Time to Bring the Troops Home
The US government often argues that it must remain in East Asia because there are no regional organizations comparable to the European Union that could deal with problems there. The truth is that the United States has a long record of undercutting any Asian efforts at regional organization, and its military presence interferes with the functioning of the most promising one, ASEAN.
Why, then, does the United States continue to maintain cold war structures in East Asia when it knows they are no longer relevant to actual conditions in the area? First and above all, money. The Japanese government pays more generously than any other "ally"--about $6 billion a year--to house and supply US Marines and other forces, mainly in Okinawa. It does this partly to keep the American troops as much as possible away from the main islands, where politically potent voters could and would demand their withdrawal. The Japanese hold deep-seated attitudes of superiority toward the Okinawans, just as they do toward other peoples they colonized, including Koreans, Chinese and Taiwanese. The fact that the United States goes along with this openly discriminatory policy--75 percent of the American facilities in Japan are located in Okinawa, which comprises only six-tenths of one percent of Japan's land area--is morally catastrophic for its claims of being in East Asia to promote democracy and stability.
Former commander of Marine forces in the Pacific Gen. Carlton Fulford wrote in the Marine Corps Gazette of July 1999, "In 1996, estimates for the plant replacement value (PRV) of Marine Corps infrastructure on Okinawa was $7.5 billion. The PRV for III MEF [Third Marine Expeditionary Force] assets on mainland Japan exceeded $2 billion.... Finding replacement sites for our current Japanese facilities...would prove fiscally unsupportable." General Fulford's argument is similar to that of the former Soviet armed forces who wanted to remain in East Germany after the Berlin wall was torn down. They could not afford to go home, and no other country in the region would take them.
Another reason US armed forces want to stay in East Asia is that they like it there. They live well--better than they could in the United States. The officers' clubs, family apartments, swimming pools, private beaches, gymnasiums, churches, restaurants, golf courses, baseball diamonds, bowling alleys and slot-machine parlors--all run by the military and beyond local legal jurisdiction--are powerful incentives to stay on.
The downside of the US military presence is an endless series of raped, battered and sometimes murdered women and girls; armed forces drunk drivers involved in hit-and-run accidents; environmental pollution; the noise of warplanes and helicopters perpetually interrupting daily life (near some bases, such as Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa, sounds exceed 70 decibels an average of 161 times every day); and the seemingly monthly apologies by ambassadors for "tragic accidents" that US citizens would not tolerate in their own society.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the United States needs a brand-new approach to the use of military force. He stresses that the cold war is over and that a leaner, more high-tech military, plus a go-it-alone national missile defense, is needed for the kinds of challenges that the world's self-proclaimed "indispensable nation" faces in the twenty-first century. Does he mean it? So far, the actual foreign policy actions of the Bush Administration, particularly its surly indifference to peace in Korea and its baiting of China, suggest not a fresh approach but a loss of prudence and a risky indifference to the opinions of other nations.
Unless the Bush Administration really wants another war in Asia, it should convert its treaties there into equitable state-to-state alliances without any permanent American military presence. This should be done because forward-deployed US forces have themselves become militarily provocative and one of the main sources of instability in the area, and because the moral consequences of the American military enclaves are destroying any basis for future trust and cooperation among the peoples involved. If we recognize that the cold war is over in Europe, why not accept that it is also winding down in East Asia? Moreover, if we do not dismantle our satellites in East Asia in an orderly manner, they will surely rise up against us, as the former Soviet Union's satellites did in Eastern Europe.