Courtesy Reuters

Are U.S. Troops in Japan Needed? Reforming the Alliance

The gulf separating American and Japanese perceptions of the U.S. troops stationed in Japan could jeopardize the alliance between these two important countries. Many Americans see the presence of U.S. troops in Japan as a gracious favor meant to underpin Japan's security. Most Japanese, while fond of the alliance with the United States, would like to see fewer U.S. troops on their soil. A May 1996 opinion poll in Asahi Shimbun found that 70 percent of the Japanese people supported the alliance with the United States while 67 percent favored a reduction in the number of U.S. military bases. This discriminating public preference is reasonable in today's Asia.

The U.S.-Japan Security Treaty was signed during the Korean War in 1951 at the same time as the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which formally ended the Allied occupation of Japan. The security treaty enabled U.S. troops to remain in Japan and opened Japanese facilities as a staging area and logistics base for American forces in the war being waged on the Korean peninsula. U.S. military bases in Japan were seen as essential to containing communist expansion, especially since the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea were considered a monolithic threat.

Today the international environment has changed as dramatically in East Asia as in Europe. The United States and its allies are no longer squared off against the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Soviet Union is no more. Since its collapse, Russian forces in East Asia have become hollow. A comparison of Japan's 1989 and 1997 white paper on defense shows a more than 50 percent reduction in the number of personnel, surface combat ships, submarines, and warplanes in Asia. Most of Russia's warships are rusting in port, leaving only a few submarines and surface ships in the Pacific fleet operational. According to Japanese military analysts, Russian air force pilots fly no more than 20 to 30 hours of training time a year, making the most basic skills difficult to maintain. In Japan, fighter pilots train

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