An agreement to realign US forces in Japan, to be finalized
Monday in Washington, marks another step forward for Tokyo's
ambitions to play an integral part in maintaining stability in a
potentially volatile Asia-Pacific region.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Defense Agency director
Fukushiro Nukaga will meet their US counterparts, Condoleezza Rice
and Donald Rumsfeld, to discuss a pact that is a key part of the
Bush administration's global transformation of the American
Analysts say the realignment marks a coming-of-age for the US-
Japan alliance as a security framework of worldwide importance.
The overall package can be read as "a fresh stance not only for
the defense of Japan and surrounding areas," says Yoshihiko
Mizumoto, a security analyst at the Japan Institute of International
Affairs, "but also as advocating joint reform of the international
security environment, because it marks a systematic adjustment in
the global development of the bilateral alliance."
The agreement is expected to lead to closer cooperation between
the two militaries, as well as a more equal security partnership.
The accord provides for the relocation of both a US division
headquarters from the state of Washington and the Japanese Ground
Self-Defense Forces Command to Camp Zama in Kanagawa, making
intelligence sharing more comprehensive. It also establishes joint
US-Japan use of the air base at Yokota, near Tokyo.
"These actions will help increase the interoperability of US and
Japanese ground and air forces," says Masami Ishii, a security
expert at Waseda University in Tokyo. Boosting interoper- ability is
essential to the alliance, as is making Japan's defense industrial
environment more efficient, he says.
The driving forces behind ever-closer military relations come
from both sides of the Pacific. One factor is the friendship between
George W. Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who share views
on security issues.
On the US side, there is a desire to create a hedging strategy in
Asia, given the view that China poses a potential long-term threat.
That includes ending the regional perception of Japan as weak in
military matters, says Mr. Ishii.
He adds that for Japan, there are domestic factors such as the
abduction of nationals to North Korea, and the weakening perception
that China could be a possible ally in any security triangle among
Washington, Tokyo, and Beijing. "Such an idea was quite popular in
the 1990s, but this strategic thinking has now ceased," Ishii says.
Others argue that beefing up security in response to North
Korea's assertion that it possesses nuclear weapons is, to a certain
extent, being used by Tokyo as a cover to counter increasing
military expenditure by others in northeast Asia. "The target of the
strengthening US-Japan military cooperation isn't North Korea, but
China," says Toshiki Odanaka, a law professor at Senshu University. …