The United States and Japan agreed Saturday on the most sweeping change in their military relationship in more than 35 years, including a sharp reduction in the number of U.S. Marines on Okinawa and a greater role for Japan in alliance military operations. U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense met with their Japanese counterparts at the Pentagon to cap 10 years of negotiations.
U.S. officials say the agreement will transform the U.S.-Japan military alliance and serve as the basis for the relationship for decades to come.
The document establishes the goals of the alliance - Japanese and regional security - and the military capabilities the two countries need to achieve those goals. It also provides for the realignment of some U.S. forces in Japan, including the relocation of a military airfield at Futenma on Okinawa to another part of the island, to respond to local concerns about aircraft noise and land value. Local officials had wanted the facility moved off the island.
In addition, the United States will withdraw 7,000 of the 18,000 U.S. marines stationed on Okinawa. They will move to the U.S. territory of Guam. Half of the 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan are on Okinawa.
At the same time, Japan agrees to continue to host a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group - an assignment which the United States has announced will for the first time be handled by a nuclear carrier starting in 2008. The United States also pledges to continue to provide nuclear deterrence for Japan.
The agreement calls for much closer cooperation between the U.S. and Japanese militaries, including the transfer of the U.S. Army's Asian operations headquarters, known as 'I' Corps, from the United States to Japan, where it will share a base with a Japanese command center.
Japanese Defense Minister Yoshinori Ono acknowledged that the Japanese government has some work to do to convince the people of Okinawa to accept a continuing strong U.S. military presence.
"A major challenge for the Japanese government would be to gain the understanding and cooperation of the local communities concerned," he said. "So the Japanese Defense Agency together with the Japan Defense Facilities Agency will, with good faith and utmost sincerity do its best to gain the cooperation by the local communities concerned."
Minister Ono, who has a reputation as a fiscal conservative, also pledged to support Japan's commitment to pay nearly all the costs of the force realignment under Saturday's agreement.
The changes are to be implemented within six years, but U.S. officials acknowledge it may take longer for some of the more ambitious projects.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that in the context of an expanded defense relationship, Japan will not be required to participate in any activity with which it is not comfortable. But he also said the Japanese people have built the world's second largest economy, and should play a role in protecting the international system that supports that economy.
"With an interest in the success of that system, which benefits the Japanese people, it seems to me it's appropriate for Japan to find ways in the 21st century that they can contribute to making that system successful," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Saturday's agreement also calls for cooperation on missile defense, including the first public acknowledgment of plans to soon deploy a sophisticated radar system called X-Band in Japan. U.S. officials also highlight plans for real-time intelligence sharing, more joint planning, more joint training of air and land forces and greater U.S. access to Japanese facilities, particularly in emergencies. The United States also agreed to discuss Japanese interest in an even broader realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa to more rural areas, a point Japanese officials stressed on Saturday.
U.S. officials say this is the biggest change in the U.S.-Japan defense relationship since the United States returned Okinawa to Japanese control in 1972. They say it transforms the U.S.-Japan alliance to a more equal relationship, and provides flexibility to address 21st century concerns, like terrorism, while strengthening deterrence against any attack on Japan or other hostile military action in Asia.