New president won’t affect realignment, USFJ chief says
TOKYO — Target dates and objectives for military transformation should remain on track under the new administration, regardless of which party captures the White House, the U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force commander said Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Edward Rice also discussed regional threats and the possibility of political instability triggered by the worldwide financial crisis. He said American military doctrine — at least in mainland Japan and Okinawa — isn’t likely to face any major shift with election of the next president.
"We’re looking at how we can best advise the new administration on our strategic areas of operation and get them off to a running start," Rice said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. "The fundamental commitment will continue in terms of our strong alliance. … Japan and the U.S. have a very strong stake in working together."
He said the Defense Policy Review Initiative, which took three years of negotiations between the United States and Japan, "helps set the conditions for future success … [and] it’s our expectation that agreement we have will be executed."
Several realignment pieces have fallen into place or at least begun, Rice added. They include arrival of the nuclear-powered USS George Washington at Yokosuka Naval Base; the deployment of Patriot interceptor missiles to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa; and the return of a portion of U.S. military airspace at Yokota Air Base to Japanese control in September.
The relocation of 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam and Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s move to Camp Schwab by 2014 are among the more ambitious goals that remain. Rice said he believes both will be accomplished on schedule.
Addressing regional threats, Rice said "denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula is important to all Asian nations and that six-party talks remain the best option.
Rice declined to focus on any other countries, even when asked about his concerns over China and Russia. He said he’s more interested in establishing an environment "that helps us build a more responsible global structure."
"I look at opportunities to prevent threats [through] a sufficient level of engagement," he said. "We can develop relationships in a positive way. Around the world, history has shown it’s very difficult to predict the actual threat that will emerge to cause you to take action."
That approach is especially important now, he added, with much of the world in financial turmoil.
"It can contribute to instability if we’re not careful," Rice said. "From a military perspective, it’s important we engage with other nations to decrease the element of the unknown."
He called the U.S.-Japan security alliance the "keystone to peace and prosperity for all nations in Southeast Asia" but said there is no shortage of problems to tackle. They include terrorism, international criminal activity, environmental and health issues, and sharpening response to natural disasters and other humanitarian crises.
In 2011, the United States and Japan will conduct another review of the Host Nation Support Agreement. Rice said he considers it an "important balancing mechanism" in the U.S. military’s role toward defending the country.
"It’s a reasonable agreement," he said. "[Japan] is getting a great return on that investment."