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No One Benefits From US Presence

American Military Bases in Japan - Yea or Nay?

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Supposedly, the United States and Japan long ago resolved the most contentious security issue dividing the two countries: American bases on Okinawa. Washington was to consolidate its forces and replace Futenma Air Station with an offshore heliport. But voters in the Okinawa town of Nago recently rejected the plan. With Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto promising to respect his citizens' wishes, American deployments are again in doubt. The Nago vote is just the latest evidence that Japan's outdated security dependence on the US no longer serves the interests of either nation. It is time for a civil divorce.

Washington and Tokyo updated their military cooperation agreement last fall. But, given the fine print, Japan's professed willingness to cooperate beyond the defense of its own archipelago means little. Tokyo's military will not fight or even enter a combat zone, and Japan's logistics support excludes weapons and ammunition. Moreover, the Japanese government is cutting defense outlays, as well as host-nation support for the US.

The purpose of the existing security relationship has disappeared. In 1945, Washington was concerned about containing communism after the collapse of wartime Japan. Five decades later, communism has collapsed, while Japan has become an economic powerhouse. Yet, the US continues to bear a disproportionate defense burden, devoting roughly 4 percent of gross domestic product to its military, quadruple Japan's level.

Equally important, Americans remain at risk in order to guard Japan's national interests with little or no assistance from Tokyo. This was illustrated by Japan's tepid support for Washington's policies toward North Korea and China. Tokyo also has unambiguously stated its opinion of potential conflicts elsewhere in the region - they are America's problems. This relationship is hardly a serious partnership, let alone a military alliance worth the $20 billion or so it costs the US.

Although Japan benefits from this subsidy, it also suffers. The presence of thousands of primarily young males and the activities that inevitably accompany military bases fall heavily on local residents.

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