Does Japan need US military Bases?
Ever since the DJP was elected the main foreign policy issue that has affected the party has been an attempt to find a renegotiate a deal for a US base in Okinawa. This has become the defining issue of Prime Minister Hatoyama’s premiership. He has less than a month until a self imposed deadline on deciding the future of the base. Japan has thousands of US troops on its soil that it pays for, however it also has one of the most powerful armed forces in the world so does it really need the US troops at all?
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East Asian stability
US troops as in Europe aid in keeping the stability of the region and preventing war. East Asia is perhaps the region that needs this source of stability most as it is a region with several great powers and needs to adapt to the rise of China. Essentially US troops in the region provide reassurance to everyone in the region. For Japan, South Korea and the ASEAN nations they provide assurance against China while for China they provide reassurance that Japan won’t return to bad old ways of being an imperialist power. The US forces in Japan do exactly what NATO did in Europe with different players. Keeps Japan down (for China) and China out (for Japan).
[[Joseph S. Nye, 'East Asian Security: The Case for Deep Engagement', Foreign Affairs, July/August 1995, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/51210/joseph-s-nye-jr/east-asian-security-the-case-for-deep-engagement%5D%5D The current security framework benefits everyone by providing the necessary stability for the economic growth that everyone wants to continue and so lift people throughout the region out of poverty.
The USA uses the same argument to justify keeping troops in Europe. Is Europe really likely to self combust as it has in the past? No. Is East Asia? Given articles like ‘Will Europe’s past be Asia’s future?’[[A. Friedberg, Survival, Volume 42, Issue 3 January 2000 , pages 147 - 160, http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a713869438%5D%5D (Referring to continual cycles of conflict between European powers through much of history) one would think the answer would be yes. But as the USA is one of the major competing powers it is equally possible that the USA being in the region will spark a conflict. This is shown by the increasing tensions between China and the USA as the two dominant powers in the region.
China has shown itself to be a responsible rising power.[[Sujian Guo, China's 'Peaceful Rise' in the 21st Century, 2006]] Although it probably doesn't meet western standards it has talked down North Korea and acted as a buffer between the North and South. It is unlikely to create or allow a conflict to be sparked in the region as it threatens its own stability, prosperity and security.
Indeed the presence of US troops in Japan as well as the DMZ paints a picture of a China that is indeed surrounded. Such behavior on China's part vis. the USA would not be tolerated, much in the same way the placement of USSR missiles on Cuban soil was unacceptable to JFK's government.
Ultimately, the reality on the ground does not resemble 1945, but the presence of US troops on Japanese soil, as well as in Germany and other European countries is a policy better suited to the Cold War, where protection from the USSR was perhaps necessary. It perpetuates reliance on US military power (and thus its perception as an imperial power), while arguably threatening the regional powerhouse of China.
North Korea is close to Japan and is one of the few countries around the world that is still a major and unpredictable threat to its neighbours. While Japan is an island and has a powerful navy meaning it cannot be invaded directly by North Korea it is easily within range of North Korea’s missiles and as a staunch US ally may well be one of the most likely to be attacked. Japan like the US would like to see the North Korean regime end and has close ties with South Korea. Neither the US nor Japan would want to be unable to respond to a full scale North Korean attack on the South and Japan is the best staging post for any such response if such an eventuality occurs.
The forces do not need to be within Japan in order to respond to an invasion by North Korea. There are already forces in South Korea that would be immediately involved in the fighting and reinforcements could come from Hawaii and Guam within a short space of time. Having forces in Japan simply makes North Korea more likely to attack Japan with missiles in the event of conflict with the South so forcing Japanese involvement. Given Japanese history as a colonial power in the region Japan should if possible be kept out of the conflict as its involvement would provide propaganda for North Korea.
The presence of US bases on Japanese soil presents an obvious target for North Korean missiles. A Japan free from US bases would arguably safer from any North Korean threat.
The US has been aiming to develop a more flexible military that can deal with global issues more rapidly. In Asia it has been advancing its use of Guam as a marine base and command centre. US soldiers do not need to be stationed on Japanese soil if one takes into account the huge military presence in Guam, Hawaii and South Korea, as well as the various nuclear equipped naval battle groups that are free to roam the Pacific. The marine base in Okinawa was due to move to Guam in 2014, but that has been delayed.[[http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/2nd-ld-us-sees-marines-move-to-guam-delayed-beyond-2014]]
Even Japan's pacifist military approach would provide Japanese safety/security, while allowing US engagement from the DMZ or Guam.
The rise of China provides a major challenge to all other Asian powers; how do they respond to a major country with its economic growth in double digits and which is rapidly arming? Without the USA which is despite Chinese arming by an immense margin the biggest military spender in the world then these countries surrounding China would feel compelled to spend more and more on their own militaries to maintain deterrence against China. There are already worries that the Peoples Republic of China could take Taiwan within three days,[[http://the-diplomat.com/china-power/2010/08/10/taiwan-war-games/]] without the presence of the USA in the region and able to respond quickly this would be much more likely to become a reality rather than just a war game. While Japan does not recognise Taiwan it does recognise the role Taiwan has in its security and has closer links to Taiwan than it does to the rest of China.
China has recently begun to throw its weight around almost demanding a monroe doctrine for its neighbourhood by trying to prevent US access in international waters.[[http://debatewise.org/debates/2195-china-should-be-allowed-more-control-over-its-own-seas]] At the same time China continues to signal its intention to develop the long arm of its military, most notably through preparations to build aircraft carriers, the ultimate platform for projection of force.[[http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201008110263.html]]
Much in the same way China's neighbors may feel threatened by a new powerhouse in China, China has the same right to be threatened by the US presence within the region. A Chinese presence in the Gulf of Mexico would be unacceptable to America and so China has every right to arm itself. However, its foreign policy objectives take into account the potential threat its rise may cause and has taken steps to ensure to reassure other Asian states that it does not pose a threat. Ultimately, peace and prosperity is in its interests. If China's aim is to become a super power it has a better chance of achieving this by surpassing the US in global economic dominance.
US military presence on top of its support to Taiwan only threatens China more than it does Japan or the US.
Russia is digging in on the Northern Territories which they claimed from Japan at the end of World War 2. Japan wants the islands back. Russia refuses to discuss and is using the captured islands as military bases on Japan's doorstep.
If Russia wants the Northern Territories, it is a issue between the Japanese and the Russians. If the US keeps its military in Japan as a reason to "keep an eye" on the Russians, it could possibly kill relations between the United States and the Russian Federation. It could also start a second "Cold War" or even possibly a war. Why would the US want to get into a malay with one of the most powerful nations on the planet. Also this would never happen, Russia would not want to attack Japan. It has no reason to. Especially after the 2011 Earthquake.
2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami
After World War 2, the Japanese were forbidden to build up an army. All they have is a small SDF (Self Defense Force), that protects the people. In March 2011, a massive 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Sendai, Japan. It triggered a massive 40 foot Tsunami that inundated the Japanese Coast. The Earthquake also damaged the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant causing a massive evacuation. So far, 14,000 people are dead with another 13,000 injured. The quake is expected to cost Japan almost US$300 Billion, making it Japan's toughest crisis since World War 2. Now back to the SDF, the magnitude and scale of this disaster is unprecedented. It is obviously too large for just the SDF to handle on its own. With the United States in Japan, they will be able to offer as much assistance as humanly possible to help the people of Japan bounce back from this terrible disaster. If the US abandons Japan now, it will look like a terrible incident of a nation that doesn't care about the welfare of millions of people who are in distress.
2nd biggest economy
Japan can manage perfectly well on its own and has no real need for foreign troops on its soil. It has been normal throughout history for great powers to provide their own defence and so it is very odd for the second (or possibly now third) most powerful economy in the world[[Edmund Conway, Chinese economy overtakes Japan, The Telegraph, 26/12/09, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/6890189/Chinese-economy-overtakes-Japan.html%5D%5D to rely on the most powerful for its defence, it is as if the USA has reduced large areas of the world to being its protectorates. Japan can certainly afford to defend itself without U.S. assistance. Indeed it pays the USA to keep forces on its soil, to the tune of $2.15bn in 2009, but that is down from $3.17bn in 1999 [[http://www.stripes.com/news/japan-seeks-decrease-in-payments-to-support-u-s-bases-1.112317]] so meaning it has a smaller force itself. Why not simply have a bigger Japanese self defence force? That would be the reaction of almost any major power in history.
Japan is a liberal democracy that has come a long way from its WWII days, and should be at the stage where it is able and willing to protect itself. Global issues dictate that it cannot rely on a pacifist constitution and American protection. Its army, although not battle tested, is indeed a powerhouse not only in the region, but the world. It is very difficult to measure military power today (it is no longer to measure navies only on battleships or the army on manpower) but despite Japan's army being a 'self defence force' only it is one of the most powerful in the world.[[http://www.globalfirepower.com/]] Its short and long range Patriot missiles are sufficient to protect it from any imminent threat that North Korea may pose.
Although Japan has the financial resources and ability to purchase US hardware its military is not battle tested, nor are its citizens completely easy with the idea of assuming a higher security profile. Whether it wishes to or not there is always a possibility that Japan would get drawn in to a regional conflict over China, Taiwan or the Koreas, which it may not be ready to handle. Also, Japan's military is not a full active military fighting force. It is just a Self Defense Force, so it would not have the capability to defend itself in a conflict in the region. Also, this argument is non unique, Japan is no longer the 2nd largest economy. China recently surpassed Japan as the world's second largest economy.
The base in Okinawa creates local problems, with outrage from residents about the pollution, accidents and crime that US soldiers bring, including the rape of a school girl in 1995.
In addition, Japan is already crowded with the base creating growing environmental problems. Moving the base would recreate the same issues, but in another location, namely Nago.
The dispute has already cost Hatoyama his premiership, and is likely to continue to cause trouble as long as the US maintains a base, particularly since it has never apologised for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Okinawa base is located on the site of a bloody World War II battle, and has been described as an example of American imperialism.
Ultimately, Japan wastes money funding the US presence when it could be funding the develpoment of its own military, a vital tool in today's geopolitics.
Local problems at Okinawa could be better handled through regulation and enforcement of laws as well as work between both nations towards resolution. While the US supports the treaty that banned the Japanese from building up it's own military beyond purely defensive measures, the US owes Japan that protection. In addition to this, if Japan as a people want the US gone it can be done with a vote - Japan is a democracy, after all. The fact that this has not happened means that it is a minority that feel the base is a problem, not a majority.
Japan has been a loyal ally of the US for several decades so the likelihood that any significant section of the population still holds any ill will over Hiroshima and Nagasaki is unlikely and Japan has shown reluctance in apologizing for it's own horrific crimes in Nan King, China during that war, even building a museum to honor the men responsible for what is now known as the rape of Nan King. Would be the pot calling the kettle black to complain about US atrocities while not admitting their own.
Ultimately, the partnership between Japan and the US is the very reason they are one of the worlds leading economies and while crimes committed by US service personal there are horrible and need to be punished, appropriately, this does not change the fact that the partnership benefits Japan as a nation more than harms it.
The United States already has military presence in South Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Europe etc. This creates the impression that the United States is exercising too much of its hard power Hegemony and is trying to bolster its image of being a Hegemonic World Leader. This fuels anti-Americanism throughout the world, most countries already think that we are trying to be the policemen of the world. Also Overstretch is a huge factor. Overstretch is when the military of a country is too thinly spread. To spread in fact, that the government may not have enough resources to defend itself in case of an attack. If the US withdraws its bases from Japan, it would be better protected against other nations that deem to attack the country. It would have a better chance of defending itself.
The bases in Japan prove an exceptional location to monitor and saber rattle against the forces of North Korea and China should such occasion be required (seems childish but saber rattling is a way of defusing potentially violent situations and the primary purpose of nuclear weaponry is just this). While the US should be closing many of it's extraneous bases in Europe, the one in Japan is tactically useful in much the same way that the one in Israel is useful as a striking platform for hitting anywhere in the middle east quickly as well as launching surveillance drones on the region. In the modern war, intelligence is key to victory and the money spent at home would do little to give the US an advantage in the event of a surprise strike.
What do you think?