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Editorial: Negotiate sympathy budget for U.S. forces based on trust in alliance

The U.S. forces stationed in Japan constitute the bedrock of the Japan-U.S. alliance. The two countries must promote dialogue in good faith based on a relationship of trust.


The governments of Japan and the United States have begun working-level talks on a bilateral special treaty that determines Tokyo’s share of the cost of U.S. troops in Japan. They plan to conclude a new accord, as the five-year agreement renewed in fiscal 2016 will expire in March next year.


What is known as the “sympathy budget,” the budgetary allocation for host-nation support given to U.S. troops, began in fiscal 1978. Japan’s share mainly covers labor costs and expenses for lighting, heating and water, in addition to expenses for the development and maintenance of barracks and other base facilities. The budget totals ¥199.3 billion for this fiscal year, and has remained at the same level for the past five years.


The security environment surrounding Japan has become increasingly severe. The deterrence capabilities of U.S. forces in Japan are indispensable in dealing with various threats. It is only natural for Japan to cover certain costs.


It is hoped that Tokyo and Washington will eliminate wasteful spending and increase transparency.


The signing of a one-year tentative agreement is being considered, because it is unlikely that the two countries will be able to strike a deal within a short period due to the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The upcoming U.S. presidential election is also likely a factor.


The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has called on its allies to increase defense spending. When John Bolton, a former national security adviser to Trump, visited Japan last year, he demanded that Japan bear four times the current burden regarding expenses for U.S. forces stationed in the country, Bolton revealed in a book he wrote.


Washington may be trying to win concessions from Tokyo not only in defense spending but also in trade negotiations.


In addition to the sympathy budget, Japan has already shared the cost of relocating U.S. Marine Corps personnel to Guam, among other things, as U.S. military expenses. Japan shoulders more than 70% of the costs related to U.S. troops stationed in this country, making it the highest proportion among expenses covered by U.S. allies.


Under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Japan is supposed to pay only for the development and maintenance of base facilities and compensation related to U.S. military bases. In reality, Japan is paying amounts beyond the scope stipulated by the SOFA, so it would be difficult to further increase the share.


By having military bases in Japan, the United States can maintain an advantage in the Asia-Pacific region and protect its interests.


The Japanese government needs to patiently explain these facts to the United States.


It is also important for the Self-Defense Forces to expand its roles and activities to effectively reduce the burden on U.S. forces.


Since the enactment of the security-related laws, the SDF has been in charge of protecting U.S. military vessels engaged in exercises. It is hoped that the SDF will cooperate with the U.S. military in such domains as space and cyberspace to improve its ability to deal with emergencies.


A toxic substance has been detected in a river near a U.S. military facility in Okinawa Prefecture, prompting the Defense Ministry to launch an investigation. It is also worth considering Japan taking a certain amount of responsibility for strengthening environmental measures.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 26, 2020.

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