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Editorial: Japan’s financial support for U.S. military should be tied to strengthening alliance

Japan and the United States have reached an agreement on a one-year extension that keeps Japan’s burden for the stationing of U.S. forces in Japan (consideration budget) at the current level (about 200 billion yen a year). This is a provisional agreement reached through negotiations between the two governments because there was little time remaining until the current arrangement expires at the end of March. It is commendable that the new administrations in the two countries reached a solid conclusion.


Usually, the consideration budget is decided based on a Special Measures Agreement (SMA) that is negotiated every five years. The current SMA runs from fiscal 2016 through fiscal 2020, and there was a risk that, for example, the payment of salaries to base employees would be delayed if the agreement expired. The one-year extension was done because the U.S. accepted Japan’s insistence on it.


Under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the U.S. is to bear the expenses for maintaining the U.S. forces in Japan. Since fiscal 1978, however, Japan has taken upon itself the payment of some of the expenses. According to Ministry of Defense estimates, Japan covered more than 80% of the total expenses in fiscal 2015. This is significantly higher than that covered by other U.S. allies, such as South Korea and Germany.


During the Trump years, the United States demanded its allies substantially increase their financial support of the U.S. military presence in their countries. In his book, John Bolton revealed that he presented a figure that was a little over four times the current figure to Japan when he visited in 2019 as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.


In addition to the consideration budget, Japan has borne costs for relocating U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam and purchased more U.S. defense equipment. The SDF’s missions and operations have been expanded following the enactment of Japan’s comprehensive security legislation. The Japanese government should keep striving to ensure that the United States understands this.


Japan and the U.S. will again hold talks to discuss the [HNS] burden to be borne by Japan in and after fiscal 2022. We would like to see the change in the U.S. administration made into an opportunity for negotiations to return to normal. Taking advantage of the recent decision [to extend the consideration budget at the current level], it would be desirable for the two allies to start earnest discussions on the ideal vision for Japan-U.S. cooperation, including Japan’s HNS burden.


The Biden administration has been taking a hard line toward China. It is possible that Washington will press Tokyo to play a greater role in creating a security and diplomatic framework instead of increasing its monetary contributions.


The U.S. forces in Japan play a substantial role not only in the defense of Japan but also in the peace and stability of East Asia. We want the two governments to come to a mutually beneficial conclusion [on Japan’s HNS beyond FY2022] that will further deepen the bilateral alliance.

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