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Friday, Aug. 30, 2002

Bush to seek Koizumi's support

Ex-Pentagon Japan chief sees hopes for more cooperation


Staff writer

OSAKA -- When Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi meets U.S. President George W. Bush on Sept. 12, he will be encouraged to think broadly about what Japan can do to assist the U.S.-led military campaign against terrorism, a former Japan chief at the Pentagon said.

News photo
Robin Sakoda

"We're in the middle of a war on terrorism, and it's a much broader war than any before it," Robin Sakoda said in a recent interview. "Broader security cooperation between Japan and the U.S. is a topic the two leaders are sure to discuss."

Sakoda served as Japan chief in the mid-1990s and is now a senior associate at Armitage Associates, a consulting firm founded by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

At the same time, he said, Japan will be encouraged by Bush to continue pursuing economic reforms, because, without a strong economy, it will be difficult for Japan to contribute further on the security side.

Sakoda, who during his Pentagon tenure worked with the Special Action Committee on Okinawa to reduce the U.S. military burden on the island prefecture, added that he did not believe Bush would be announcing any further force reductions.

He also expressed opposition to calls for a 15-year limit on a new air base to be built off the waters of Nago, northern Okinawa Island.

"I don't think there's any reason to further reduce troops on Okinawa at the moment," Sakoda said.

"And, as for the 15-year time limit on the new base, I understand the concept of wanting to limit the U.S. presence. But imposing a 15-year limit is not the answer because we have no idea what the security situation will be like in 15 years."

While offering praise for current Okinawa Gov. Kenichi Inamine's attempts to work with the U.S. on implementing the SACO agreement, which calls for the return of Futenma Air Station and the consolidation of other U.S. facilities, Sakoda criticized former Gov. Masahide Ota, who was prefectural chief when the SACO agreements were negotiated in 1996.

"At the time, all Ota did was criticize the U.S. presence on Okinawa and demand the bases be removed," he said.

"He didn't really work for the people of Okinawa. Inamine has been much more cooperative."

For his part, Sakoda is pessimistic about long-term regional security, particularly regarding the growing military power of China.

"In the Armitage report released in the fall of 2000, one of the flash points for conflict in the East Asian region was identified as the Taiwan Strait. Two U.S. government reports released last month show that China is increasing both its defense spending and its strategic offensive capability," he said. "When I look at what the security situation might be in 15 years, I have to conclude that it doesn't look too good."

Sakoda's visit to Japan coincided with Armitage's meeting with officials in Tokyo to ask for Japan's support on a wide variety of U.S. antiterrorism initiatives, including a possible U.S. attack on Iraq.

Talk of war with Iraq has made many in both Japan and the U.S. nervous, with calls in the government and private sector in both countries for the U.S. to not attack Iraq without authorization from the United Nations.

While Sakoda emphasized the U.S. was still keeping its options open, he said Japan did not need U.N. authorization to support the U.S. in such an attack.

"Japan does not rely on the United Nations to be its security guarantor. Japan looks to itself and the U.S. to be its security guarantor," he said.

In the fall, when the Koizumi government announced its support for the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan, the U.S., particularly Armitage, pressured Japan to send a destroyer equipped with the Aegis missile-defense system.

However, the proposal met with fierce opposition in the Diet, as opposition parties and some in the ruling coalition feared dispatching such a ship would violate the Constitution.

Under the Antiterrorism Special Measures Law enacted Oct. 29, the Self-Defense Forces sent several naval vessels to the Indian Ocean to refuel U.S. and British warships.

Sakoda would not speculate about what military assistance the U.S. will want from Japan if it attacks Iraq. But he made it clear that much more would likely be expected from Japan.

"Japan is an important global power with important global responsibilities, and it should not be treated as the junior partner in the U.S.-Japan relationship. It should do everything it can as an equal partner," Sakoda said.



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