In a speech today at Keio University in Tokyo, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates insisted the US needed to keep its 47,000 troops in Japan “long-term” and that the presence is “more necessary, more relevant and more important than ever.”
Though the military deployment in Japan was historically about posing a threat in the Pacific to the Soviet Union, Gates insisted that the troops are there to “keep China’s rising power in check” and to target North Korea, which one would figure was more the reason the troops in South Korea are there.
Still, Gates predicted that without the troops in Japan, China would “act more aggressively” against US interests, and war games in the region would be “harder.” Though Japan and China are traditionally rivals, the growing Japanese antipathy over the massive US military presence on Okinawa seems like it’s going to need more justification than that.
In the end, the claims of grave threats that warrant such a presence ring extremely hollow. China is an ally, and economic ties ensure that far more than the threat of US attacks. North Korea, on the other hand, is teetering on the brink of collapse, with South Korea openly talking about annexation. Neither seems a major “threat” to either the US or Japan.