Politics Strains US-Japan Ties
Image Credit: White House/Pete Souza

Politics Strains US-Japan Ties


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Security and Cooperation. Yet, rather than engaging in a celebration and reaffirmation of shared values and alliance missions, our leaders find themselves preoccupied with uncertainty—an uncertainty driven by shifting political calculations in Japan rather than changes to the global or regional security environment.

Supporters of the US-Japan alliance in the US Congress are surprised and more than a little disappointed to find such an important relationship seemingly being called into question. This concern has motivated recent visits to Japan by Members of Congress and their staff for consultations, including my own trip there.

But sadly, I came away from those meetings with an unsettling feeling that the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is playing politics with the 2006 US-Japanese agreement that moves US Marines on Okinawa in an effort to ensure that his party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), will gain seats in the upcoming House of Councillors elections slated for mid-July. While this conclusion may not be surprising, what was surprising to me were the numerous unofficial pleas I received from Japanese officials and scholars to pressure the Hatoyama government to honour the 2006 agreement. In addition, our military leadership expressed clear concern about the Hatoyama administration’s ‘mixed signals.’

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While we have great respect for the democratic process and the considered views of our ally, on the question of our agreement on the disposition of forces in Okinawa, the facts are not in dispute. After 13 years, through both the Clinton and Bush administrations, and multiple governments in Japan, negotiations were successfully concluded in 2006 to realign and expand our mutual security alliance with Japan beyond its existing framework. A key feature of this new arrangement includes relocating the US Marine’s Futenma Air Station from the crowded city of Ginowan to Camp Schwab, in the less populated part of northern Okinawa. This realignment of US forces in Japan also includes the redeployment of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, which includes 8,000 US personnel and their dependents (when at full capacity), to new facilities in Guam, and will lead to the return of thousands of acres of land to the Japanese. This move will reduce the number of US Marines on Okinawa by nearly half, and Japanese and US officials settled on Camp Schwab because of its far less populated and congested location.

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