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International relations

Host nation support: We already pay substantially, Japan lawmakers say

Masahisa Sato: 'keep current level'; Go Shinohara: 'NATO members pay less'

The crew chief of a U.S. Air Force UH-1N Huey helicopter scans the area during a training mission near Yokota Air Base in Tokyo. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)

TOKYO -- Japan and the U.S. are negotiating the thorny issue of how much financial burden Tokyo should carry for hosting American troops. But with Japan already shouldering 80% of the cost, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are opposed to taking on more of the bill.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump wanted Tokyo to pay $8 billion a year, roughly four times the current sum, according to former national security adviser John Bolton's memoir.

The two sides must act fast as the current arrangement expires at the end of next month. A new deal needs parliamentary approval before the start of the new fiscal year in April. Given the time constraints, the sides will try to quickly reach a deal that covers the single year of fiscal 2021.

Liberal Democratic Party upper house lawmaker Masahisa Sato, who heads the party's Foreign Affairs Division, told Nikkei that Japan's host nation support is already high and should not be increased further. Sato is a former Self-Defense Forces official and served in humanitarian operations in Iraq.

Lower house member Go Shinohara, of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, also said that Japan's high contribution, exceeding 80% of the total cost by Defense Ministry estimates, deserves acknowledgment. Shinohara, as the head of the party's national security research committee, is well-versed in defense issues.

Edited excerpts from their interviews follow.

Masahisa Sato, an LDP upper house member and former SDF official

Japan's host nation support should be kept at current levels. Japan's contribution was at 74% of the cost under a 2004 Pentagon report, significantly higher than South Korea's 40% or Germany's 32%.

A security alliance only works when the two sides share three elements: values, burden and risk. The reality is that Japan takes on a disproportionately small amount of risk under the current Japan-U.S. security pact.

Therefore, given Japan's limitations in risk-sharing, a higher economic contribution is inevitable.

Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masahisa Sato (Photo by Kaname Umeno)

U.S. troops in Japan not only ensure Japan's security, they also play a big role in maintaining peace in East Asia. Stability leads to economic development. Their importance will only increase as the economic dimensions of national security gain gravity.

The U.S.-Japan alliance will also serve as a core in realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Japan cannot increase its contribution any more. If it is raised further, Japan could end up paying troop salaries, which would be inappropriate.

Given that U.S. President Joe Biden values partnerships with allies, negotiations are unlikely to become bogged down.

The cost-sharing deal is reviewed every five years, and the current deal expires at the end of March. After reaching a preliminary deal for fiscal 2021, the two sides can take time to work out an arrangement acceptable to both.

Go Shinohara, a lower house member of the Constitutional Democrat Party and a national security expert

The U.S.-Japan security alliance is the foundation of Japan's national security. As China rapidly builds up its military power and expands its maritime reach, Japan faces an increasingly tough security environment. Maintaining a U.S. presence remains crucial to Japan's defense strategy, even under a Biden administration.

Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Go Shinohara (Photo by Tsubasa Ukishima)

Japan has managed to keep its defense spending under 1% of GDP thanks to having the U.S. troops stationed in the country. Shouldering part of their cost is understandable.

At the same time, having bases in Japan gives the U.S. an advantage in the Asia-Pacific as well.

So the current burden-sharing ratios deserve close scrutiny. The Defense Ministry estimates Japan's share at over 80% as of fiscal 2015, far above that of Germany and South Korea.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization members do not pay for barracks and gyms like Japan does, for example.

The U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement states that the U.S. bears all expenditures related to the maintenance of American armed forces in Japan [except compensation to the owners and suppliers of facilities and areas such as those used for airfields and ports, which Japan pays].

Yet Japan's contribution already exceeds the scope stimulated in the treaty. Japan is also paying part of the cost of the realignment of U.S. Marines to Guam.

An increase in the host nation support is difficult to accept. The Japanese government should be very cautious during working-level negotiations.

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