U.S.-Japan relations and American military realignment in the region

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February 17, 2012 – Writing by Shawnna Robert; Editing by Charles Rault | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.

The U.S. and Japan met once again this week to discuss the 2006 Roadmap to Realignment and the 2009 Guam International Agreement. The 2006 Roadmap would relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, now in the center of Okinawa’s Ginowan City, to a more remote area of the island. The Guam agreement would move 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam. Both agreements work to lessen the costs Okinawa has to bear as a result of the large U.S. presence and have been the subject of intense political debate in Japan. They would also increase the flexibility of the forces and sustainability of maintaining an American presence in the region. According to the original agreements, the movement of troops to Guam was contingent on progress by the Japanese government towards the completion of the Futenma Replacement Facility.

In the consultations this week, the Japan and the U.S. agreed to delink both the movement of Marines to Guam and resulting land returns south of Kadena from progress on the Futenma Replacement Facility. This move makes it possible for the U.S. and Japan to make progress on each issue individually, and hopefully to move faster to realize the wish of the people living on Okinawa. The U.S. and Japan also agreed to review the composition and number of Marines relocating to Guam. No details have been decided on yet, and more meetings over the coming weeks are planned. The State Department emphasized that the U.S.’s goal to have around 10,000 Marines on Okinawa has not changed. As of 2010, there were more than 48,000 American military personnel deployed to Japan.

Following this week’s meetings, both parties affirmed their commitment to the Futenma replacement facility relocation to Camp Schwab and the strategic buildup of Guam by relocating forces from Okinawa. In a joint statement, Japan welcomed the U.S. initiative to achieve a more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable force in the region. Back in October, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta affirmed that while the discussions have taken a long time, he is confident there is real progress to be made in the coming months. The U.S. recently decided to form a leaner, more flexible military presence worldwide following the U.S. defense review. It also initiated a significant shift in foreign policy focus away from the Middle East and towards the Asia Pacific. These initiatives increase the importance of an American military presence in Japan. Additionally, with the establishment of troops in Australia for the first time and an emphasis on well-placed agile forces, the policies also promote the reduction and recalibration of forces in Japan.

When the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won the elections in 2009, the ruling coalition came to power intending to review its predecessors policies concerning the alliance with the U.S. This change in power caused concern that the 50 year old U.S.-Japan alliance would be undermined. However, while the change in government did result in unprecedentedly open and frank discussion on important issues and cause a slight delay in the process of deciding if and how to uphold the 2006 and 2009 agreements, Japan has frequently declared the U.S. military presence in Japan as a linchpin it its foreign policy and security objectives. Japan’s government continues to recognize the importance of the alliance in its extended peace since the end of WWII and continues to work to deepen the alliance to further Japan’s security strategies. With bilateral security concerns, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan boasted in September 2011 that the two parties managed to demonstrate the strength of their alliance when they set new common strategic objectives. In addressing joint regional concerns, Kan asserted that relations with China were on track towards improvement, and stated that Japan would like to maintain close coordination among Japan, the U.S. and the Republic of Korea in addressing North Korean issues. He also stated that Japan wishes to continue coordinating with the U.S. on East Asia Summit issues.

The U.S. recognizes its strategic relationship with Japan as a cornerstone in its Asian engagement priorities, including providing a basis for peace and security in the Asia Pacific in the 50 years since the signing of the Mutual Security and Cooperation Treaty between the United States and Japan. Among the issues that the alliance with Japan is a key component of includes support for resolving issues originating from the Korean Peninsula, including providing a united response to the Cheonan ship sinking and collective efforts towards a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Also, the two carefully coordinated their approach following Kim Jong Il’s death. Japan’s local insights into the Korean Peninsula have proven helpful in effectively calibrating U.S. efforts. With addressing the rise of China, Japan has proven itself a resolute partner by encouraging greater transparency from the Chinese military, pushing for Chinese pressure towards North Korea, and in carefully watching China’s maritime activities. As relations between China and Japan grow stronger, the U.S.-Japan alliance will become even more relevant in helping to promote peace and responsibility in the region while also helping to dispel potentially dangerous misunderstandings. Japan and the U.S. share significant objectives for Southeast Asia engagement, and together they share the work of promoting peace and security for the people of the region. Finally, the U.S.’s engagement with India for over 10 years has been complemented by Japan’s efforts, including a civil nuclear cooperation agreement and setting an example for being a strong and peaceful Eastern country.


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