The alleged robbery and murder of a 56-year-old Japanese woman, for $129, by a 21-year-old American sailor stationed at the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka is "likely to further stoke opposition to U.S. military presence in Japan;" but it should also raise the question here at home: What are we doing with troops in Japan over sixty years after the end of World War II?
True, Japan is "banned from having its own official military under the postwar pacifist constitution;" but this relic of the U.S. occupation allows Japan to depend on the United States for its security rather than spending its own money. No one thinks such a scheme is needed any longer to preserve U.S. national security against Japanese aggression; yet we still have about 50,000 troops stationed in Japan.
These troops cost American taxpayers a heap of money, as do the 150,000 in Iraq, the 75,000+ in Germany, the 33,000+ in South Korea, the 13,000+ in Italy, and thousands more elsewhere around the globe, all told -- as of summer 2004 -- 387,400 troops in 120 countries.
Let's leave out for the time being the 12-17,000 troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and environs as possibly still needed to keep up the effort to find Osama bin Laden (if still alive), Ayman al-Zawahiri (still alive), and other al Qaeda leadership hiding in that region, although I wonder if the best strategy now might be to back off and embolden them so we can figure out where they are for a drone attack.
Even President Bush has proposed some troop reductions abroad, admitting the Soviet threat is no longer a justification; but what this nation needs is a courageous rethinking of post-World War II, Korean War, and Cold War security commitments, whereby our forces are stationed all over the planet not just as deterrents but as tripwires obligating full U.S. participation in any conflict where our troops are based. Whether to become involved in war abroad is a decision to be made by the current U.S. Congress, not by the agreements of fifty or sixty years ago.
Moreover, these troops are being maintained expensively abroad at a time when the United States is running a huge budget deficit while programs that serve people here at home are being cut. Our government, for better or worse, has taken on many of the same responsibilities as the so-called social welfare states of the developed world, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federal aid to education, and many other extremely costly programs. It is time we live within our budget -- instead of depending year after year on undependable foreign purchasers of our national debt -- and make choices between domestic security and empire.
UPDATE: Army forces 50,000 soldiers into extended duty
UPDATE: Seoul and Washington closer to divorce
UPDATE: Cato Policy Analysis: Rethinking the U.S.-Japan Strategic Relationship