Saturday, March 22, 2008

Trouble at the tip of the spear

Most of the concerns about the lack of progress in implementing the 2006 US-Japan realignment agreement have focused on political troubles in Japan, as Tokyo has struggled to get local governments involved in the relocation of US forces in Japan to accept the terms of the 2006 agreement. With the change of government in Iwakuni removing an obstacle (and, in accordance with Tokyo's tit-for-tat tactics, resulting in the restoration of frozen subsidies to Iwakuni) and the environmental survey at Camp Schwab in Okinawa proceeding, albeit irregularly, attention is now shifting to Guam, the receiving end of the realignment agreement.

A look at Guam shows that even if the Japanese side of the process was proceeding smoothly, the US still has substantial work to do to prepare Guam to host an additional 40,000 US service personnel, dependents, and contractors, a substantial increase from the 13,000 who are there presently (in addition to 173,000 civilians).

The stakes of the Guam buildup are enormous. For Guam's citizens, the expanded military presence will mean a massive boon to the territory's economy. For the US military, Guam will become an important hub for the Navy, Air Force, and Marines, a transformation already underway as far as the Air Force is concerned. Contractors are undoubtedly excited about the projected $13 billion price tag, a number that will likely increase. But preparing the island for the massive influx of US forces will require cooperation among the federal government, the Japanese government, Guam's government, and the US military — and for the moment, cooperation has been elusive, raising questions about whether the project will begin in 2010 as scheduled.

The Hill, a Capitol Hill publication, highlighted an additional problem: Madeline Bordallo, Guam's congressional delegate, is struggling to build a coalition that will support funding for the project. The article notes that Ms. Bordallo is having a particularly hard time gaining support in the Senate, where Guam has no representation. (Another problem is that many lawmakers know nothing about Guam, beginning with its location.)

Federal funding is indispensable, because this project is not just a matter of military bases. The influx of personnel will entail major improvements in the island's infrastructure, which is already stressed due to its position in Typhoon alley and a surprisingly costly snake problem. It will entail new homes and schools. (The Washington Post reviewed the infrastructure and funding problems in an article last month.)

What does this mean for the Japanese government? According to the 2006 agreement, of course, Japan is obligated to pay $6 billion towards the transfer of Marines to Guam, meaning that Tokyo will be paying for this massive construction project. Undoubtedly Washington is eager to receive Japanese funds. But given the coordination problems that have hampered the process to date, and the oversight problems that will undoubtedly dog the process in the future, is Japanese money worth what the Japanese contribution will cost in terms of efficiency? The debate in the Diet last year over Japanese fuel contributions that may have been diverted to the Iraqi campaign was in a sense a preview for the debate that will surround the use of Japanese funds in Guam. While most of the contribution will be in the form of loans from the Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC), the GOJ's $2.8 billion direct contribution will come under intense scrutiny from the opposition — and if the DPJ and other opposition parties manage to form a government, the 2007 law authorizing the use of Japanese funds could be repealed (if the DPJ's opposition to the law's passage is any indication).

Admittedly, though, the efficiency gains for releasing Japan from its obligations are the least important argument in support of this idea, because as noted above the process is inefficient as is.

I think that the next president should offer to renegotiate the 2006 agreement and to release Japan from its financial contribution as a gesture of goodwill and a signal that the next administration will mark the beginning of a new, more equitable era in the alliance. For the Bush administration, a closer alliance has meant an alliance in which Tokyo is more subservient to Washington. The next administration can break from the past by recognizing Japan's financial difficulties and freeing Tokyo from having to pay for construction on Guam. While the Japanese financial contribution will be missed, particularly as the price tag grows, the change in tone that would result from renegotiation would yield long-term benefits from US-Japan cooperation (instead of the ill will associated with the current arrangement).

Meanwhile, the next president should make preparations on Guam a priority for US Asia policy and use presidential power to solve the coordination problems currently hampering the construction project, pressuring Congress to appropriate funds for the construction in order to expedite the process. (And the US might as well finance it from deficit spending and let China pay for the construction.)


David said...

I am not sure exactly what benefit the US would get from releasing Japan from paying. What would we get from showing goodwill? Why would Uncle Sam have its citizens pay for this move when it doesn't expect them to pay anything extra to support its soldiers fighting a war?

Does a more equitable security treaty mean that Japan will have some sort of obligation to support the US militarily, or will it be the same deal as now: American troops are expected to die for Japan, but not one drop of blood from one Japanese soldier for the U.S.?

Japan Observer said...

A more equitable security relationship means that the US is less responsible for the defense of Japan (a natural consequence of the relocation of US ground forces), which will force Japan to be more responsible for its own defense and thus more capable of articulating its own interests independent from the US.

Incidentally, I love the self-serving rhetoric about American troops dying for Japan, as if the US is performing an act of charity. US forces are in Japan — the US has a security treaty with Japan — because it has been in the interest of the US to do so. If it was such an onerous burden to the US, it would have withdrawn years ago. As it is, the continuing presence of US forces has stunted Japan's defense thinking. It's time to change that, as soon as possible.

Foreigner 4 said...

The comment..."As it is, the continuing presence of US forces has stunted Japan's defense thinking. It's time to change that, as soon as possible," needs more discussion.

Yes Japan is stunted and Japan primarily stunts itself by continually resting on Article 9 and only spendng 1% on defense. Yes, the US wrote much of the constitution, but they can change it if the public wants it - but they are not likely to.

The Japanese public does not understand the larger picture and are hegemonic isolationists to a degree. Japan is more focused on domestic issues that are right in front of their noses.

Furthermore, Japan's leadership continually has the opportunity to break out of its shell and robustly participate in other areas, but relegates itself to financial and non combat roles of military assistance under Art 9 and then get mired in tiny details of the assitance they provide (Ie: Indian Ocean Oil). Much of their operations are too centrally executed due to the systems they employ.

To say the the US presence stunts Japan is like saying a quarterback is stunting his own defensive squad in football. It is not a deep examination of all the issues that Japan creates for itself by not participating in offense or special teams. The US presence has been a vital factor in leading the way on BMD, interoperabilty, strategy and tactics while providing a sheild for Japan and "keeping a lid on the Pacific." We all know the history prior to WWII and Japan knows what it did to it's neighbors and how they feel about it deep down. US presence has mitigated hostile feelings of its neighbors.

At every chance Japanese politicians make internal political hay from criticizing the US military presence but then fail to act and make bold moves under Atara to satisfy their own complaints. For over ten years they have bounced the FRF plan around with little sucess. They allow local governments to continually stall the process and blame it on the US.

In all, I beleive Japan likes the current arrangement and is duplicitous in their dealings and their political system prevents them from making any rapid progress on anything. They will ride this wave in till they revise Art 9 or the American public catches on to the fact that they will not defend the US with the same vigor that the US would defend Japan.

Should the democrats take the White House and if they fail to pull out of Iraq (as they want to), they will look to other areas like Japan, Germany etc to remove trops as a viable way to shed military expeditures.

Perhaps then Japan will find itself in a situation where they need to act quicker.

Anonymous said...


Setting aside the usual political BS, is it really duplicity? The inability to act quickly is due to a lack of consensus on what path to take. I would argue, as Bill Totten does, that Japan having much of a military is a losing deal as they could bully small countries or get wiped out in any larger war as just a few missiles would take out their major cities, where something like 75% of the population resides.

In any case, isn't the real issue how to deal with the rise of China and the decline of the US?