Expenses for US Forces Stationed in Japan: Time To Reevaluate Excessive Burden

The Japanese defense budget for next year will be 5.3 billion yen (approximately $51.5 billion), the highest ever for the seventh year in a row. It increased by 28.9 billion yen (approximately $279 million) from last year, or 0.5%.

The budget includes the development expenses for standoff missiles which can attack from beyond the enemy’s firing range, as well as research expenses for two new Aegis ships introduced in place of the scrapped land-based interceptor missile system.

Expenses associated with the American forces stationed in Japan are set at approximately $3.34 billion.

Of this, 201.7 billion yen (approximately $1.95 billion) is the “sympathy budget.” Because negotiations between the U.S. and Japan on burden-sharing, ongoing for five years this April, have not concluded, the amount has temporarily been set at the same level as last year.

Negotiations will resume after the incoming Joe Biden administration enters office next month, and an agreement is expected by March. It should reaffirm the division of labor between Japan and America, and readjust the expenditure shouldered by Japan.

According to the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, America bears the expense of stationing its forces, in principle. Japan pays rent for the bases provided to the U.S. military, and compensates their owners.

The sympathy budget goes further than these obligations. It began in 1978, when Japan assumed part of the labor expenses for workers at the bases. It expanded to workers’ allowances and utility payments for facilities, increasing to 200 billion yen (approximately $1.94 billion) in the last five years.

The Donald Trump administration demanded a massive increase in the military stationing expenses borne by allies. In his book, former National Security Advisor John Bolton revealed that he presented Japan with a bill for about 840 billion yen (approximately $8.14 billion) – an increase of more than four times.

But the reality is that Japan pays about 70% of the military stationing expenses, far more than other allies like South Korea or Germany. We cannot respond to excessive demands.

In South Korea, talks about military stationing expenses for the U.S. forces there have also stalled, and the agreement on burden-sharing has lapsed.

The Japanese-American alliance is founded on a relationship of trust between the people of both countries. Without a rational explanation for sharing expenses, there will be no understanding. As the American administration changes, negotiations must get back on track.

The Japanese military’s mission and activity has expanded with the enactment of security-related legislation. Cooperation in new fields, like outer space and cyberspace, is also beginning. Negotiations must take into account how greatly conditions involving both countries have changed.

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