Japan-U.S. Defense Ministers’ Meeting: Deepen Alliance to be Prepared for Unforeseen Circumstances

China’s military buildup and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs pose realistic threats to Japan. The Japan-U.S. alliance must be deepened to prepare for unforeseen contingencies.

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara visited the United States and met with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for about an hour. They agreed that the acquisition of U.S.-made Tomahawk cruise missiles by the Self-Defense Forces would happen in fiscal 2025, one year ahead of the initial schedule.

The SDF intend to use the Tomahawk missiles as a means of “counterattack capability” to strike an enemy’s missile launch sites and other locations for self-defense purposes.

To operate counterattack capabilities, it is necessary to identify the enemy’s missile launch sites by satellite or other means, and to neutralize the enemy’s air defense systems. There are limits to what the SDF can do alone, and close cooperation with the U.S. military is essential.

It is important to deepen discussions among defense authorities in Japan and the United States toward the actual operations and to build operational plans.

In the latest meeting, they also confirmed that the realignment plan for U.S. forces based in Japan will be steadily advanced.

The plan to relocate the Futenma Air Station from Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko district in Nago in the prefecture is the focal point of the U.S. military realignment. But it has been forced to a halt due to opposition by the prefectural government.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki did not approve design changes to improve the weak seabed in the land reclamation area, but the Supreme Court ruled against the prefecture’s claims in September, obliging the prefecture to approve the design changes.

The central government issued recommendations and instructions with a deadline, but Tamaki refused to comply, saying that “it would be difficult to approve [the changes] by the deadline.” The central government, therefore, filed a suit to demand the substitute execution of reclamation work approval — meaning that the central government would give the approval in place of the governor.

It is unusual for the head of a local government to refuse to accept a final judicial decision. If Tamaki says there is not enough time for consideration, it would be reasonable for him to at least indicate a time frame and ask the central government for a grace period.

The Futenma base, surrounded by houses and schools, is said to be “the most dangerous U.S. military base in the world.” The longer its relocation to Henoko is delayed, the longer the danger posed by the base will continue. The central government should persistently work to persuade the prefectural government regarding the importance of eliminating the danger.

To keep China’s aggressive maritime expansion and other behavior in check, the U.S. government has begun to strengthen U.S. military functions not only in Okinawa but also in other areas around Japan.

Destroyers and other military vessels based at the U.S. forces’ Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture are conducting “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea. At the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Kanoya Air Base in Kagoshima Prefecture, the U.S. military began operating unmanned surveillance aircraft in autumn last year.

This is an era in which Japan and the United States are jointly enhancing their response capabilities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 6, 2023)