Defending Japan

GLOBAL strategy is colliding with personal tragedy in Japan. Last week, a hearing was held on Japan's small southern island of Okinawa for three American servicemen charged with raping a young girl. The men pleaded guilty to conspiring to abduct and rape the girl. The trial resumes Dec. 4.

On Nov. 19, President Clinton is due in Osaka to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and then goes to Tokyo for security talks.

The Okinawa case has caused a reexamination of Japan's dependence on the US for strategic defense. As China improves its nuclear arsenal and other neighbors continue to buy missiles, planes, and ships, Tokyo must decide whether to continue the US defense umbrella or become a major military power again.

Partly as a result of the Okinawa crime, the 1960 US-Japan mutual security treaty has come under heavy fire, sending both sides scrambling to resolve the issue before the upcoming Clinton visit. Their task is difficult, for several reasons:

1. Conservative politicians who privately favor US bases have failed to explain their reasons publicly.

2. Okinawa Governor Masahide Ota has actively campaigned to change the military base structure.

3. Japan's Socialist prime minister represents a party critical of the security alliance and US military presence.

Secretary of Defense William Perry apologized profusely for the inexcusable rape. He said the US will work with Japan to reduce base-related problems. For instance, the US will more quickly surrender troops suspected of crimes to Japanese police.

But neither government has adequately taken into account how Japanese citizens feel about the bases. Once the immediate uproar is quieted, both nations should thoroughly review the US military presence in East Asia. Japan's leaders must do their part by explaining why the alliance is important to Japan, as well as to the US.

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