Should the U.S. Military Leave Japan?

A row between the U.S. and Japan has experts reassessing the countries' strategic relationship

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In a diplomatic scuffle that threatens to reshape the U.S and Japan's warm relationship, the newly-elected Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has delayed agreement on a troop accord with the U.S. The decision flies in the face of U.S. Defense Sec. Robert Gates, who has urged Japan to follow through on the agreement to reduce the number of American troops in Okinawa. Japanese officials want to move more troops off the island. Why? The political climate is changing in Japan, with the current ruling party swept to power promising less subservience to American interests.

The diplomatic row has caused international observers to reassess the two ally's relationship. Should the U.S. scale back its role in Japan, or increase the pressure? Experts weigh in:

  • Things Have Changed, writes Yasunori Sone, a political science professor at Tokyo's Keio University: "In the past, if the United States came out strong, Japan would fall into line. But that is no longer the case."
  • US Should Leave Japan Now, writes Doug Bandow at the CATO Institute: "There should be no more troops based on Japanese soil. No more military units tasked for Japan's defense. No more security guarantee for Japan. The U.S. should adopt a strategy of offshore balancer, expecting friendly states to defend themselves, while being ready to act if an overwhelming, hegemonic threat eventually arises." Barlow, a former special assistant to President Reagan, says its time for East Asian countries to manage their own security: "There are historical reasons for Tokyo's stunted international role, but it is time for East Asian countries to work together to dispel the remaining ghosts of Japan's imperialist past rather than to expect America to continue acting as the defender of the last resort."
  • US Presence in Japan Is Critical, writes Phil Stewart and Isabel Reynolds at Reuters: "Japan is host to about 47,000 U.S. military personnel, whose forward deployment... is critical to the American military presence in the region."
  • Horrible Timing for a Fight, writes Yoko Kubota at Reuters: "Security relations between the world's two biggest economies could suffer at a time when China's economic clout and military power are growing and North Korea remains unpredictable."
  • Gates Is Caving to Japan Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy says U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has shown a "a fresh willingness to let the new government change its national-security posture toward the United States." Case-in-point, Gates supported Japan's plan to stop its refueling mission in the Indian Ocean--a significant support to coalition forces in Afghanistan. In contrast, when this issue came up in 2007, the Bush administration applied "strong pressure" to dissuade Japan.
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