Editorial :: Japan and the American Bases
Published: January 28, 2010
It took the United States and Japan a decade to negotiate a deal that would reduce the number of American troops on Okinawa and reposition those that remain. Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, is refusing, so far, to commit to the agreement, and the Obama administration is being less than patient. Before any serious damage is done to this important alliance, both countries must work harder to find a compromise.
The 2006 agreement was designed to lessen tensions between Okinawans and the more than 20,000 American troops they host. The deal includes moving 2,000 Marines from the Futenma United States Marine air station in the city of Ginowan to the less populated Nago on Okinawa’s northern coast, and relocating 8,000 other Marines to Guam.
Before his party’s landslide election in August, Mr. Hatoyama called for moving the base off of Okinawa or out of Japan altogether. The Pentagon got off to a bad start by insisting that Tokyo abide by its commitments. Mr. Hatoyama now says that he will defer any decision until May. Nago’s newly elected mayor has announced that he doesn’t want the Marines to move to his city.
We hope the Obama administration shows flexibility and patience when two senior officials visit Japan for security talks this week. They should encourage Mr. Hatoyama to prove his commitment to being an “equal partner” by offering solutions. And the United States must make a more compelling case for stationing troops in Japan. (There are another 20,000 American troops stationed elsewhere in Japan or just off the coast.)
The alliance is more important than the basing agreement. But the longer the agreement is in limbo, the more it stirs questions about the future of the alliance. There are worrying signs that many of Japan’s new leaders and its postwar generation don’t understand the full value of the security partnership.
A half-century of American protection remains a bargain for the Japanese. In much of Asia, it’s seen as an essential balance against a rising China and a defense, if needed, against North Korea. The United States must respect Mr. Hatoyama’s desire to strike a more independent course, including by seeking improved ties with China. A strong and equal partnership between Tokyo and Washington is in both countries’ overwhelming interest.