Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is $6 billion too high a price?

As the Diet session winds down — and the Upper House elections loom — the Upper House has passed a bill approving Japan's commitment to executing the 2006 agreement on the realignment of US forces in Japan.

Mainichi reports that the bill was opposed by all opposition parties, meaning that the bill passed by the relatively slim margin of 112 to 88.

Retired diplomat Amaki Naoto, who has written often of the need for a more equal, open bilateral US-Japan relationship, harshly criticized the bill, which calls for Japan to pay approximately $6 billion towards the relocation of 8,000 US Marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam and includes financial support for local communities that sign on to the deal.

What I find interesting about Amaki's criticism — found here and here — is that he hammers the government for its "tyranny" and for squandering the people's money paying for the US to go away (and rewarding communities that acquiesce silently).

Given Japan's dire fiscal circumstances, and that the US expects Japan to contribute more to its own defense, is it really fair of the US to ask Japan to pay the lion's share of realignment costs when even the US has conceded that relocating to Guam can be a positive good and not just a concession to Japanese opposition?

I would not be surprised if the DPJ begins tying this bill to its campaign strategy of calling attention to growing inequality in Japanese society, arguing that instead of using the government's limited budget to address inequality, the Abe Cabinet is using public funds to smooth over the US realignment. If the alliance was more open, Amaki implies, perhaps Japan would have no problem informing its ally that it cannot afford the share of the bill.

I am not opposed to Japan paying a smaller share; Japan's budgetary difficulties are very real. And the relocation of US Marines to Guam benefits the US as much as Japan, making it less likely that a incident involving US Marines (an aircraft crash, a rape, a murder, etc.) will have a disastrous impact on the alliance, lessening the humiliation that comes with hosting a large contingent of US ground forces, and making US forces in the region more flexible in case of an emergency.

Meanwhile, the door to further reductions in the US presence in Japan is wide open, now that the agreement to make major cuts is set to move forward. The day may be in the offing when Japan is home to a US aircraft carrier, an air wing, and some command elements (sharing premises with the JSDF, of course) — and that's it.

I expect the alliance will be better for it, less connected to cold war-era "Japan-as-unsinkable-aircraft-carrier" thinking that assigned Japan a passive, subordinate role in the alliance. With Japan less dependent on the US for its defense — and thus less prone to feeling pressured to support the US even when it disagrees with or feels uneasy about a US campaign — the alliance will be healthier, with more open political coordination and less fear of consequences resulting from disagreement.


Oscar said...

It is nice to see someone from outside of Japan showing an interest in Japan-related foreign policy, but this kind of polyanna thinking makes one wonder if this is not just another "America-can-do-no-wrong" neo-con demagogy.

The relocation of American troops to Guam is centered around moving the command structure. The grunts and groundpounders who have commited over 4000 cases of rape, murder and arson (and largely got away scot free thanks to SOFA)in Okinawa will largely remain in Okinawa.

Not only that, but Pentagon has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of the First Corps to Camp Zama, which will bring in an estimated 20,000 active duty soldiers within marching distance of Tokyo. In effect, Japan's cooperation in Iraq is being rewarded with heavier occupation.

The author also makes no mention of the fact that the "rachi kazoku", family members of abductees believed to be taken hostage by North Korea, were given a photo-op interview with president George W. Bush only a day before the $6billion burden was announced, prompting many observers to believe that this was the price tag of the political show.

The $6billion is not tied to any review of SOFA, which the opposition parties have long asked for. There is no mecanism in place to evaluate if the relocation has actually led to a lower incidence in GI crime. And true to Pentagon tradition, there is no accountability as to whether the price is actually right. (Does it really take three quarters of a million dollars per soldier to move from Okinawa to Guam?)

And what does it mean that the plan is "rewarding communities that acquiesce silently"? Okinawa is up in arms against it, if only because most of the trouble making grunts will stay.

There are few blogs of this kind on the internet, which makes the field open to abuse. You could broadcast erroneous views and get away with it because you have little competition. I welcome the fact that this blog exists, but putting a little more thought into the articles would be welcome.

Japan Observer said...

"Broadcast erroneous views" —

I have never pretended to provide anything more than my observations. Readers are free to think what they like.

And as for your criticism, I don't know what gave you the idea that I am altogether pleased with the agreement.

I think the sooner the US drastically diminishes its deployments in Japan, the better for both allies.

But the realignment is not going to happen in one fell swoop. That's simply not how the alliance functions; neither ally is prepared to take steps more radical than the May 2006 agreement.

As for rewarding communities that acquiesce silently, I was referring to provisions in the Diet bill providing financial support for communities that agree. It wasn't an opinion; it was a description of the legislation.

And yes, Japan should be asking questions, often, about how the Pentagon plans to manage the relocation of Marines to Guam, considering that the place is far from ready to handle the major influx.

Oscar said...

My point is that this "observation" presents a considerablly naive notion that the relocation will lead to a reduction in the US presence in Japan. Every signal from Washington points to the idea that Japan will be welcoming a huge increase in American soldiers on its soil in the near future. I didn't say you were "pleased". I said your views were "erroneous", that is to say, you missed the bus. And the whole of my "criticism" amounts to "this article should be taken with a big grain of salt". If you don't like that, you shouldn't be posting.