Downsizing on Okinawa U.S.-Japan accord: Basis set for continuing role in maintaining East Asian stability.

December 04, 1996

DEFENSE SECRETARY William Perry's agreement with Japanese counterparts, after a year of negotiation, should provide a steady foundation for U.S.-Japanese security cooperation into the future. It will not end Okinawans' irritation with the U.S. military presence and with the central government's using their poor-relation distant island as a dumping ground for inconvenient realities. But it is well designed to reduce that irritation.

The agreement does not scale back the U.S. presence on Okinawa so much as downsize the facilities to match current use. That entails giving back a fifth of the land the U.S. occupies, closing or moving 11 facilities, reducing noise from aircraft, no longer closing a highway for artillery practice and -- most exciting creating the greatest civil engineering marvel since the Channel Tunnel to move a noisy helicopter base offshore. It will be a floating platform, five times longer than an aircraft carrier, attached to land by a causeway, to be designed and built by the engineering genius of both countries and paid for by Japan.

But the 100,000 U.S. service personnel in East Asia, nearly half of them in Japan and more than half of those in Okinawa, will remain. Most people and governments of East Asia want them there.

The American presence has been stabilizing for more than four decades since the Korean War ended. It is sought out of anxieties focusing on three countries: China, because it is enormous, bullying and strengthening itself militarily; Japan, once a brutal imperial power and now a formidable military power despite its own pacifism; and North Korea, because it is desperately poor, enormously over-armed, with intentions no one can fathom.

Anyone concerned about any of those three countries feels more secure knowing the U.S. is there and involved in security. Okinawans continue to feel like stepchildren of Japan's prosperity but that is a Japanese domestic problem which the U.S. cannot resolve.

This was a crisis brought about by a rape last year for which three American servicemen are in a Japanese prison. Never has the ordinary G.I. been so acutely aware of his or her importance to policy. The American forces through education and management must play their role in making the troops understand their proper role as guests of the country, if the new security partnership with Japan is to work for a long and stable future.

Pub Date: 12/04/96

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