JPRI Working Paper No. 31: March 1997
A Dialogue with Shunji Taoka

Mr. Shunji Taoka is a senior staff writer of the Asahi Shimbun who specializes in military affairs. His articles appear often in the newspaper and also in Aera, a weekly news magazine published by the newspaper. Very well informed about global military affairs, including American military deployments in East Asia, he was among the first to question the rationale advanced by the Pentagon and Kasumigaseki (Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs) for maintaining the status quo in East Asia despite the end of the Cold War. As one of Japan's most seasoned TV commentators on military matters, he predicted in 1980 that the Soviet Union would fail in Afghanistan due to supply problems and that the consequent diminishing of its military prestige would loosen its grip on Eastern Europe and its domestic minority ethnic groups. He has had a significant influence on the thinking of Japanese political leaders and the Japanese public.

In light of his experience and the rapidly changing security environment in East Asia after the end of the Cold War, Mr. Taoka concluded that a serious reduction of U.S. bases in Japan is necessary if Japan and the United States are to maintain friendly relations into the 21st century. He supports the military and political alliance between the United States and Japan but argues that the deployment of American Marines in Japan is no longer necessary and has become, in fact, harmful to the alliance.

His view is similar to that of the Democratic Party of Japan, which was launched on September 23, 1996, by Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan, and fifty other members of the lower house of the Japanese Diet, plus five upper house members. After the election of October 20, 1996, the Democratic Party emerged as the only serious opposition party in Japan in light of the decline of the New Frontier Party and the Socialist Party. On October 2, 1996, during the election campaign, the Democratic Party pledged to maintain the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty but with the option of doing away with the permanent stationing of American military forces in Japan. On October 4, 1996, party leader Yukio Hatoyama repeated this position to foreign journalists and gained wide recognition for his differences from the Liberal Democratic Party.

This position is also similar to that of Morihiro Hosokawa, prime minister from August 1993 to April 1994. In his speech of March 12, 1996, to the Japan-America Society of Seattle, Hosokawa supported maintenance of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty but added that "it should be realistically possible to transfer the main Marine bases in Okinawa to Hawaii or Guam." Even in the United States, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage said to the Asahi that the U.S. should pull most of its Marines out of Okinawa as soon as tensions on the Korean peninsula diminish and added that the U.S. has been "myopic" (kinshiteki) about its presence in Okinawa ever since the 1972 reversion. He cited in particular the American military's indifference to the noise and other disturbances the bases create locally (see Taoka's interview with Armitage reported in Asahi Shimbun, November 14, 1996).

During Mr. Taoka's visit to the United States during November 1996, JPRI had an opportunity to have a dialogue with him about the future of U.S.-Japan security relations. We asked him to explain for Americans the idea circulating among some Japanese leaders of "support for the Security Treaty but without a military presence in Japan." The following are Mr. Taoka's answers to JPRI's questions concerning the thinking behind the comments of such figures as Hatoyama and Hosokawa, as well as his answers to specific questions concerning a possible Chinese military buildup, the Korean situation, access to Japanese military facilities after the closing of American bases, nuclear issues, why the alliance is needed in an environment of lessened military insecurity, Japanese financial support of American forces, and so forth. The views expressed below are those of Mr. Taoka personally and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Asahi Shimbun, or any particular Japanese politician.

The JPRI Staff

The Japanese-American Security Treaty Without a U.S. Military Presence
Lighter burdens will give the US-Japan political alliance a longer life in the 21st century: Q&A with Shunji Taoka

(1) JPRI: What do you think of the Japanese Democratic Party's security policy of "alliance without U.S. bases?" Is it a realistic idea?

Taoka: I do not think it is an unrealistic dream. It is one of the long-term goals advocated by the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, Mr. Yukio Hatoyama. He wants to maintain the Security Treaty but without a U.S. military presence during peacetime. In other words, many of his party members call for an alliance with the United States but without American military bases in Japan. The aim of this policy is to maintain friendly relations with the United States in the post-Cold War era. Mr. Hatoyama hopes that this goal can be achieved by the year 2010.

(2) JPRI: To separate the alliance and a U.S. military presence seems like a novel idea for Japan. Is it possible?

Taoka: Basically, an alliance and a military presence are two separate matters. The United States has nearly fifty allies-some nominal and some de facto. But only in five are there more than 10,000 U.S. service personnel stationed. They are Germany, Japan, Korea, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Historically speaking, equal allies in peacetime rarely stationed troops in each other's territory. In the early part of this century, Japan was allied with Britain and then with Germany. But neither Britain nor Germany had military bases in Japan. Long before the creation of the Japanese Democratic Party, I argued that Japan should shift from a teishoku dinner mentality (a full fixed-course meal) to ordering à la carte from a menu of four different items-(1) friendly relations with the United States, (2) an alliance, (3) a U.S. military presence in Japan, and (4) financial support of U.S. forces. A full-course mentality reflected Cold War conditions but is much less appropriate to the international relations of the coming century. The military aspect of the U.S.-Japan alliance is of declining importance because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rapid hollowing out of Russian forces in East Asia. The main purpose of the U.S.-Japan alliance was to contain Soviet expansionism in East Asia. Now that American and Russian leaders have declared that their two nations are virtual allies, Japan's security environment has fundamentally changed.

(3) JPRI: You do not think North Korea is a threat to Japan?

Taoka: Russia opened diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1990. China followed suit in 1992. North Korea is virtually isolated and on the verge of economic collapse. In the early part of this century, Korea was called "a dagger pointed at the heart of Japan" because it seemed likely that Russia would occupy it. Today there is no possibility that Russia will take up the dagger. By 2010 the situation on the Korean peninsula is likely to have been resolved. Even today, the GNP of South Korea is almost twenty times larger than that of the North and its populations is twice as large. The gap between their national potentials is of the same order as that between the United States and Mexico. North Korea's GNP is about half that of Okinawa's, Japan's poorest prefecture.

(4) JPRI: How about China? Isn't it building up its modern military power?

Taoka: Contrary to widespread perceptions in the United States, Chinese conventional military power is declining. The numbers of China's combat aircraft, submarines, surface ships, and army personnel have all decreased in recent years, and the obsolescence of its equipment is obvious. China has attempted some modernization of its forces, but the pace has been slower than that of Taiwan, South Korea, or Japan. For example, since the early 1990s it has imported only 48 Su-27 fighter aircraft from Russia, but it must soon retire some 4,500 old fighters, mostly MiG17s, MiG19s, and MiG21s. It has purchased two 'Kilo class' submarines from Russia, but they will not be able fully to replace some 60 obsolete submarines.

Since 1986, Beijing has experienced increasing fiscal deficits in spite of its economic growth, largely because local officials try to keep tax revenues in their provinces. China lacks a national taxation system, and its central government relies upon remittances from the provinces. The introduction of a national taxation system would lead to tremendous problems and could cause the break up of the country. In the last five years there has been almost zero real term growth in Beijing's revenues. Chinese leaders acknowledge that pursuit of selfish interests and corruption, which has been a traditional Chinese problem, have contributed to the country's increasingly critical financial situation. Military officers, too, are actively engaged in making money as part of the new 'market economy.' They have shown surprising mercantile talents. Generals often refuse to be transferred from lucrative districts. In this sense, China is not a modern nation even compared with India and Pakistan.

(5) JPRI: If the leaders of the Japanese Democratic Party believe that the military threat to Japan has diminished, why do they still call for the maintenance of the alliance with the United States?

Taoka: The traditional foundation of international alliances has been the perception of a "common threat" or the belief that "thy enemy's enemy is thy friend." Contrary to these contentions, the Democratic Party of Japan believes that the U.S.-Japan alliance should be maintained because of its political significance and the common interests and values shared by the two nations. Continuation of the alliance is beneficial for Japan and, it is hoped, also for the United States.

(6) JPRI: If they believe in a continued alliance with the United States, why then do they advocate an end to the U.S. military presence?

Taoka: In order to preserve the alliance into the 21st century, the two nations must continuously work to adjust its terms to the changes in the international environment. Today, the two governments must ensure that the dramatic changes that have taken place since 1989 are reflected in the alliance.

The Japanese public tends to perceive the U.S. bases in Japan as relics left over from the post-World War II occupation era. They have persisted for more than fifty years only because of the Cold War. The American public, on the other hand, tends to feel that the United States is doing Japan a favor by stationing troops there and protecting Japan. Since both Japanese and American perceptions have some truth to them, the gap between them could undermine the alliance. In order to ensure that the alliance retains the approval of the Japanese and American people, it is necessary to reduce the burdens on both sides and to avoid friction as much as possible.

(7) JPRI: Does the Japanese public support the security policy of the Democratic Party of Japan?

Taoka: Public opinion surveys indicate that about two-thirds of the Japanese people want to maintain the alliance but also want the U.S. military presence reduced (see, e.g., the Asahi Shimbun poll published on May 15, 1996, in which 70% favored the alliance with the U.S. but 67% wanted the bases reduced). We conjecture that Americans would answer the same questions in similar ways.

(8) JPRI: Are American service personnel unpopular in Japan?

Taoka: No. Generally speaking, they are well accepted as friendly people. But it is human nature to welcome a friend who visits one's home occasionally but to be much less receptive to a friend who stays in one's house for weeks. The Japanese government does not like taking the awkward position of telling its friends that it is time for them to leave. I believe that a reduced U.S. military presence in Japan would improve friendly relations and guarantee its survival into the next century. The Japanese would welcome occasional visits of the U.S. fleet and other military units for joint training and rapid deployment exercises. I hope that joint naval patrols of the Western Pacific will become possible.

(9) JPRI: What do you think is the best way for the U.S. to maintain cooperative security relations with Japan while giving up its military bases there?

Taoka: Administrative control of the U.S. bases in Japan could easily be transferred to the Japan Self-Defense Forces with guarantees of access to American units. The only three bases for the exclusive use of the U.S. Navy outside the U.S. are Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Yokosuka and Sasebo in Japan. In Europe, U.S. Navy vessels use the ports of friendly navies whereas at Yokosuka and Sasebo, ships of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Forces are allowed to use only small parts of these extraterritorial facilities even though the Japanese Government bears almost 100% of the cost of maintaining them. This situation is one example of the prerogatives the U.S. forces claimed during the occupation era that have continued for more than fifty years into the present. Such abnormal situations should not be maintained into the next century. Even at Subic Bay before the American withdrawal, a Filipino admiral was in command of the base, albeit nominally, even though the Americans paid rent to use Subic's facilities.

(10) JPRI: People at the Pentagon say that the U.S. bases in Japan are indispensable for the security of Japan, the United States, and the Asia-Pacific region. Some Japanese say the same thing. But you do not think so?

Taoka: Whether bases under the exclusive control of the United States are really necessary for the security of the U.S., Japan, or the Asia-Pacific region must be reexamined. As long as Japan and the United States are friends and allies, U.S. ships and aircraft can use Japanese Self-Defense Forces facilities. If friendly relations between Japan and the U.S. should diminish, exclusively American bases could no longer be maintained in any event because the geographical and financial situation of the American bases in Japan is very different from that of the bases at Gibraltar and Guantanamo Bay.

(11) JPRI: So, do you mean that U.S. forces should be allowed to use Japanese military facilities in the next century?

Taoka: Yes. In order that U.S. forces have guarantees of access to Self-Defense forces facilities in the 21st century, some new arrangements will be necessary. These include, for example, priorities for the use of some piers at Yokosuka and Sasebo and the stationing of the necessary U.S. personnel to staff offices and storehouses at Japanese bases. Japan must also guarantee the use of ship-repair facilities for U.S. Navy vessels. Japan should also allow for exclusive use by U.S. forces of a few communications facilities on Japanese territory but on the condition that they will not be used to eavesdrop on or conduct intelligence collecting activities against the host nation.

(12) JPRI: Such arrangements seem to contradict somewhat the goal of "alliance without a U.S. military presence in Japan."

Taoka: Giving these privileges to U.S. forces in Japan might appear to contradict the goal of an "alliance without an American military presence." But this is only a necessary and realistic compromise in order to maintain a pax Americana, supported by American naval and air power, which is in Japan's national interest. Realistically, the goal should be an alliance with a minimal foreign presence. The goal for the foreseeable future should be "almost zero" exclusively American facilities in Japan.

(13) JPRI: Won't major reductions of U.S. forces in Japan lead to Japan's military build up?

Taoka: I know that some Americans and Japanese express concern that if the U.S. military presence is reduced, Japan will have to expand it own defense forces. This view ignores the fact that there are no U.S. military units in Japan that are directly committed to the defense of Japan itself. For example, there is no combat unit of the American army in Japan except for a special forces battalion of approximately 400 men. One Marine division, actually one infantry regiment and one artillery battalion, is stationed in Okinawa, the southernmost islands of Japan, for dispatch to the Middle East or Korea in an emergency. There are two U.S. Air Force fighter wings made up of 54 F-15s and 36 F-16s based in Japan, but they are intended for the defense of South Korea. Since 1959 the air defense of Japan has been the responsibility of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force with about 300 fighter aircraft. There is no doubt that the U.S. Navy contributed to the security of Japan in the Cold War days by maintaining a favorable naval balance with the Soviet fleet. But the U.S. Navy's role has been global, just as the role of the British Navy in the 19th century contributed indirectly to the security and prosperity of the United States. The major difference is that the United States did not permit the British Navy to maintain bases in the United States and did not provide "host nation support."

Since there will be no "gap" in Japan's defenses if the U.S. military presence is reduced, there will be no need to expand the Self-Defense forces. The situation in Japan is thus very different from that in Germany before 1989 and in Korea today.

(14) JPRI: Some American military officers assert that the U.S. military presence in Japan is necessary to prevent a resurgence of Japanese military expansion. What is your response?

Taoka: Some Americans try to defend their post-World War II prerogatives in Japan by claiming that an American military presence in Japan is required in order to prevent a "resurgence of Japanese militarism." Because many Americans seem to have formulated their image of Japan from World War II movies and from Japan's current industrial capabilities, this so-called cap-in-the-bottle view has gained some influence in the United States, in my observation. I believe that it is ridiculous, based on two points.

First, about 75% of the cost of maintaining U.S. forces in Japan-about $6 billion per annum, or more than $120,000 for each of the 42,000 American military personnel in Japan-is provided by Japan. If the American troops are there primarily to watch Japan, this amounts to a case of the prisoners paying large salaries to their own prison guards.

Second, fears of Japanese militarism are paranoid. Japan has nothing to gain from the use of military action to overturn the present world order. Perhaps more than any other nation, Japan benefits from international trade, as signified by its annual trade surplus of over $100 billion. Japan is the world's number one status quo power, enjoying more than $1 trillion in personal savings (over 50% of the global total of savings) and some $700 billion in overseas assets.

The age of colonialism is over, and the former colonial territories that gained their independence after World War II can now trade with Japan without any restrictions being placed on them by their colonial overlords. Such nations in the Asia-Pacific region have become very good trading partners of Japan's. Both sides enjoy co-prosperity as a result of these commercial ties established after World War II. Japan neither needs nor has the incentive to attempt to alter this ideal situation through the use of military force. No Japanese politician or military officer advocates a policy of military expansion, which is obviously contrary to both Japan's national interest and public opinion. There is no more likelihood of resurgent militarism in Japan than there is of the reintroduction of slavery in the United States. Both are simply outmoded.

(15) JPRI: What do you think of the possibility of Japan's acquiring nuclear weapons?

Taoka: Although the conventional military threat to Japan has diminished, Japan is still open to the threat of nuclear pressure or blackmail from its neighbors who are armed with nuclear weapons. Because Japan is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which in 1995 became a permanent treaty, it has foreclosed the option of acquiring a nuclear deterrent capability. Since an anti-ballistic missile defense can never be a perfect guarantee against a nuclear attack, the only logical solution for Japan is to maintain the alliance with the United States and hope its "nuclear umbrella" can deter any possible attempt at nuclear blackmail. This should be acceptable to the United States because it, too, does not want Japan to build its own independent nuclear deterrent or to ally itself with other nuclear armed nations.

(16) JPRI: One of the reasons the Pentagon gives for keeping U.S. forces in Japan is that because of Japan's generous host-nation support, it is less expensive to base them there than calling them back to the U.S. Will Japan continue its financial support in the next century despite the end of the Cold War?

Taoka: Finance is a more realistic issue than questions of nuclear blackmail. A fiscal crisis is now gripping the Japanese government. As of the end of fiscal year 1996 (March 31, 1997), Japanese government debt will amount to ¥221 trillion (circa US$2 trillion). In addition, local Japanese governments' debts amount to about ¥220 trillion. Japan's total public debt of about $4 trillion is close to 90% of Japan's gross national product. This financial crisis is directly affecting the Japanese government's ability to finance its support of the U.S. forces in Japan. In fiscal year 1996 this support amounts to ¥486 billion (approximately $4.2 billion), excluding such indirect expenses as foregone revenues from government-owned land used by the U.S. forces.

(17) JPRI: Then how long can Japan continue to provide financial support for the U.S. forces? Is it going to be suspended soon?

Taoka: The Japanese Government will abide by its existing five-year special agreement to provide financial support for the U.S. forces. But with the expiration of the agreement at the end of fiscal year 2001 (March 2002), Japan will have no choice but to reduce these expenditures. Rising public discontent with tax increases and cuts in public services in order to cope with the fiscal crisis will make continued large subsidies to foreign troops quite difficult.

This kind of criticism is already strong in Okinawa. Its people pay taxes to the Japanese Government, which then uses these tax revenues to keep U.S. bases on their islands. Even though Okinawa prefecture receives large subsidies from the central government as compensation for the heavy concentration of U.S. military bases, the Okinawan people feel that only a small group profits from these payments. They tend to think that those who benefit from the American bases are only land owners (to whom the Japanese Government pays rent for land used by the American bases), construction companies, and civilian employees of the Americans, who also receive their contracts or salaries directly from the Japanese Government.

Rather than waiting for an abrupt cut in financial support for the U.S. forces in 2001, the two governments should today start preparing to adapt to the post-Cold War situation and the financial constraints on Japan. One way to begin to adapt to these conditions would be to reduce significantly the U.S. Marine units on Okinawa, which constitute 63% of the American military personnel in the islands and occupy 75% of the base areas in the islands.

(18) JPRI: Although the U.S. Marines in Okinawa may not contribute directly to the defense of Japan itself, they may contribute to regional stability, which is also important to Japan.

Taoka: I agree, so I have said that a realistic compromise would be to retain only the 31st MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) of approximately 2,000 personnel on Okinawa and move the other Marine units to Hawaii or Guam. The four U.S. amphibious vessels homeported at Sasebo can transport only the 31st MEU, which is therefore a realistic force level. The 31st MEU could be used for various missions, including non-combatant evacuation operations from crisis areas and relief from natural disasters. The United States Navy does not have in-theater sea-lift capacity to move other Marine units from Okinawa to 'real forward areas,' such as South Korea or the Middle East. The U.S. Navy's amphibious transport capability is 2.5 brigades, which is slightly less than a division even though the United States has three Marine divisions. If other U.S. Marine or Army units were using the limited amphibious and airlift capacity for an emergency in Korea or the Middle East, most of the Marines in Okinawa today would be temporarily stranded there as troops in exile. Americans should realize that Okinawa is not a real forward area because strategic transportation is required to send troops from there to possible war zones.

(19) JPRI: How about North Korea? Many American officials have said that withdrawals of U.S. forces from Japan could trigger a North Korean attack on the south. Do you agree?

Taoka: No. As you have said, one reason given by the Pentagon for continuing to station the 3rd Marine Division in Okinawa is that reducing its presence in any way would send a "wrong signal" to North Korea. But the U.S. Army's 2nd Division is already deployed along the DMZ, and the combined air superiority of the U.S. and ROK air forces is overwhelming. If North Korean leaders should become so irrational or desperate as to launch an attack in the face of the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force presence in South Korea, one must ask how one Marine division, actually one regimental combat team, located 1,300 km from the DMZ-the distance from Berlin to Sardinia-would help deter them? More to the point, a war in Korea implies the clash of million-man armies on each side. The effect of one lightly equipped Marine regiment airlifted from Okinawa would be negligible in such a context.

(20) JPRI: Why do you and some Japanese politicians say that the U.S. Marines on Okinawa should be moved to Hawaii or Guam but not to California or Australia?

Taoka: The Governor of Hawaii and the Congressman from Guam have both expressed their desire to have the Marines based in their territories. One regiment of the 3rd Marine Division is already stationed in Hawaii, even though its divisional headquarters are in Okinawa. Moving the headquarters, the one infantry regiment, and the one artillery battalion from Okinawa to Hawaii would improve the overall command and control structure of the division. The Governor of Okinawa has said that such a redeployment would please the people of Hawaii, Guam, and Okinawa and that he would be glad to help finance it. There is no question but that there would be strong public support in Japan for its government to finance the cost of the troop movements and construction of necessary facilities in Hawaii or Guam.

(21) JPRI: As a military historian and analyst, do you think that the U.S.-Japan alliance can be maintained into the 21st century?

Taoka: Yes, I think so. Certainly the end of the Cold War weakened the foundation of the U.S.-Japan alliance. It now resembles a building located on soft, shifting earth. With their statements of determination to maintain present force levels and to cooperate more fully in an emergency, the two governments are trying to save the building by reinforcing it. But making a house heavier when it is already located on soft ground only increases the problem. American and Japanese leaders should instead think of ways to make the structure lighter, which I believe is the best way to ensure that the alliance and friendly relations will persist in the coming century.

SHUNJI TAOKA was born in Kyoto in 1941 into a family of illustrious journalists and scholars. In 1964, he graduated from Waseda University and entered the Asahi Shimbun, where since 1968 he has covered the Japanese Defense Agency. In 1974 he was a senior fellow of the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies and in 1986 of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). His books include Japan's Defense and the American Presence (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1975); Superpowers at Sea: An Assessment of the Naval Arms Race (with Richard W. Fieldhouse) (New York: Oxford University Press for SIPRI, 1989); and Senryaku no joken: gekihen-suru kyokuto no gunji josei (Strategic Conditions: The Changing Military Balance in the Far East) (Tokyo: Yuhisha, 1994).


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