(Mainichi: February 18, 2016 – p. 2)
By Yoso Furumoto
PACOM Commander Harry Harris, who is visiting Japan, gave an interview to Mainichi Shimbun and other media outlets at the U.S. Embassy on Feb. 17. He revealed that Japan and the U.S. cooperated successfully in responding to North Korea’s de facto long-range missile launch as a result of joint exercises conducted from January up to shortly before the launch.
The alliance coordination mechanism (ACM) newly created under the Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Guidelines revised last spring was utilized for the first time in these exercises. Harris emphasized that “the significance of revising the Guidelines has been proven,” asserting that the Japan-U.S. relationship has been strengthened to a new “historic level.”
The ACM is a framework for seamless cooperation between U.S. forces and the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) from peacetime to a contingency. According to Harris, the Ministry of Defense, U.S. forces Yokota Base, and other relevant organizations conducted the bilateral command post exercise Keen Edge from Jan. 12 to Feb. 2. North Korea’s missile launch came on Feb. 7, shortly after the exercise ended. Harris said: “We were able to utilize the ACM in an actual operational environment right after the exercise.” It is believed that coordination on the deployment of SDF and U.S. ships for missile defense and other operational matters went smoothly under the ACM.
Commenting on the base issues in Okinawa, Harris stated: “The presence of U.S. forces in Okinawa with irreplaceable specialized capabilities has never been more important.” He argued for the need to relocate the Futenma Air Station to Henoko, Nago City. Referring to the defense of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa, he said: “U.S. forces are ready to safeguard Japan’s sovereignty. There should be no doubt about our determination to fulfill our obligation under the security alliance.”