple the comparable U.S. rate of 66.4 percent. The Japan-U.S. gap continues to widen, after the Japanese rate exceeded the U.S. figure in 1994.

The U.S., far from showing some sympathy for Japan’s fiscal problems, is moving to demand more exceptions — that is, increases — in host-nation support under SOFA. The U.S. should not use Japan as its pocketbook.

In a speech to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan last Nov. 30, U.S. Ambassador to Japan J. Thomas Schieffer said the U.S. has borne a “heavy burden” since forging a security alliance with Japan: “The American taxpayer will spend more than 3.7 percent of gross domestic product on defense this year while the Japanese spend less than 1 percent. In real dollars, the U.S. will spend more than 10 times as much as Japan on defense.” The envoy implicitly urged Japan to contribute more to defense.

Schieffer’s argument may seem right in terms of figures, but it is meaningless when Japan’s postwar history is taken into consideration. Since its defeat in World War II, Japan has revived itself as a pacifist nation under the war-renouncing Constitution. After the Korean War, Japan rearmed itself under U.S. pressure. This nation’s governments, however, have limited the nation’s defense spending to 1 percent of GDP almost every year since 1976. Japan should be proud of this limit, and the U.S. should not interfere with it.

Since Shigeru Yoshida ruled Japan as prime minister in the immediate postwar years, Japan has upheld the policy of maintaining light armaments. The Japanese are not ashamed of the nation’s small military spending, only one-tenth of the comparable U.S. figure.

Japan has no aircraft carriers or long-range bombers — to say nothing of nuclear arms — so as not to arouse international suspicion of its ambitions. It is only natural that Japan spends much less on defense than the U.S. Japan has a totally different defense policy from that of the U.S., which has served as the “policeman of the world,” deploying armed forces worldwide and developing new weapons even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Japanese government has expressed reservations about the U.S. request to pay 75 percent of the cost of transferring marines from Okinawa, although officials are reportedly considering sharing the cost, perhaps in the form of loans. Even the existing host-nation support is an excessive burden beyond Japan’s financial means, and it is out of the question for the U.S. to demand new exceptions under SOFA.

In announcing new national security strategies recently, U.S. President George W. Bush expressed his intention to retain U.S. preemptive strike capabilities against adversaries, despite strong international criticism of that policy in connection with the Iraq war.

I oppose spending more Japanese tax money to support the Bush administration’s dangerous strategies. Instead, the Japanese government should try to solve its fiscal problems.

It was reported recently that in the 1971 Japan-U.S. agreement on the reversion of Okinawa, the then director general of the North American Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry disclosed that Japan secretly paid $4 million to restore U.S.-occupied land to its original condition — a cost the U.S. should have paid.

Transferring U.S. marines from Okinawa will cost a lot more. No secret deals should be made on this issue.

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