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Monday, Oct. 31, 2005

Force realignment plan criticized

Bigger Japan role, lack of grand vision worry analysts

Staff writer

Top Japanese and U.S. officials boasted that Saturday's interim report on U.S. military realignment in Japan will realize the two principles they set out to achieve -- maintaining a deterrent force in the Asia-Pacific region and reducing the burden of host communities.

But reactions here a day later indicate otherwise -- several local governments named in the report as sites for new military assignments have voiced their opposition, while many defense experts see the agreement as a political compromise that may seriously undermine the bilateral security alliance in the future.

"We've agreed to findings and recommendations that will strengthen capabilities the alliance requires to meet those common objectives" of the two nations, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a news conference in Washington upon the report's release. "At the same time, we will be able to reduce impacts on local Japanese communities."

In the report, approved by the foreign affairs and defense chiefs of the two countries, Japan and the United States agreed to enhance cooperation in sharing information, improve interoperability, increase opportunities for joint training and facilitate joint use of facilities.

It says the U.S. will upgrade the army headquarters at Kanagawa Prefecture's Camp Zama into a new command organization while the Ground Self-Defense Force will also place its rapid-response headquarters there.

Meanwhile 7,000 marines in Okinawa will be moved to Guam and carrier-based aircraft will be relocated from populous Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture to the U.S. Marine Corps' Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

But Robert Eldridge, an associate professor at Osaka University who is an expert on the Japan-U.S. alliance, said the report comes up short, noting that the two sides missed an opportunity to strengthen the alliance and present a grand design for Okinawa Prefecture's future.

He pointed out that the decision to relocate 7,000 marines by moving their command -- the headquarters of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Forces -- from Okinawa while leaving combat troops untouched shows that Japan and the U.S. are putting politics over strategic concerns.

The marines need air forces, ground forces, command and control and basing arrangements to function properly, Eldridge said.

"Dividing up the marines is very unwise," he said. "It's going to cause dramatic disruption in their command and control, and in their capability to respond quickly to emergencies in and around Japan."

Eldridge also criticized the two countries' decision to transfer the U.S. Army 1st Corps headquarters in Fort Lewis, Washington state, to Camp Zama for the same reasons: placing the command in Zama while the troops will stay on the U.S. mainland will hinder their operations.

The associate professor argued that base consolidation under an overall picture of realignment should come first, followed by calculations of force reductions based on what is actually necessary.

Saturday's interim report also portrays an increasing integration of the operations of the two militaries, which will require the Self-Defense Forces to play an upgraded and expanded role.

Japan's Air Defense Command, currently located in Fuchu, western Tokyo, will be placed at the headquarters of the U.S. Air Force at Yokota Air Base, while the GSDF will place its Readiness Force command at the U.S. Army's Camp Zama.

Hiromichi Umebayashi, president of the nonprofit organization Peace Depot, said the report shows that the SDF, which has been a subordinate to the U.S. forces for 50 years, would share a more prominent role in the U.S. global military strategy from now on.

This enhanced role will have Tokyo bear greater responsibility for security in and around Japan and provide increased support to U.S. forces.

Although Washington argues that the reinforced bilateral alliance is aimed at maintaining security in the Asia-Pacific region, including China, what the U.S. actually wants is to efficiently reorganize the troops of the two countries to uproot terrorists in the Middle East, including Iraq, Umebayashi alleged.

"Integrating the SDF with the U.S. forces on an operational level means that Japan will be deeply involved in the U.S. global strategy and become jointly responsible for (the latter's) actions around the world," Umebayashi said.

He also criticized the lack of thorough Diet debate on the items set forth in the interim report, despite the fact that the agreement will result in a dramatic change to Japan's security policy.

"The people of Japan have not been able to participate in the discussion," Umebayashi said. "The government should provide the public with accurate information and have the Diet debate the issue."

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The Japan Times

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