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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

With diplomatic tussle over, battle now moves to home front


Staff writer

Despite reaching a much-awaited agreement with the U.S. over sharing the cost of moving 8,000 marines out of Okinawa, a top Defense Agency official looked rather gloomy Monday afternoon.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the domestic problems for the Defense Agency may have just started.

"It is from now on that we have to fulfill our responsibility as a (military) ally" of the U.S., the official said.

Defense officials in Tokyo and Washington have locked horns since the two countries agreed in October to move 8,000 U.S. Marines and some 9,000 dependents to Guam to reduce the host burden on Okinawa, where antimilitary sentiment has remained particularly strong due to the memories of the fierce ground battle of World War II, which left one of every four Okinawan residents dead.

Under the agreement reached Monday by Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Japan will shoulder $6.09 billion, or 59 percent of the total estimated cost of $10.2 billion, over eight years.

At first glance, it may appear that Japan won concessions from the U.S., which had insisted Japan pay 75 percent of the cost.

Even so, the tab for the already debt-ridden government will be big, and the administration can expect a grilling in the Diet by opposition lawmakers over the details, including Japan's funding for brand new offices and housing in Guam for the marines, as well as electrical, water and sewer systems, and even schools, for their families.

"Globally, there has been almost no precedent of spending national treasure to move military facilities of an allied country," the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, said in a statement Monday.

"The government had engaged in negotiations with the U.S. government without giving the public or the Diet a breakdown of the financial burden," the DPJ said.

Even some Defense Agency officials who took part in the negotiations were frustrated by what they called the high-handed budget request from the U.S., given Japan's already generous host-nation support and the expected benefits for the U.S. troops themselves in moving to Guam.

According to a Pentagon report titled Allied Contributions to the Common Defense, Japan's host-nation support, including both direct and indirect contributions, totaled $4.41 billion in 2002, offsetting as much as 74.5 percent of all the costs for the U.S. to station its military forces here.

"That burden ratio is the highest among all allied countries of the U.S., and we are going to shoulder more. You should look at the whole picture," the top Defense Agency official said.

The official kept arguing that Washington has stationed military troops in Japan for the sake of its national interest and is using Japan's location as a strategic military foothold in East Asia.

"American (troops) have been in Japan not for the sake of Japan, but for the sake of themselves," the official said.

Should a serious accident ever occur in Okinawa or Atsugi, the U.S. could have a tough time maintaining its military forces there. Moving troops elsewhere is also for the benefit of the U.S. military forces, not solely the local residents, the official added. Still, despite all the frustration in the negotiations that dragged on since October, the Defense Agency is eager to be an equal and trusted partner of the U.S. military.

"Sometimes you need to come into collision. Otherwise you can't build a true (military) alliance," the official said.

Other top government officials have no doubt about maintaining the military alliance either.

"The agreement will help reduce the burden on local Okinawan people, and it will be beneficial for the Japan-U.S. alliance, too" said Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said at his regular news briefing Monday.

"Thus it will be a plus for the national security" of Japan, he said.



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