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US Military Facilities: Japan

Japan and the United States reached a basic consensus on limiting the immunity of US civilian base workers under the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement. The move was in response to the killing of a Japanese woman by an American base employee in Okinawa Prefecture in April 2016. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters on 26 December 2016 that the two countries will establish classification criteria for civilian workers. He said regular reviews will be conducted to see whether they meet the criteria.

Kishida also said the 2 governments will sign a document that will supplement the Status of Forces Agreement. He expressed hope that the revision will help improve oversight and prevent criminal acts by people working for the US military. Kishida said Japan will speed up the process so the document can be signed before US President Barack Obama leaves office.

The supplementary treaty, signed 16 January 2017, went into effect immediately. The original Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement limits Japan's criminal jurisdiction over workers on US bases in the country. While crimes committed by US personnel off base are still open to Japanese prosecution, in most cases the US can retain custody of offenders and in some cases can regulate their movements, as SOFA protections exempt some personnel from Japanese visa and passport regulations.

Under the supplementary agreement, the countries will establish a working group to review whether contractors meet new SOFA standards. Civilians eligible for SOFA protections must "have skills or knowledge required for the accomplishment of mission requirements," the agreement states, and private contractors now must be officially invited to Japan by the US government for official purposes to obtain a SOFA visa. The "skills and knowledge required" for missions may by special training or licensing, a security clearance, short term need or other reasons, as the committee sees fit.

Other staff, including Defense Department civilian public employees, civilians aboard US military vehicles and federal workers coming to Japan to work with the US military will retain SOFA coverage, as will services employees in Japan on military business. Contractors that live in Japan or already have a non-SOFA Japanese visa will not receive SOFA status. The change was precipitated by the murder last spring of a Japanese woman by a US civilian base worker who lived in Japan. Despite holding a Japanese visa, he was covered by the original SOFA agreement. At the signing ceremony, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said, "We hope the pact will contribute to preventing any recurrence of criminal cases and accidents involving civilian U.S. base personnel".

The Ministers reconfirmed that the realignment plan described in the 2012 SCC Joint Statement would realize a US force posture in the region that was geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable. This realignment plan would provide the strength, flexibility, and deterrent capacity to respond effectively to future challenges and threats, while also mitigating the impact of U.S. forces on local communities. The Ministers confirmed that deployment of more advanced capabilities in Japan has strategic significance and further contributes to the security of Japan and the region. In spite of the planned draw down, the United States also intends to continue to modernize its capabilities. These advanced capabilities include, but are not limited to: the US Marine Corps introductions of 2 squadrons of MV-22 aircraft as a replacement for the CH-46 helicopter; the first deployment of US Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft outside of the United States beginning in December 2013 as part of the gradual phase-out of the P-3 aircraft; the US Air Force plan, beginning in spring 2014, to begin to deploy Global Hawk unmanned aircraft rotationally; and the US Marine Corps plan to begin to deploy the F-35B aircraft in 2017, the first time these aircraft would be forward-deployed outside of the United States.

The US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security came into force on 23 June 1960. Under the Treaty, Japan would host a carrier battle group (subsequently referred to as a carrier strike group), the III Marine Expeditionary Force, the Fifth Air Force, and US Army Japan (which had a fluctuating relationship with the US Army's I Corps).

Between the end of the US occupation of Japan in 1952 and the turn of the millennium, US military forces in Japan had decreased from more than 260,000 to fewer than 50,000. More than half of them were stationed in Okinawa. Japan's Host Nation Support (HNS), more than $4 billion a year, helps to defray the costs of maintaining these forces in Japan.

Japan's Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) had also gradually expanded capabilities and assumed primary responsibility for the immediate conventional national defense. The JSDF mission, which the United States supported, was the defense of Japan's homeland, territorial seas and skies, and sea lines of communication out to 1,000 nautical miles. As a matter of policy, Japan had forsworn nuclear armaments and forbade arms sales abroad.

The US-Japan alliance remained the cornerstone of the defense of Japan and of US security strategy in East Asia. In April 1996, during President Clinton's state visit to Japan, the president and Prime Minister Hashimoto issued a joint security declaration that noted the achievements of the bilateral alliance in promoting peace and stability for all nations in the Asia-Pacific region. In September 1997, the United States and Japan approved new guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation. These new guidelines would facilitate greater cooperation in areas such as logistical support, and search and rescue operations following disasters.

While in Japan, all active duty military personnel, including reservists on active duty training, were subject to both US and Japanese laws. Members of the US forces in Japan had certain rights, privileges, and special protections, which have been accorded by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). In return, the SOFA made it the duty of all members of the US forces to respect the laws of Japan and to abstain from any activities inconsistent with the spirit of the Agreement.

Japanese authorities had the primary right to exercise criminal jurisdiction over members of the US Armed Forces for most criminal offenses. A soldier who became involved in an incident was to contact the nearest US or JSDF Military Police office. Personnel apprehended off-post by the Japanese police could be detained in Japanese custody for up to 23 days. The Japanese police were required to notify US authorities immediately of such custody, but were not required to transfer custody. Narcotics offenses, including even small amounts of marijuana, were severely dealt with under Japanese law. If a US military member was under investigation, he or she would be placed on administrative hold by the US Army, Japan Commander, and would not be allowed to leave Japan.

It should be mentioned that among ordinary bars there were some where American soldiers were not welcome. These might have signs saying, "Foreigners Not Welcome" or "Japanese Only." Discrimination exists in Japan and proprietors were not required to open their doors to everyone as they are in the United States. There were various reasons ranging from a personal dislike of foreigners, to politics, to anti-military sentiment, to purely business reasons. Some proprietors simply wanted to maintain the status quo in their bars. You might never return to that particular bar and the proprietors depend on the clientele they had built up for their establishment's survival. They could afford to offend their steady customers and they might decide simply not to permit foreigners inside.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics served as a watershed moment regarding the return of US military facilities in the capital. Yoyogi Park in Shibuya Ward was once an expanse of US military housing called Washington Heights. Entry to Japanese people was restricted. But as momentum for the Games grew, the US agreed to return the site in full. It was then used as the athletes' village, and later converted into the park that's there today.

In January 2003, Japan and the United States reached a basic agreement to start talks on the return of idle land in 4 US military facilities in Yokohama. The US military facilities targeted for negotiation were the Kamiseya communications facility, which occupied 242.2 hectares in Seya Ward; the Negishi residential zone, a 43.1-hectare facility in Naka Ward; the Tomioka storage area, a 2.9-hectare facility in Kanazawa Ward; and the Fukaya communications facility, a 77.4-hectare unit in Totsuka Ward.

In mid-2003, American military officials were discussing consolidating or closing some US bases near Tokyo. However, Japanese and US officials would not confirm media reports saying an agreement was near on specific proposals. One report said the Navy's Negishi housing area in Yokohama would be combined with the Ikego Heights housing area in Zushi.

The the US-Japan joint committee agreed to focus on the 11 US Naval facilities in Kanagawa prefecture. The Japanese media reports also named the communications facility at Kamiseya, a warehouse facility in Tomioka and a communications center in Fukaya.

The number of military bases in Japan designated for use by both the Self-Defense Forces and US troops might be increased as part of the planned realignment of US military capabilities. The JASDF's Air Defense Command (ADC) and Air Support Command (ASC) headquarters, both based in Fuchu, Tokyo, would be shifted to the USAF's Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo. Some of the ASDF's facilities in Naha may shift to Kadena. Shimojijima island in southeastern Okinawa Prefecture is being considered as a base for joint military drills. The ASDF and the USAF already shared Misawa Air Base in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, while the Ground Self-Defense Force and the US Marine Corps use the JGSDF's Higashi-Fuji Training Range in Gotemba, Shizuoka Prefecture, and the Yausubetsu Training Range in eastern Hokkaido for joint military drills.

On 29 October 2005, the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee (SCC) released a document called "U.S.-Japan Alliance: Transformation and Realignment for the Future," outlining significant planned changes to the overall US posture in Japan, primarily with regards to US forces on Okinawa. By 2003, the US was considering moving most of the 20,000 Marines on Okinawa to new bases that would be established in Australia; increasing the presence of US troops in Singapore and Malaysia; and seeking agreements to base Navy ships in Vietnamese waters and ground troops in the Philippines. For the Marines based on Okinawa, most for months without their families, the US was considering a major shift. Under plans on the table, all but about 5,000 of the Marines would move, possibly to Australia. In 2009, the US and Japan agreed to move significant forces outside of Japan to Guam and in 2011 the US government announced the decision to establish a rotational force in Australia, further reducing dependence on facilities in Japan.

Japan's Defense Ministry reached an agreement in November 2019 to purchase an island in the country's southwest to use as a new staging ground for US carrier aircraft drills. The ministry planne to relocate the landing exercises to Mageshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture, from the Pacific island of Ioto, also known as Iwojima, of the Ogasawara island chain. It also plans to build a new facility to accommodate both Japan's Self-Defense Forces and the US military. Ministry officials said they reached a basic agreement on 29 November 2019 with the firm that owns most of Mageshima to acquire the land for about 146 million dollars. The United States has been pressing Japan to build a new training site, saying the remote location of Ioto Island presents safety hazards for personnel.

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Page last modified: 24-06-2021 18:04:12 ZULU