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    Powell comes to Japan to discuss troop redeployments

    Colin Powell is coming to Japan tomorrow to talk about the restructuring of US troop deployments in Japan. It looks as if the plan will be engineered through a three-step process of negotiating: First the US and Japan need to arrive at a level of “strategic mutual agreement*” to serve as a basis for furthering their shared security interests, then the concrete plan for reorganization needs to be hammered out between them. (Apparently, the order of these two steps was originally supposed to be reversed–that is, it would be decided how many soldiers would be retained in Japan, and then the two governments would talk about how best to allocate them to various needs.) And then…well, they’ll actually implement it.

    Of course, if it were that easy, diplomats and negotiators would not have a reputation for liking a drink or six, and in this case, probably the biggest potential sticking point is this:

    The objective is to finalize a restructuring proposal, predicated on the willingness of local authorities in Japan, by the end of May 2005.

    The US military is not popular in many base towns, especially those in Okinawa. This article covers the most recent arrest for sexual assault (this time by a civilian base worker who allegedly broke into the victim’s house). There was a 12-year-old girl assaulted and murdered by three servicemen in 1995. These incidents have outraged Okinawans, who tend to feel–not without foundation–that mainland Japan has been only too happy to shove as much US miltary presence as possible off on its poor southern cousins. Unmentioned, oddly, was the relatively recent notorious 2002 conviction of a USAF staff sergeant for the rape of an Okinawan woman outside a nightclub in 2001. (The Time article was written before the conviction, but I linked it because its discussion of the tension between servicemen and locals was relatively well worked-out and even-handed.)

    I’m not trying to slam the armed forces here. How to handle thousands of guys living pent up lives away from their wives and girlfriends was a problem for military leaders long before the US was a superpower. And there’s probably no way to maintain the security of, say, a crashed military helicopter without miffing the local police who come to the scene.

    At the same time, making an effort not to give locals the impression that they’re being treated with curt, secretive occupying-army superiority is not just the nice and ethical thing to do, it becomes important when negotiations of the sort that are to surround the planned restructuring take place. It’s unclear how much movement there will be of personnel to other parts of Japan from Okinawa–there’s been talk for a while of closing certain intallations there, anyway–but it’s likely that it will relieve many Okinawans and rattle many Japanese in the new location.

    * I know “mutual agreement” is redundant. “Agreement” alone wouldn’t have had the connotation of back-and-forth negotiation that’s implied by the Nikkei article, so I decided to compromise. Translation, like mutual defense agreements, is full of compromises.

    3 Responses to “Powell comes to Japan to discuss troop redeployments”

    1. Toren says:

      You wait…if large numbers of US troops move out of Okinawa we’ll see exactly the same thing we’ve seen everywhere else the “hated US troops” have left…”Whoa, they used to spend a lot of money here! Where’s my JOB, dude?”
      Has there ever been a Japanese news article about the positive aspects of having US forces garrisoned in Japan? Are they utterly incapable of seeing anything positive about it, like the Germans and the Filipinos?

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Yeah, there’s that aspect, definitely; it’s treated in the Time article, though glancingly. Nevertheless, Okinawa does seem to be something of a special case, due mostly to reputation for sultriness that attaches to its climate and women. Okinawa is also (Toren, I’m sure you know this, but for anyone who doesn’t) Japan’s poorest prefecture. And finally, the US and Japanese governments did that whole jockeying-for-the-hearts-of-Okinawans routine between the Treaty of San Francisco and the 1972 reversion to Japanese rule. A lot of the politicians who do the most complaining now probably lived through that as children and heard an earful about it from their parents and teachers. I agree with you that it’s obnoxious to act as if the US armed forces were the Batallions of Satan, but I think the general feeling of suspicion is pretty understandable.

    3. Simon World says:

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