A SOLITARY crime is gradually provoking the most serious
reexamination of the US-Japan security alliance in decades.
Ever since three American servicemen based on the southern
Japanese island of Okinawa were named last month as suspects in the
rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl, many Japanese have demanded
change in the arrangement.
Some merely want a treaty modified so that Japanese police can
investigate crimes involving American military personnel more
easily. Others want the US military presence in Japan -
particularly in Okinawa, where two-thirds of the approximately
45,000 American troops are based - curtailed. Still others want the
Americans to leave altogether.
When President Clinton comes here next month for meetings with
Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, the two leaders will likely issue
a joint statement on the US-Japan security relationship.
But comments by officials in Tokyo and Washington suggest the
two leaders won't announce any significant reductions in the
deployment of US forces here or in the land area they occupy.
US officials have defended the security arrangement, calling it
the bedrock of America's "most important" bilateral relationship.
Furthermore, Washington does not want a controversy in Japan to
inspire calls for similar changes in other countries, where US
troops are based.
The furor over the rape has brought to the surface a number of
Japanese concerns over the security arrangement. The concerns are
all, in one way or another, about equity: the balance of rights,
the balance of burdens, and the balance of forces.
Rights are the most immediate issue. The Status of Forces
Agreement (SOFA), part of the mutual security treaty that the US
and Japan signed in 1960, is intended to protect the rights of US
service personnel stationed in Japan.
One provision specifies that if US authorities apprehend US
personnel suspected of committing a crime in Japan, then the
suspects must remain in US hands until they are formally charged by
the Japanese. Japanese critics say this rule inhibits
investigations, betrays a lack of confidence in Japan's legal
system, and symbolizes an occupation-force mentality on the part of
In the aftermath of the rape, figures such as Mr. Clinton and
the commander of US forces in Japan have apologized for the pain
the incident caused, even as the suspects remained on a US base.
US officials are now negotiating with Japanese counterparts to
smooth what they describe as problems in the "implementation" of
the SOFA, all the while insisting that the document itself should
Okinawans are the most upset about the rape, but that is not
just because the incident took place there. They feel that the
burden of hosting US forces is unfairly placed on them.
Historically, Okinawans consider themselves distinct from people
who inhabit the main Japanese islands; their territory was
forcefully incorporated into the Japanese empire in the latter part
of the 19th century. In World War II, the Japanese military fought
a terrible battle against Allied forces on the island, resulting in
the deaths of as much as a quarter of the local population. …