But that’s not what I have in mind. After all, France and Germany stayed out of the war in Iraq and caught a lot of flak from the Bush administration and other Republicans, but that never posed a threat to NATO itself. South Korean (non-combat) troops left the Afghan theater, but that on its own has no effect on its security relationship with the US. The Middle East may be, from a national security point of view the most important part of the world outside one’s neighborhood (be it East Asia, Western Europe, North America, etc.).
Katsusuke Imura won the 2003 Iwakuni mayoral election as the incumbent on a platform opposing the transfer of US carrier aircraft to the Iwakuni Base from the Atsugi Base. The LDP-dominated prefectural assembly strongly opposed Imura on this and, helped along by fiscal pressure from Tokyo*, made life difficult for the mayor. In fact, life got so difficult for Mr. Imura that he decided to seek a new mandate from his constituency. He resigned on December 28, traditionally the last working day of the year for the government and ordinary businesses in Japan, and is running against the LDP-backed candidate**. Mr. Imura himself has the support of the DPJ.
Now this is not the first time that the DPJ has backed the anti-troop-realignment candidate. Most famously, it backed Keiko Itokazu, whose personal views go somewhat beyond the run-of-the-mill NYMBYists, in the 2006 Okinawa gubernatorial election. This is likely a pattern that is replicating itself in other prefectures and municipalities that harbor US military facilities.
Now I said “of necessity”, not “of its free will”, since it is well-known that there are a considerable number of DPJ Diet members whose views on national security fit in quite comfortably with those of the LDP mainstream. But the electoral necessity to differentiate its product from the LDP’s compels the DPJ under Ichirō Ozawa’s leadership to support these non-realignment candidates.
Such being the case, I see no way that the DPJ can walk away from all this if it comes to power under Mr. Ozawa. The upshot is that all realignment of US troops with regard to Japan will come to a sudden halt. Okay － you might say － there’s been so little movement for the last dozen years that a few more years of delay won’t hurt much anyway. But having an administration that at least expends words and a princely sum of money to that end is one thing; having one that won’t even bother to make the effort, another.
Without support from the Japanese government, the US government will be obliged to relegate to the backburner any thoughts of troop realignment that would increase the footprints of any one of its military facilities in Japan. It is near unthinkable that this will cause any future US administration to fundamentally rethink the alliance. Still, it is prudent, or at least intellectually stimulating, to think through the lesser ramifications of such a policy change, as well as the long-term uncertainties stemming from prospects of future regime changes.
* Among other things, the government reportedly withheld a 3.5 billion yen subsidy for building a new prefectural government complex.
** There are others, but they don’t matter.