Monday, July 14, 2008

General Rice criticizes the Japanese media (implicitly)

Your humble blogger was invited to attend a media roundtable with Lieutenant General Edward Rice, United States Air Force, the commander of US Forces Japan (previously discussed here), the sole "new media" representative sitting around a table with wire service correspondents and reporters from the major Japanese newspapers and TV networks.

The meeting wasn't General Rice's first with the press: he emphasized his desire to maintain an open channel of communication, especially with the vernacular media.

In his brief opening statement, the general expressed his belief in the strength of the US-Japan alliance, reiterated remarks by President Bush on the alliance's being the cornerstone of US foreign and security policy in Northeast Asia, and thanked Japan's coast guard and National Police Agency for the help they provided in guarding US bases before and during the G8 summit. He then shifted gears and provided an update on USFJ's efforts to combat crime by US service personnel stationed in Japan. He emphasized that USFJ takes crimes by US personnel extremely seriously, and is continuously looking to strengthen measures to prevent serious crimes and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. But he also made a point similar to an argument made previously by Jun Okumura. US personnel in Japan, General Rice said, have half the crime rate of the crime rate for the Japanese general public. He stressed that there is no way to prevent crime entirely, but noted that US safeguards have been tremendously successful. He noted that the US has prosecuted service personnel for crimes in instances when Japanese courts would not have prosecuted. US service men and women are here to serve the alliance, he said, and the vast majority of them adhere to the high standards of the US military.

It is hard to read this as anything but a message to Japanese media to tone down sensationalist coverage of crimes by US military personnel and put said crimes in perspective, perspective both in the sense of the overall crime levels in Japan and in the sense of the benefits to Japan from having US forces forward deployed in Japan (namely the savings to Japan in terms of not having to spend as much on defense as it would have to otherwise). This impression was reinforced in General Rice's answers to questions about crime.

Will they get the message?

Meanwhile, I asked the general about the progress on realignment and his thoughts on the DPJ's latest "Okinawa Vision" paper. The DPJ released its latest statement on Okinawa policy last week, in which the DPJ provided a far more detailed and comprehensive statement on Okinawa than its previous vision paper (discussed here). The position on the realignment of US forces in Okinawa — and by extension US forces in Japan — can be found starting from p. 3, in the section covering the DPJ's policies in four areas. Realignment is the first area.

The DPJ once again emphasizes the need to reduce the US presence in Okinawa as much as entirely possible. Once again the DPJ wants to remove US forces first from Okinawa, and then from Japan, although it adds a proviso stipulating that this process will "be based on changes in the strategic environment." But the document proceeds to explain DPJ policies in eight areas related to the alliance that would mark a significant break from the LDP approach. Tellingly, the document does not mention the 2006 roadmap on realignment, suggesting that a DPJ-led government would look to start from scratch and cut the US presence in Okinawa even more drastically than under the terms of the 2006 agreement.

First, the DPJ wants to revise the Status of Forces agreement with the US, and together with the SDPJ and the PNP submitted a proposal to the government earlier this year (which the government dismissed). This plan would have the US military submit a plan on base usage every eight years, hold the US responsible for providing restitution for environment damage caused by US military activities, prohibit low-altitude flights, have only the lowest necessary level of air-traffic control at US bases, have service personnel living off-base register as resident aliens, and give Japanese authorities primary jurisdiction for off-base crimes and use Japanese facilities to intern suspects, and make the US 100% responsible for providing restitution for crimes committed by US service personnel, US military employees, or their families.

Second, the plan calls for the return of more US facilities in Okinawa — especially logistics and communications facilities in urban areas and unusued land — to Japan. The DPJ wants to hasten the suspension of flights from Futenma in the interest of reducing the danger to citizens of surrounding communities.

Third, the DPJ reiterated the concerns about how Japan's host-nation support (HNS) is used by the US military, concerns that led the DPJ to allow HNS to lapse for one month at the start of the current fiscal year. It calls for a more accountability and transparency in how Japanese money is used.

Other demands include provisions related to the redevelopment of Okinawa following the reversion of bases, greater participation by prefectural and local authorities in talks on the bases, the elimination of US military noise pollution, and the use of Okinawa as a headquarters for peace and stability operations by international organizations.

Missing from these proposals is any indication of how a DPJ government would convince the US to accept these demands. Despite the use of the word "vision," there is little vision in this document, at least in terms of how realignment will (and should) impact the US-Japan alliance. Few if any of these changes can be implemented unilaterally. It will depend on negotiation with US military and diplomatic officials. Is the DPJ prepared for that? Do they have an idea of how they would get what they want in negotiations? Much of this report has to be classified as electioneering by the DPJ — making a less than reliable guide to how a DPJ government might act once in power — but it is still the best indication we have of what the DPJ will do with the 2006 agreement.

General Rice gave no sign that USFJ is reaching out to the DPJ and looking to open a channel of communication in the hope of forestalling an antagonistic relationship if and when the DPJ forms a government. He said, "We will work with the Government of Japan as it exists today. It is not helpful to speculate." He was optimistic about the implementation of the 2006 roadmap, stating that he expected it to be implemented on schedule, with the Marines in Okinawa leaving for Guamn in 2013 as planned.

I hope that USFJ will reconsider its attitude towards the DPJ. Obviously it shouldn't shift policy now in anticipation of a DPJ victory that might never come, but it is important that the military deepen its ties with the DPJ in the hopes of preventing the DPJ from running against the US military. By the same measure, if the DPJ is serious about governing Japan, it should be looking to develop its own ties with USFJ. US forces are part of the political environment in Japan, like it or not, and the DPJ must be prepared to negotiate in good faith should it have the opportunity to form a government.

I'm not convinced that the latest Okinawa vision is a demonstration of the DPJ's good faith.


Anonymous said...


Bryce said...

"US personnel in Japan, General Rice said, have half the crime rate of the crime rate for the Japanese general public."

This is a false statistic.

The crime rate often presented by the U.S. military only refers to off-base crime. In order to show that the rate of crime perpetrated by U.S. servicepeople is lower than the rate of crime perpetrated by 'ordinary' Japanese, one would have to assume either that U.S. servicepeople spend, on average, more than half of their time off base or that they commit absolutely no crimes while they are on base. Both are ridiculous assertions. Although the military is extremely secretive about such information, a study released in the 1990s showed that worldwide U.S. military on-base crime was rampant, and at its worst in Japan. Also, the stats for the amount of time U.S. servicepeople spend off base probably don't exist, but I would say that it would be far less than half of the average serviceperson's time, given that ample leisure opportunities (restaurants, cinemas, golf courses, etc.) exist on many bases.

In short, it is an invalid comparason to compare the off-base crime rates of one group of people who are "off base" all the time (the Japanese) and one group of people who are not (U.S. Servicepeople) without some sort of adjustment.

Finally, another factor that is not taken into account is extraterritoriality. Basically, U.S. servicepeople who commit minor crimes can run to their base where they cannot be prosecuted by Japanese law. Japanese victims of such minor offences are less likely to report them if they know that there is little chance of a prosecution, so the crime rate goes down.