We must closely monitor whether Japan’s burden [in hosting U.S. forces] increases significantly in the future and whether it affects Japan’s defense spending and stance on military equipment in the name of “strengthening the alliance.”
The Japanese and U.S. governments have agreed that Japan will pay a total of 1.551 trillion yen over the next five years, starting from next fiscal year, toward the costs of stationing U.S. forces in Japan. The average for each fiscal year is about 211 billion yen, which is nearly 10 billion yen higher than this fiscal year’s figure of 201.7 billion yen.
The Trump administration made excessive demands that undermined trust in the alliance. With the change to the Biden administration, the increase in Japan’s burden has been kept within a certain range, but a new expense item has been added to support the procurement of state-of-the-art materials and equipment, which the U.S. military uses in exercises.
The government says it will improve the capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and strengthen defense cooperation with the United States because the Japanese side can also utilize the materials and equipment during joint exercises. But the situation cannot be understood without looking at the actual state of operations. The burden for the next five years will be a maximum of 20 billion yen, but Japan may be asked to take upon itself a greater burden, which could lead to an increase.
Under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, the costs of stationing U.S. forces in Japan are to be borne by the U.S. side in principle. Due to rising prices in Japan and the budget deficit in the United States, however, the Japanese side started to cover some of the expenses in 1978. It started with Japan assuming responsibility for some of the labor costs for Japanese working at U.S. military bases, and the scope of “exceptions” has steadily expanded since then to now include facility costs, such as barracks; utilities costs; and training transfer costs.
As a result, Japan pays markedly more than other U.S. allies. The percentage of the costs borne by each ally (as announced by the United States in 2004) is as follows: 74.5% for Japan, 41% for Italy, 33% for Germany, and 40% for South Korea. This situation has remained basically unchanged.
Japan-U.S. cooperation is of increasing importance as the East Asian security environment surrounding Japan grows harsher. In light of Japan’s severe fiscal situation, the burden must constantly be reviewed so that the government can gain the understanding of taxpayers.
In the recent agreement, a new expense item was added for costs to procure materials and equipment for exercises. Facility costs were also increased, including those for reinforced hangars that protect aircraft from attacks. Utility costs will be gradually reduced over the five-year period from 23.4 billion yen this fiscal year to 13.3 billion yen. It seems that the emphasis is shifting from the cost of stationing U.S. forces to the cost of improving the ability to respond to an actual contingency.
At a press conference, Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo changed the name from “consideration budget [omoiyari yosan]” to “budget to make the alliance resilient [kyojinka yosan].” He said, “We will further enhance deterrence under the Japan-U.S. security alliance.”
Early in the new year, the government will sign a special measures agreement that includes the content of the U.S. forces stationing costs pact, and it will seek the Diet’s approval at the ordinary session. Japan needs to thoroughly discuss not just how to bear the costs but also the nation’s diplomatic and security policy and its development of defense capabilities.