In the coming months, US and Japanese military officers and defense officials will be sitting down in Tokyo, the Pacific Command in Hawaii and Washington to determine ways to put muscle into the swiftly maturing alliance between the US and Japan.
If all goes well, those efforts will produce a joint declaration by US President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi next autumn that will reflect the most fundamental and far-reaching revision of the alliance since the US-Japan Security Treaty was rewritten in 1960.
The critical feature: The US and Japan will transform their security bond from one of senior partner-junior partner to one of more nearly equals in policy and strategy, even if the military power of the US still overshadows that of Japan.
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Among the vital issues to be worked out, Japanese and US officials say, are:
One, roles and missions, in which Americans and Japanese will decide on a division of labor and which forces will be responsible for what missions, to make best use of those forces and to preclude duplication.
Two, expanded combined operations and training, especially between Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force and the US Army and US Marine Corps. The navies and air forces, which already coordinate many operations, would do more of the same.
Three, sharing intelligence as the Japanese, in particular, strengthen their ability to collect and analyze information and then to meld it with intelligence produced by US services.
Four, revised war plans, a touchy subject that officials are reluctant to discuss in public. A US official said, however: "We continually review our bilateral coordination mechanisms and processes."
Five, moving a US Army corps headquarters to Japan from the US to put it in the region where it would operate and into close proximity to Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force for combined planning, training and operations.
Six, researching and building a combined ballistic missile defense that would be aimed first at the missile threat from North Korea, which fired a missile over Japan in 1998, and then at the longer range threat from China.
All of this is part of US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's plan for a rigorous overhaul of the US military posture in Asia. It calls for dismantling the many-layered command structure in South Korea, consolidating control into a streamlined US headquarters in Japan, reducing US forces in South Korea and giving those that remain a regional rather than a local mission.
When US and Japanese officials began discussing the realignment of US forces in Japan, the US focused on the command element while the Japanese sought to reduce the friction of US bases next to Japanese neighborhoods. Before the negotiations went far, the two sides agreed that they needed basic reassessment of the alliance.
In Japan, Koizumi formed a commission on security led by a prominent business executive, Hiroshi Araki of Tokyo Electric Power. The commission recommended in October last year that Japan forge an "integrated security strategy" through "strategic consultations" with the US.
Then came two declarations in Tokyo and one in Washington that would have been unthinkable five years ago from a Japan that had wrapped itself in a pacifist cocoon after the devastating defeat of World War II.
In December, Koizumi's government published a new defense guideline and a plan to expand Japan's defenses over the next five years. The guideline said: "Japan's defense forces are the ultimate security of its national security."
The guideline further said(rt)0314p09.tif Japan should "engage in strategic dialogue" with the US to include role-sharing, intelligence exchange, cooperative operations, exchanges of technology and "efforts to make the stationing of US forces in Japan smoother."
Last month, Japan's Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, Defense Minister Yoshinori Ohno, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Rumsfeld met in Washington to approve "common strategic objectives" that called for US and Japanese forces to "maintain the capability to address contingencies affecting the United States and Japan."
Machimura said that the strategic dialogue has three stages: The review of strategic objectives just concluded, an examination of Japanese and US missions and capabilities now started, and scrutiny of US bases in Japan.
Japan and the US have thus come a long way in sixty years. In April 1945, US and Japanese troops were locked in the bloody battle of Okinawa in which 250,000 people, including 150,000 Okinawan civilians, perished. Today, Japanese and US military officers sit side by side poring over maps and tables to figure out how best to deter mutual adversaries in the future.
Richard Halloran is a writer based in Hawaii.
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