- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

Masaaki Gabe, professor of international relations at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan, spoke with Washington Times correspondent Takehiko Kambayashi about the U.S.-Japanese alliance and issues regarding the U.S. military presence on the island. Okinawa comprises less than 1 percent of Japan’s land mass but contains 75 percent of the U.S. military installations in the country. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is to visit Tokyo today and the subtropical island on Sunday. It will be the first visit to Okinawa by a U.S. secretary of defense in 13 years.

Question: Many Japanese believe that it was because of the threat posed by North Korea to Japan, which depends on the United States for its national security, that Tokyo agreed to send a detachment of Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to Iraq to support reconstruction efforts following the U.S.-led ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime.

Answer: Japan has rarely said no to the United States regarding security issues. Thus its support on Iraq is not surprising at all. Japan played its role as a supporter of the U.S. And the rest of the world [would have just] said the move was expected.

Japan has not done anything new, and it was not just because of [Prime Minister Junichiro] Koizumi.

Q: On the subject of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa: During the campaign for last Sunday’s election, Naoto Kan, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), said that if his party won and he became prime minister, the new government would send the American troops home. Is that feasible?

A: I would say it’s not feasible.

Q: In Tokyo, the threat of North Korea seems to silence debate over the U.S. military presence in Japan. How about in Okinawa?

A: It seems that the majority of the people [in Okinawa prefecture] would like to see some sort of reduction of the American troops. … However, unless the Japanese government conveys that message to the United States, Washington would not know how to respond. Even if Okinawa and Washington try to look at the issue, it will never be put on the table as long as Tokyo says nothing about it to Washington.

Q: What would they do if the issue were put on the table?

A: In that case, what Tokyo does would be very important. Tokyo would not be able to deal with it unless the government had some sort of a blueprint, such as how to reduce the U.S. military presence in Okinawa and how Japan would respond in terms of commitments to the Japan-U.S. alliance. I don’t think Tokyo has anything like that.

Mr. Rumsfeld comes to Japan just to make sure that everything goes well as scheduled on the Japanese side. And then Mr. Rumsfeld will tell Japan what the country can do for its noncombat mission in Iraq. As usual, Japan will meet U.S. requests.

On the other side of the coin, there is a good chance that the U.S. will listen to Japan’s demand [as Japan has had more active cooperation with U.S. forces].

Even for a limited time, there seems to be more room for Japan to be assertive and play a proactive role in its diplomacy. I wonder whether the Koizumi government is ready to use this opportunity.

However, when the relations between two countries are too close and Japan does as it is told, Washington ends up not being concerned about anything.

Q: DPJ leaders said they would present their views to Washington if the party held the reins of government.

A: They seem to say so on the premise that they would not gain power. By talking about an impossible change of government, they warmed up the election. That’s OK as party strategy, but if they attained power, they would find it impossible to change foreign policies right away.

For example, it would be difficult to stop sending the JSDF to Iraq, since the process is already under way. [Mr. Kan opposed the dispatch of the JSDF to Iraq, saying Japan should send troops to Iraq only under the umbrella of the United Nations. Yesterday, the Koizumi government ruled out rapid deployment of JSDF to Iraq following Wednesday’s bomb attack that killed at least 18 Italian military police.]

The most [a DPJ government] could have done would be to reduce the size [of deployment] or put a time limit. As Japan has pledged to contribute $55 billion to the reconstruction of Iraq, it will have to be done.

Because there are so many other promises [to be kept by the government], they would have soon found it is not as easy to change things as they thought before the election.

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