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Wednesday, May 3, 2006
Troop pact takes alliance with U.S. into new era
SDF will be handed a bigger role in operations
The final bilateral accord reached Monday in Washington on realigning the U.S. forces in Japan is not just about moving military units from one place to another.
It is an epoch-making agreement to achieve greater integration of the Self-Defense Forces into U.S. military operations, allowing Tokyo to play a bigger role in support of the U.S. forces beyond the scope of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, senior Defense Agency officials said.
"The Japan-U.S. (military) alliance has already become more than what the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty (stands) for," said a senior Defense Agency official who engaged in the realignment talks, asking that his name not be used.
The U.S. has been allowed to deploy its forces and bases in Japan based on Article 6 of the security treaty, which limits the purpose of the deployment to "contributing to the security of Japan and the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East."
The "Far East Article," as it was widely known in Japan, was considered to have limited Japan's involvement in global U.S. military operations during the Cold War through the late 1980s.
Monday's accord apparently has made those limitations less clear, with Tokyo pledging to improve SDF interoperability with the U.S. military in connection with contingency planning, intelligence-sharing and cooperation, and cooperative international peace activities.
The central readiness unit command of the Ground Self-Defense Force will be transferred by 2012 to the U.S. Army Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture to improve interoperability of the two armies. The camp will become the joint task force-capable operational headquarters for the U.S. forces in Japan by 2008.
For senior Defense Agency officials, the renewed commitment to strengthen cooperation with the U.S. military is long overdue.
Tokyo earlier pledged to give logistic support to the U.S. military, including allowing use of the nation's airports, should a crisis erupt that threatens Japan's peace and stability.
But the government has long been unable to draw up legislation or a detailed crisis plan because of strong public pacifist sentiment, and central and local government inertia.
"We don't have any details of operational plans. The U.S. side was surprised when they examined contingency plans to cope with a nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, because Japan was not ready," a top Defense Agency official said on condition of anonymity.
Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga is also aware of this shortcoming.
He took advantage of the Japan-U.S. talks Monday to propose revising the bilateral Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation that were drawn up in 1978 and were revised in 1997 to set basic directions on how the two militaries cooperate.
"This agreement signals that our alliance entered into a new status today," Nukaga told reporters in Washington after announcing the joint statements on the U.S. forces realignment.
"We will be jointly coping with contingencies and threats," he said. "Now we have to start thinking about the new concept and agenda of the guidelines for defense cooperation."
According to agency officials, the new guidelines will spell out cooperation in ballistic missile defenses, measures against international terrorism, international peace cooperation and military operational plans to jointly deal with emergencies.
The revision will be a central topic of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's June summit with U.S. President George W. Bush.
However, Foreign Ministry officials, apparently fearing domestic political repercussions over sensitive military issues, remain cautious on revising the defense guidelines, much to Defense Agency officials' chagrin.
"We don't think there will be a big problem if we don't revise (the guidelines)," Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi told reporters Monday.