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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, March 13, 2005


U.S., Japan to rework military alliance

By Richard Halloran

In the coming months, American and Japanese military officers and defense officials will be sitting down in Tokyo, at the Pacific Command in Hawai'i, and in Washington to determine ways to put muscle into the swiftly maturing alliance between the United States and Japan.

If all goes well, those efforts will produce a joint declaration by President Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi next fall that will reflect the most fundamental and far-reaching revision of the alliance since the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty was rewritten in 1960.

The critical feature: The U.S. and Japan will transform their security bond from one of senior partner-junior partner to one of more nearly equals in policy and strategy even if the military power of America still overshadows that of Japan.

Among the vital issues to be worked out, Japanese and American officials say:

Ground Self Defense Force troops trained in the Kuwait desert last November before deployment in Iraq. Japan limits its troops in the Middle East to humanitarian and reconstruction work, keeping them out of combat. Until recently, Japan considered such a foreign deployment a violation of its pacifist constitution.

Associated Press library photo • Nov. 16, 2004

• Roles and missions, in which Americans and Japanese will decide on a division of labor and which forces will be responsible for what missions to make best use of those forces and to preclude duplication.

• Expanded combined operations and training, especially between Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The navies and air forces, which already coordinate many operations, would do more of the same.

• Sharing intelligence as the Japanese, in particular, strengthen their ability to collect and analyze information and then to meld it with intelligence produced by American services.

• Revised war plans, a touchy subject which officials are reluctant to discuss in public. An American said, however: "We continually review our bilateral coordination mechanisms and processes."

• Moving a U.S. Army corps headquarters to Japan from the United States to put it in the region where it would operate and into close proximity to Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force for combined planning, training and operations.

• Researching and building a combined ballistic missile defense that would be aimed first at the missile threat from North Korea, which fired a missile over Japan in 1998, and then at the longer-range threat from China.

All of this is part of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's plan for a rigorous overhaul of the U.S. military posture in Asia. It calls for dismantling the many-layered command structure in South Korea, consolidating control into a streamlined U.S. headquarters in Japan, reducing U.S. forces in South Korea, and giving those that remain a regional rather than a local mission.

When U.S. and Japanese officials began discussing the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, the Americans focused on the command element, while the Japanese sought to reduce the friction of U.S. bases next to Japanese neighborhoods. Before the negotiations went far, the two sides agreed that they needed basic reassessment of the alliance.

In Japan, Prime Minister Koizumi formed a commission on security led by a prominent business executive, Hiroshi Araki of Tokyo Electric Power. The commission recommended in October that Japan forge an "integrated security strategy" through "strategic consultations" with the United States.

Then came two declarations in Tokyo and one in Washington that would have been unthinkable five years ago from a Japan that had wrapped itself in a pacifist cocoon after the devastating defeat of World War II.

In December, Prime Minister Koizumi's government published a new defense guideline and a plan to expand Japan's defense over the next five years. The guideline said: "Japan's defense forces are the ultimate security of its national security."

The guideline further said Japan should "engage in strategic dialogue" with the United States to include role-sharing, intelligence exchange, cooperative operations, exchanges of technology, and "efforts to make the of stationing U.S. forces in Japan smoother."

Last month, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, Defense Minister Yoshinori Ohno, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld met in Washington to approve "common strategic objectives" that called for U.S. and Japanese forces to "maintain the capability to address contingencies affecting the United States and Japan."

Machimura told reporters that the strategic dialogue has three stages: the review of strategic objectives just concluded, an examination of Japanese and U.S. missions and capabilities now started, and scrutiny of U.S. bases in Japan.

Japanese and Americans have thus come a long way in 60 years. In April 1945, American and Japanese troops were locked in the battle of Okinawa in which 250,000 people, including 150,000 Okinawan civilians, perished. Today, Japanese and American military officers sit side by side, poring over maps and tables to figure out how best to deter mutual adversaries in the future.

Richard Halloran is a Honolulu-based journalist and former New York Times correspondent in Asia.