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Japan and the United States have finalized a plan to realign U.S. military bases in Japan by 2014. The plan, adopted at a “two-plus-two” meeting in Washington D.C. of the two countries’ ministers in charge of foreign affairs and defense, has two objectives: One is to reduce the burden on local citizens and municipalities near U.S. military facilities, especially the burden on Okinawa, which accounts for 75 percent of all area in Japan dedicated to U.S. military facilities. The other is to strengthen the U.S. capability to deal with military contingencies even if they occur far away from Japan.

The plan is part of Washington’s global-posture realignment effort, which includes a strengthening of its force structure in the Pacific theater. Under the plan, Japan will be further integrated into the U.S. global strategy. Thus it may drastically change the character of Japan-U.S. security relations. It is regrettable, therefore, that the Japanese government has agreed to the force realignment without putting the essential nature of the plan to a public debate.

The main purpose of the U.S. force realignment on a global scale is to deal with new threats, including terrorist attacks, following 9/11. The realignment is designed to reduce forward deployment in Asia and Europe and make it more compact and mobile. Clear roles are envisaged for America’s allies to perform.

In their joint statement, the four ministers said “implementation of the realignment initiatives will lead to a new phase in alliance cooperation and strengthened alliance capabilities in the region.” They also “emphasized the importance of examining the scope of security and defense cooperation to enhance the alliance’s capability to respond to diverse challenges in the evolving regional and global security environment.” The move could lead to a deviation from the basic framework of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, whose purpose is to maintain peace in Japan and the Far East.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi needs to explain to the people what kind of security policy and setup he wants Japan to pursue in the years to come — the most important point related to the realignment plan. To impose a new security policy without a thorough public debate would be an aberration in establishing an overall security and diplomatic framework for the nation.

In an apparent effort to reduce the burden on Okinawa, the plan calls for the completion of two 1,800-meter runways, including 200-meter overruns, in a V shape on part of Marine Camp Schwab’s land and the adjacent waters of Nago by 2014, and to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station. The U.S. will also move about 8,000 troops of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, and about 9,000 of their dependents to Guam, with Japan shouldering $6.09 billion of the estimated $10.27 billion relocation cost. Six percent of Okinawa’s area now occupied by U.S. military facilities will revert to Japan.

But the core of the plan is stepped up interoperability and integration of functions between U.S. forces and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. The U.S. Army will move UEx, a new command known as “Unit of Employment X,” from 1st Corps in Washington State to Camp Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, apparently with contingencies on the Korean Peninsula in mind. The U.S. Army command and control structure at Camp Zama will be transformed by U.S. fiscal year 2008. The headquarters of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force’s Central Readiness Force will locate there by Japan’s fiscal year 2012.

The Air Self-Defense Force’s Air Defense Command will relocate to Yokota Air Base in Tokyo by fiscal year 2010. U.S. aircraft from Kadena, Misawa and Iwakuni will eventually use six ASDF bases — from Hokkaido to Kyushu — for joint exercises.

Japan and the U.S. will also deepen cooperation in the field of missile defense. A Japan-U.S. joint operations coordination center at Yokota will include a collocated air and missile defense coordination function. A new U.S. X-Band radar will be installed at the ASDF Shariki Air Base in Aomori Prefecture; the U.S. will share X-Band radar data with Japan. Advanced Patriot PAC-3 missiles will be deployed inside U.S. facilities in Japan. The two countries are to start joint development of seaborne SM3 missiles during the current fiscal year.

The U.S. force realignment in Japan is clearly oriented more toward strengthening deterrence through integration of Japanese and U.S. capabilities.

Apparently with China’s military buildup in mind, the four ministers called for more transparency in military modernization in the region. Still, some neighboring countries may deem strengthened Japan-U.S. military cooperation a threat or an attempt to dominate the region. Cautious and prudent behavior is thus demanded of Japan to reduce possible tensions and to foster mutual trust with neighbors.

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