Into the fire

In the midst of a storm in the US-Japan relationship thanks to the crimes and misdemeanors of US Marines in Okinawa, Lieutenant General Bruce Wright (USAF) transferred command of US Forces Japan (USFJ) and the Fifth Air Force to Lieutenant General Edward Rice.

The Japan Times has published a piece by General Wright in which he outlines bilateral accomplishments related to the strengthening of ties between the JSDF and USFJ.

In the course of his piece, he makes a highly questionable assertion: “Over the past three years the most senior civilian leadership of our two governments has provided consistent, effective policy direction to undertake the most significant improvements in alliance military interoperability in the history of the alliance.” Over the past three years? I’m not necessarily questioning the improvements in interoperability — but “consistent, effective policy direction” by the “most senior civilian leadership?”

Arguably over the past three years the civilian leaders of both countries have gradually disengaged from providing consistent and effective direction as far as the alliance is concerned. As a result, the efforts of Richard Lawless and others in concluding the 2006 realignment agreement have gone to waste, as implementation has stalled. In fact, US civilian officials have left the USFJ to work with its JSDF counterparts, in the meantime failing to work with Japanese leaders to provide political-strategic direction for the future of the US-Japan alliance. The alliance has been on autopilot, disrupted only by the DPJ’s “impertinent” attempt to nix the JSDF refueling mission and the criminal activities of US servicemen.

So yes, the security dimension of the US-Japan relationship may, as General Wright suggests, be better than ever, but the political dimension — essential to determining the raison d’etre of the security relationship — has lagged behind; rediscovery of the alliance’s political direction will probably take a change of command in Washington.

Nevertheless, good luck General Rice — you’re going to need it.

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