Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has resigned, just eight months after leading his party to a landslide victory. The Democratic Party of Japan meets Friday to replace him. The finance minister, Naoto Kan, is the favorite, though nothing is certain. The party is an amalgam of factions and the party secretary general, Ichiro Ozawa, who did the most to bring the DPJ to power, also is stepping down.
Prime Minister Hatoyama was hit by a campaign scandal—a regular of Japanese politics. But the most important cause of his resignation was his botched handling of American bases on the island of Okinawa.
In early 1945 Okinawa became the first part of the Japanese homeland to fall as the U.S. closed in on imperial Japan. Washington held onto the island after the war and loaded it with military installations. Only in 1972 was Okinawa returned to Japanese sovereignty. Despite some reduction in U.S. forces, American military facilities still account for roughly one-fifth of the island’s territory.
Okinawans long ago tired, understandably, of the burden and have been pressing for the removal of at least some bases. The DPJ campaigned to create a more equal alliance with America and promised to revisit plans by the previous government to relocate America’s Futenma facility elsewhere on the island.
However, under strong U.S. pressure Hatoyama reversed course. He said the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula reminded him about the value of America’s military presence.
Japan’s military dependency is precisely the problem. American taxpayers have paid to defend Japan for 65 years. Doing so made sense in the aftermath of World War II, when Japan was recovering from war and Tokyo’s neighbors feared a revived Japanese military. But long ago it became ridiculous for Americans to defend the world’s second-ranking power and its region.
Of course, having turned its defense over to Washington, Tokyo could do no more than beg the U.S. to move its base. After all, if Americans are going to do Japan’s dirty defense work, Americans are entitled to have convenient base access. Irrespective of what the Okinawans desire.
Unfortunately, Hatoyama’s resignation isn’t likely to change anything. The new prime minister won’t be much different from the old one. Or the ones before him.
If change is to come to the U.S.-Japan security relationship, it will have to come from America. And it should start with professed fiscal conservatives asking why the U.S. taxpayers, on the hook for a $1.6 trillion deficit this year alone, must forever subsidize the nation with the world’s second-largest economy?
Cliches about living in a dangerous world and defending freedom are no answer. America is made not only poorer but less secure when it discourages its friends from defending themselves and when it accepts their geopolitical conflicts as its own. To coin a phrase, it is time for a change.
And not just with Japan. There’s also South Korea. And especially the Europeans. It’s not clear who they have to be defended from, but whoever their potential adversary or adversaries may be, the Europeans should defend themselves. The Obama administration is impoverishing Americans to support a growing welfare state at home. Americans shouldn’t have to help pay for the Europeans’ even bigger welfare state at the same time.
The U.S. should maintain a strong defense. Of America.
Washington should stop subsidizing the defense of prosperous and populous allies. When the Constitution speaks of “the common defense,” the Founders meant of Americans, not of the rest of the world. A good place to start ending foreign military welfare would be Japan.