America’s Retreat and Japan

by Stephen Bryen

Japan is not much of a military power today, a mere shadow of what it was before World War II.  Since her defeat in 1945, Japan has relied on the United States for security.  The US keeps a large number of bases on Japan and Okinawa, and also shares facilities with Japan.  Below is a list, courtesy of Wikipedia, of American bases by service:[1]

The U.S. military installations in Japan and their managing branches are as follows:

USFJ Facilities
Admin Code
Name of Installation Primary Purpose
Air Force FAC 1054 Camp Chitose
(Chitose III, Chitose Administration Annex)
Communications Chitose, Hokkaido
FAC 2001 Misawa Air Base Air Base Misawa, Aomori
FAC 3013 Yokota Air Base Air Base Fussa, Tokyo
FAC 3016 Fuchu Communications Station Communications Fuchu, Tokyo
FAC 3019 Tama Service Annex
(Tama Hills Recreation Center)
Recreation Inagi, Tokyo
FAC 3048 Camp Asaka
(South Camp Drake AFN Transmitter Site)
Wako, Saitama
FAC 3049 Tokorozawa Communications Station
(Tokorozawa Transmitter Site)
Communications Tokorozawa, Saitama
FAC 3056 Owada Communication Site Communications Niiza, Saitama
FAC 3162 Yugi Communication Site Communications Hachioji, Tokyo
FAC 4100 Sofu Communication Site Communications Iwakuni, Yamaguchi
FAC 5001 Itazuke Auxiliary Airfield Air Cargo Terminal Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
FAC 5073 Sefurisan Liaison Annex
(Seburiyama Communications Station)
Communications Kanzaki, Saga
FAC 5091 Tsushima Communication Site Communications Tsushima, Nagasaki
FAC 6004 Okuma Rest Center Recreation Kunigami, Okinawa
FAC 6006 Yaedake Communication Site Communications Motobu, Okinawa
FAC 6022 Kadena Ammunition Storage Area Storage Onna, Okinawa
FAC 6037 Kadena Air Base Air Base Kadena, Okinawa
FAC 6077 Tori Shima Range Training Kumejima, Okinawa
FAC 6078 Idesuna Jima Range Training Tonaki, Okinawa
FAC 6080 Kume Jima Range Training Kumejima, Okinawa
Army FAC 2070 Shariki Communication Site Communications Tsugaru, Aomori
FAC 3004 Akasaka Press Center
(Hardy Barracks)
Office Minato, Tokyo
FAC 3067 Yokohama North Dock Port Facility Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3079 Camp Zama Office Zama, Kanagawa
FAC 3084 Sagami General Depot Logistics Sagamihara, Kanagawa
FAC 3102 Sagamihara Housing Area Housing Sagamihara, Kanagawa
FAC 4078 Akizuki Ammunition Depot Storage Etajima, Hiroshima
FAC 4083 Kawakami Ammunition Depot Storage Higashihiroshima, Hiroshima
FAC 4084 Hiro Ammunition Depot Storage Kure, Hiroshima
FAC 4152 Kure Pier No.6 Port Facility Kure, Hiroshima
FAC 4611 Haigamine Communication Site Communications Kure, Hiroshima
FAC 6007 Gesaji Communication Site Communications Higashi, Okinawa
FAC 6036 Torii Communications Station
(Torii Station)
Communications Yomitan, Okinawa
FAC 6064 Naha Port Port Facility Naha, Okinawa
FAC 6076 Army POL Depots Storage Uruma, Okinawa
Navy FAC 2006 Hachinohe POL Depot Storage Hachinohe, Aomori
FAC 2012 Misawa ATG Range
(R130, Draughon Range)
Training Misawa, Aomori
FAC 3033 Kisarazu Auxiliary Landing Field Air Facility Kisarazu, Chiba
FAC 3066 Negishi Dependent Housing Area
(Naval Housing Annex Negishi)
Housing Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3083 Naval Air Facility Atsugi Air Facility Ayase, Kanagawa
FAC 3087 Ikego Housing Area and Navy Annex Housing Zushi, Kanagawa
FAC 3090 Azuma Storage Area Storage Yokosuka, Kanagawa
FAC 3096 Kamiseya Communications Station
(Naval Support Facility Kamiseya)
Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3097 Fukaya Communication Site
(Naval Transmitter Station Totsuka)
Communications Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3099 United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka Port Facility Yokosuka, Kanagawa
FAC 3117 Urago Ammunition Depot Storage Yokosuka, Kanagawa
FAC 3144 Tsurumi POL Depot Storage Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3181 Iwo Jima Communication Site Communications
Ogasawara, Tokyo
FAC 3185 New Sanno U.S. Forces Center Recreation Minato, Tokyo
FAC 5029 United States Fleet Activities Sasebo Port Facility Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5030 Sasebo Dry Dock Area Port Facility Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5032 Akasaki POL Depot Storage Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5033 Sasebo Ammunition Supply Point Storage Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5036 Iorizaki POL Depot Storage Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5039 Yokose POL Depot Storage Saikai, Nagasaki
FAC 5050 Harioshima Ammunition Storage Area Storage Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5086 Tategami Basin Port Area Port Facility Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5118 Sakibe Navy Annex Hangar Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5119 Hario Dependent Housing Area
(Hario Family Housing Area)
Housing Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 6028 Tengan Pier Port Facility Uruma, Okinawa
FAC 6032 Camp Shields Barracks Okinawa, Okinawa
FAC 6046 Awase Communications Station Communications Okinawa, Okinawa
FAC 6048 White Beach Area Port Facility Uruma, Okinawa
FAC 6084 Kobi Sho Range Training Ishigaki, Okinawa
FAC 6085 Sekibi Sho Range Training Ishigaki, Okinawa
FAC 6088 Oki Daito Jima Range Training Kitadaito, Okinawa
FAC 3127 Camp Fuji Barracks Gotenba, Shizuoka
FAC 3154 Numazu Training Area Training Numazu, Shizuoka
FAC 4092 Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Air Station Iwakuni, Yamaguchi
FAC 6001 Northern Training Area
(Incl. Camp Gonsalves)
Training Kunigami, Okinawa
FAC 6005 Ie Jima Auxiliary Airfield Training Ie, Okinawa
FAC 6009 Camp Schwab Training Nago, Okinawa
FAC 6010 Henoko Ordnance Ammunition Depot Storage Nago, Okinawa
FAC 6011 Camp Hansen Training Kin, Okinawa
FAC 6019 Kin Red Beach Training Area Training Kin, Okinawa
FAC 6020 Kin Blue Beach Training Area Training Kin, Okinawa
FAC 6029 Camp Courtney Barracks Uruma, Okinawa
FAC 6031 Camp McTureous Barracks Uruma, Okinawa
FAC 6043 Camp Kuwae (Camp Lester) Medical Facility Chatan, Okinawa
FAC 6044 Camp Zukeran (Camp Foster) Barracks Chatan, Okinawa
FAC 6051 Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Air Station Ginowan, Okinawa
FAC 6056 Makiminato Service Area (Camp Kinser) Logistics Urasoe, Okinawa
FAC 6082 Tsuken Jima Training Area Training Uruma, Okinawa

Overall the United States has more than 50,000 military personnel stationed in Japan and Okinawa and employs around 5,500 civilians.  There are over 40,000 military family members associated with America’s presence.

Japan is the home base at Yokosuka for the US Seventh fleet and also the home of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force.  Along with troops, helicopters, ships and submarines the US Air Force has 130 fighters based in Japan.

The American presence is the successor to the US occupation of Japan at the end of World War II.  While the number of bases, facilities, training centers and storage facilities is large, the US also closed down close to the same number of facilities and bases over the years.

Japan pays the United States around $2 billion as compensation for America’s presence.  While this seems like a large number, the actual cost to the United States for the deployment is many billions more than the Japanese contribution. Japan therefore benefits from the American presence because it can keep a small defense budget even where potential threats in the region are growing.

And they are.  North Korea is already a nascent nuclear power and is likely in future years to use its missiles as a means of getting concessions from Japan. The Japanese have had a rocky relationship with Korea.  In 1905 Japan forced Korea to become a protectorate.  In 1910 Japan annexed Korea (then a unified peninsula).  Under this annexation Japan dealt harshly with the Korean people and exploited its resources.  Before and during World War II the northern part of Korea was an industrial center supplying Japan with armaments and ammunition. It is also one of the places where Japan worked on building an atomic bomb.

Along with roughly treating Koreans, using them as conscripts and forced labor, thousands were transferred to Japan and use as laborers there.  When Hiroshima and Nagasaki were hit by atom bombs, thousands of Koreans working in those cities were killed.  Adding to the misery of the Korean people was the use of young Korean ladies as “comfort women” for Japanese troops and administrators.  Bitterness over this issue still remains.

China, too, is turning into a true superpower, and confrontations between Japan and China over disputed islands has risen in the past few years. Their disagreement is over some uninhabited small ”rocks” in the East China Sea (known in Japan as the Senkaku islands).  These “rocks” are under Japan’s control, but the Chinese want them.  Their location is strategic, affecting China’s ability to control the sea lines of communication, and are positioned near important oil and gas reserves.

But much more is involved as China grows stronger.  China thinks of its perimeter as two imaginary boundaries, the inner boundary already clearly under China’s control; the outer one coming under its control as China expands its navy and develops new weapons that can challenge America’s aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.

The United States has been trying to beef up its Pacific presence.  The bases in Japan offset, to a degree, China’s growing military power, but will that be enough?

The last test of military power in the region took place in the Taiwan Straits from July 21, 1995 to March 23, 1996.  In that period China carried out an “exercise” that included closing sea and air traffic in and around the Taiwan straits as China launched missiles, mobilized its land forces, and prepared its naval forces to support what looked like an invasion of taiwan itself.  Would the US respond to China’s provocation? Would China challenge the United States or back off?

The evidence shows that America delayed responding and finally put two aircraft carrier task forces on patrol near the Straits.  China, if it really planned to strike Taiwan, backed away and the crisis ended.  China blinked.

It is far from clear whether a repeat performance would be met resolutely by Washington. Even if America did move its naval and air forces to face China,   China might not cut and run.  There are many scenarios that could trigger a confrontation:  disputed territories, Taiwan, conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Americans tend to forget that we faced Chinese “volunteers” in the Korean War, and proxy wars involving China and Russia in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Which brings us back to Japan and the dilemma Japanese policy makers’ face.

Can Japan depend on the United States for its protection?  Should a confrontation unfold that directly impacts Japan, there is reason to believe, based on the worsening geopolitical posture of the United States and the drawdown of defense assets, that the United States might dawdle, seek diplomatic remedies, and try not to engage.

There have already been a number of incidents between China and Japan (see for an excellent review by Sheila A, Smith, a senior fellow for Japan at the Council for Foreign Relations).  So far they have been small scale and contained, but these were probes by China to judge not only Japan’s behavior, but to understand what America might do.  So far at least, the Japanese have worked to contain any incident and the United States has not needed to take any direct role.  But this can change at any time.  If China wants to do so she can ratchet up trouble at any time.

Japan is caught in a dilemma. Its military forces are weak compared to China and there is little chance much can be done to strengthen it in the next five years. Japan can compensate a little by buying new weapons. Japan has agreed to procure F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.  But these airplanes are years away from delivery, and they are tactical aircraft and will not be regarded by China as any sort of deterrent.  Japan really wanted the F-22, a true stealth penetration bomber capable of long range operations. The United States rejected Japan’s attempt to buy them.

Japan, therefore, has few options.  But there is one direction Japan can go, and it has the resources, know how, and delivery systems to get there.  That is to build nuclear weapons.  Doing this will surely antagonize the United States, China and North Korea, but Japan could nevertheless decide it is worth it.  Some suspect Japan may be laying the foundation for such a step. For example Japan has been energetically building long range rockets. It is hard to believe Japan would invest so much effort in rockets and space unless the investment was regarded as an important part of a future strategic system.

Japan had an atomic bomb program in World War II divided into two main programs, one run by the Army and the other by the Navy.  It had major facilities throughout Japan, and the Navy ran a secret operation in northern Korea that was taken over by the Russians at the end of World War II.  That facility, which produced thorium for the Russians, was bombed by B-29’s in 1950 in the early days of the Korean War.   In addition, Japan had a highly capable scientific community with excellent nuclear physicists and chemists. Major Japanese companies built equipment including cyclotrons and gas centrifuges for Japan’s atomic program and some participated in uranium extraction and enrichment.

Would Japan return to nuclear weapons after the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the strong anti-nuclear feeling that permeates Japan’s politics?  That would depend on whether Japan felt sufficiently threatened by North Korea and China to do so.  A few islands are probably not enough to cause a major change in policy.   But minor clashes can turn into bigger ones, and the United States, its prestige in tatters and in retreat around the world, may not be able to play a role as Japan’s defender.  Then we will see.


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