US Troop Realignment and Japan
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
Recent reports indicate that the Japanese government is stalling on the issue of US troop realignment in Japan. Senior journalist for the Asahi Shimbun, Yoichi Funabashi, states that Japan's delay tactics are provoking considerable frustration in the US. Japan is a key component in the US realignment, which anticipates moving anywhere between 60,000 to 70,000 soldiers out of bases worldwide within ten years. High on the agenda for the United States is pressing Japan to move quicker on deploying ballistic missiles and taking a more "forward" posture when it comes to security issues. This would give the US increased mobility and allow it to meet its hope of transforming US troops in Japan into a "migrating force" that can be deployed as seen fit along the so-called "arc of instability," all along being buffered by a Japanese commitment to fill the gaps.
The Japanese government, however, sees this proposal as "politically difficult" to accept. Its neighbors in East Asia have already expressed caution toward such a prospect as it would not only extend the threat of US military attack into the region but also incorporate Japan into this framework. Japanese officials have voiced concern that their adoption of such a role goes against the US-Japan Security Treaty, which limits US-Japan military cooperation to the Far East. Although, the geographical expanse of the Far East has never been clearly defined, Somalia and Iraq certainly go beyond those boundaries.
The real problem not expressed by Japanese officials is that America's "arc of instability", which extends from Somalia to Southeast Asia, and in some cases includes China and North Korea, is based on preconceived notions that vilify all peoples that live in these places. It is no coincidence that this "arc" incorporates much of the Islamic world. By classifying these areas as the breeding grounds of terror and these peoples as the primary agents of threat in the twentieth century, the United States defense establishment is demonizing diverse peoples who have nothing to do with terrorism and pose no threat to the United States or global peace. Japan's participation in such a world vision would be disastrous. Japan depends on peaceful relations with the rest of Asia if it is to prosper as a democratic and war renouncing country. Although, reports that the US is willing to withdraw up to 10,000 troops from Japan is encouraging for many who have borne the brunt of their fifty year heavy handed presence, there is no guarantee that a "migrating" US troop presence to Japan will ease their burden or make Japan safer. To the contrary, Japanese will have less say in what weapons the US military brings into Japan and for what purpose they are used and, if everything proceeds as the Pentagon hopes it will, Japan will be more involved in US military action overseas than ever before.