Use budget to host U.S. bases to boost Japan-U.S. response capabilities

The security environment surrounding Japan is increasingly severe. It is necessary to make consistent efforts to enhance the response capabilities of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

The Japanese and U.S. governments have reached a new five-year special agreement on the Japanese government’s budgetary allocation for host-nation support to cover costs associated with U.S. troops stationed in Japan. The Japanese side will pay an annual average of ¥211 billion, up about ¥10 billion from ¥201.7 billion this fiscal year.

The current special agreement was due to expire last fiscal year, but was extended by one year. U.S. and Japanese diplomatic authorities postponed the negotiations because former U.S. President Donald Trump intended to ask Japan to bear an excessive burden.

It is noteworthy that the two governments reached an agreement this time on a level acceptable to both sides and avoided destabilizing the alliance.

Since 1978, the Japanese government has shouldered the costs related to operating recreation services on U.S. bases, and developing military facilities, among other things. Under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, the United States is required to pay basic salaries for employees at U.S. bases; light, heating and water utility costs; and costs for transferring training sites. However, the two countries have concluded a special agreement on the host-nation support budget since 1987, under which Japan also covers these costs.

The new special agreement will accelerate the recent trend to make efforts to reduce the costs related to operating recreation services, and will eventually cut utility costs by more than 40%. In contrast, construction costs for hangars and maintenance facilities for U.S. military aircraft are expected to increase sharply.

Japan’s share of the costs of hosting U.S. forces is much higher than that of Germany and South Korea. As long as expenditures are being allocated under difficult fiscal conditions, it is reasonable to expect that the host-nation support budget will be used not only for recreation-related expenses and other related costs, but also for contributing to Japan’s defense and regional stability by enhancing interoperability with the Self-Defense Forces.

The new special agreement is characterized by fresh funding to procure military training equipment for the purpose of helping improve the training environment for U.S. troops in Japan.

The plan mainly involves establishing a system that can simulate combat by introducing artificial intelligence. The two governments also reportedly envision that the SDF will connect to the system and participate through a network in joint exercises with U.S. forces overseas.

Regarding the costs for transfers of training sites to reduce noise pollution and the risk of accidents in areas surrounding bases, Alaska will be added to the list of sites and the plan is to increase opportunities for joint exercises with the SDF.

The United States has made it clear that the country will cooperate with its allies to deal with China, which is expanding its military spending. It is essential for the Japan-U.S. alliance to enhance its readiness and deterrence.

The Japanese government is expected to submit a bill to approve the new special agreement to the ordinary Diet session to be convened in January next year. In order to gain public understanding, it is vital to thoroughly explain the purpose and significance of introducing the system with a focus on new measures to support the training of U.S. forces.

Regarding the cost burden of the host-nation support budget, it is also hoped that the government will deepen discussions from a medium- to long-term perspective, not just over the next five years.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 22, 2021.