(Tokyo Shimbun: December 21, 2015 – p. 5)
Japan will increase its base-hosting burden, known as omoiyari yosan (“sympathy budget”). Japan’s demand for reducing its burden was rejected by the U.S. side. Amid Japan’s fiscal condition becoming increasingly severe, we wonder whether the government can win the understanding of the public.
The Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) based on the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty stipulates that Japan is obliged to provide base facilities and areas to U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ), but the United States bears the costs of stationing U.S. troops in Japan.
Although the U.S. should shoulder the cost of USFJ under the SOFA, Japan shoulders that cost as the sympathy budget. Japan started shouldering the budget in fiscal 1971. Shin Kanemaru, the Defense Agency Director General at the time, said: “Japan will cover the cost out of sympathy.” Japan should first confirm that it is not obliged to shoulder the cost under the SOFA.
The governments of Japan and the U.S. announced on Dec. 16 that the two countries had agreed to increase the sympathy budget to 946.5 billion yen over the next five years, an annual average of 189.3 billion yen, from fiscal 2016. Compared with the amount for the five years until fiscal 2015, the sympathy budget will be increased by 13.3 billion yen or 1.4 percent.
The sympathy budget covers the costs of Japanese workers and utility expenses at U.S. military facilities. Depending on National Personnel Authority’s annual recommendations, there is a strong possibility that the sympathy budget will be boosted further.
Japan initially sought to cut the outlay from the current level, citing as reasons its severe financial condition and the expansion of operations by the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) under the new security laws.
However, the U.S. insisted that the budget be increased in exchange for the additional deployment of Aegis ships. Japan reportedly gave up on its request in the end.
The sympathy budget had decreased after peaking in fiscal 1999 at 275.6 billion yen. However, since Japan will raise the consumption tax rate to 10% in April 2017, it has continued to cut the level of social welfare services. Under such a situation, can the government gain public understanding?
The Japanese side’s burden goes beyond underwriting the cost of stationing U.S. forces in Japan. Japan shoulders a total of more than 500 billion yen per year, including expenditures for the realignment of U.S. forces such as rental payments for U.S. military facilities, the budget for the U.S.-base-hosting communities, and the relocation of training activities. If base subsidies allocated by ministries and agencies except the Defense Ministry are added, the amount of the budget will be over 700 billion yen.
The defense budget has continued to increase under the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Reportedly, the amount will exceed 5 trillion yen for the first time in the budget for fiscal 2016. Although Japan needs to respond to the international situation, which has become increasingly severe, it should not sacrifice fiscal discipline and social security. The levels of the budget for the USFJ and SDF should always be under scrutiny.