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SECURITY

Providing bases to U.S. military is big contribution

The Special Measures Agreement stipulating Japan’s host nation support will expire at the end of FY2020. What course of action should Japan take in the coming negotiations? We asked Masahiro Akiyama, who had served as an administrative vice-minister of defense and worked to redefine the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

 

–We are now approaching the point where Japan-U.S. alliance is evaluated in monetary terms.

 

Under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Japan has an obligation to provide the U.S. military forces with bases. This incurs a large expense on Japan’s part, including such items as rent and compensation fees. The fact that we have continuously made bases available to the U.S. military is in itself a big contribution. After the Cold War ended, many U.S. bases in Europe were returned to the host countries. On the other hand, to this day, Japan has kept the U.S. bases in the country including in Okinawa. The relocation of the Futenma airbase within Okinawa prefecture has stalled, because in the post-Cold War era, building a new foreign military base is an extremely difficult proposition by definition. Japan must make President Trump understand how challenging it is to keep bases available for them.

 

–What do you think of Japan’s current host nation support?

 

Within the scope of SOFA, Japan has been paying expenses for base workers’ welfare and other allowances, as well as for maintenance of facilities, including military housing and barracks. In addition, we have been paying salaries of the base workers despite the fact that the U.S. is responsible for them under SOFA. All that remains is for us is to pay the wages of the U.S. military. The U.S. military is deployed all over the world in accordance with its national strategy. If we paid labor costs for the U.S. military, they would no longer be an ally; they would be mercenaries. That would not be an alliance. 

 

–President Trump is demanding NATO countries increase defense spending, and the NATO nations have set the goal at 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP).

 

Approximately 40% of the defense budget in Japan is spent on labor. Equipment only accounts for about 20%. In comparison with other countries, Japan’s procurement cost for each piece of equipment is extremely high. I understand that it’s important to purchase domestic equipment, but the production cost is high in Japan because we only produce a very small number. I believe we should try to improve this situation before we start discussing the ratio of defense spending to the GDP.

 

We cannot realistically expect our defense spending to reach 2% of the GDP in next ten years or so. Instead, I believe we should aim for a little over 1% for the time being.

 

Japan’s role after 60 years of revised security treaty

 

–This year marks the 60th anniversary of the amendment to the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

 

At this important juncture, we need to take time to contemplate independently and seriously the future course of Japan and its national security in the current security environment within the framework of the Japan-U.S. alliance. In other words, we should increase the role we play in the security treaty.

 

Under the principle of exclusive defense stipulated in Article 9 of the Constitution, Japan takes a stance as the shield, while the U.S. acts as the sword. Although this basic posture will not change, some variations are possible. For example, we can start planning developing offensive capabilities to attack (or counterattack) enemy bases, such as missile bases. Another example is exercising the right of collective self-defense that was partially allowed under the security laws.

 

–The U.S. is poised to demand an increase in host nation support in the next special agreement.

 

It is possible they will demand payment for expenses incurred by the U.S. military activities and training for the purpose of defending Japan.

 

Masahiro Akiyama (former administrative vice-minister of Defense)

Born in 1940. After joining the Ministry of Finance, Akiyama moved to the Defense Agency (current the Ministry of Defense). He was Vice-Minister of Defense from 1997 to 1998.

Akiyama was involved in redefining the Japan-U.S. Security Alliance, formulating the Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security in 1996 and re-evaluating the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation in 1997. 

 

Interviewer: Takateru Doi, senior staff writer

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