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Published: Wednesday, 3/17/2010

Draw down forces in Japan

SIXTY-five years after the end of World War II, the United States still has 50,000 troops in Japan.

U.S.-Japanese relations are bedeviled by a number of problems. The proximate cause of the disruption in U.S.-Japanese relations was the replacement last year of the Liberal Democratic Party, which had ruled Japan almost continuously since 1955, by the Japanese Democratic Party. It isn't that the JDP is anti-American. It is that, as a new party in power, it is normal for it to look at some of the basic principles that governed Japanese policy during the 53 years of LDP rule.

One was Japan's relationship with the United States. An integral part of that is the presence of U.S. troops in Japan. Most are on the island of Okinawa, where they are sometimes involved in crime and other problems.

The current focus of disagreement between the two countries militarily is the question of relocating a Marine base to Okinawa. According to a 2006 agreement, some Marines are set to move to the U.S. island of Guam in 2014. The JDP government annoyed the Obama Administration recently by ending Japan's 8-year-old refueling mission in Afghanistan.

Another point of sensitivity is the "secret treaties," which dealt with the introduction into Japanese waters of nuclear weapons on U.S. warships. They violate Japan's no-nuclear policy, which began with U.S. nuclear attacks in 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

All in all, the new Japanese government has its eye on shifting power relationships in East Asia. China has already passed the United States as Japan's largest trading partner. Congress' dogging of Toyota last month probably didn't help.

China, by contrast, sent its heir-designate, Vice President Xi Jinping, to Japan in December for a visit. Japan's potential enemies in the region, China and North Korea, are moving into a different relationship with it, particularly if China is to be considered to have North Korea under its control.

Rather than let the post-World War II marriage with Japan drift further onto the rocks, the Obama Administration might propose withdrawing U.S. forces. There would be logic in such a proposal from a U.S. point of view: It would save money, permit more concentration on U.S. domestic needs, and move us toward stationing troops only where they are needed.

Dan Simpson, a retired diplomat, is a member of the editorial boards of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

E-mail dsimpson@post-gazette.com

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