Saturday, March 29, 2008

Accountability comes to the alliance?

Chalk up another first for the Japanese political system.

For the first time since it was created in 1978, the "sympathy budget" by which Japan subsidizes the presence of US forces in Japan will not be passed before the end of the fiscal year, due to demands from the DPJ for more thorough deliberation. The bill, a three-year extension of the current host-nation support arrangement, will pass the HR at the beginning of April, but since the DPJ is expected to use HC deliberations to question the bill, it will most likely not take effect until the beginning of May.

The material impact of this delay is negligible. The US will have to take responsibility for paying civilian laborers and utility bills. The relocation of US aerial exercises from Okinawa to the mainland, scheduled to be paid for by Japan, will likely be delayed until May.

The political significance of the delay, however, is enormous. I wrote last week that the Japanese contribution to construction on Guam could be a cause for delay in the project as a result of the DPJ's desire for oversight. Consider this a preview. The DPJ has made no secret of its eagerness to scrutinize how every taxpayer yen is spent in relation to the alliance — and it will take every opportunity to do so. Every bill related to the alliance that comes before the Diet will be an opportunity for the DPJ to search for and expose fraud, waste, and abuse.

The government is worried about the impact DPJ scrutiny will have on the alliance. Foreign Minister Komura said, "I have no doubt that US confidence (in Japan) is diminishing. I am worried that the US-Japan alliance's deterrent power is weakening."

On the contrary, I hope that DPJ oversight is the beginning of a more robust and equitable alliance relationship, one in which Japan raises its voice in alliance deliberations. In this sense, last year's fight over the MSDF refueling mission in the Indian Ocean was the DPJ's first broadside in a long-term struggle to introduce accountability into the alliance. For too long the relationship has gone unquestioned outside the editorial pages of Akahata. But questions need to be asked. Who owes who what? What are the obligations of each ally? Should this arrangement change? Hopefully DPJ members will raise these questions in the next month of HC deliberations on this bill.


Bryce said...

I agree wholeheartedly. The sympathy budget is a product of the perception that many Americans (particularly in Congress) harboured about Japan getting a "free ride" on defence. Yet the alliance serves American interests as well as Japanese. It is about time it came under scrutiny.

Anonymous said...

The more this split parliament goes on, the more epochal the change reveals itself to be. It turns out the opposition didn't need to win power to undermine the corrupt, and fundamentally anti-democratic, nature of the ancien regime. (A regime from which the US also benefited.)

Think of the messy questions of accountability being injected into debate over the temporary gasoline tax, central bank governorship, alliance spending, etal; it's wonderful having a functioning opposition for the first time in almost fifty years, wouldn't you agree?

David said...

I think it's great if this alliance is debated and examined in Japan. Would be even nicer if the US examined it too, and had a serious public debate about it. Neither has happened before that I am aware of.

A real opposition party in Japan? I am still cynical on this, but maybe, just maybe this time it could happen. I'd still bet against it though...