Apparently, some members of the United States Senate need a refresher on why we have military presence in Japan.
Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, was at one point a very serious man who cared more about doing his job than he did about his online reputation. His background is impressive: he’s a lawyer, a former clerk for the Supreme Court, and a member of the Senate for over a decade. Back in the halcyon days of 2016, he refused to support the candidacy of Donald Trump out of principle. His legal mind is quite astute, and he has been considered for the Supreme Court by many conservatives. Suffice it to say, Lee has earned a reputation for seriousness and mental acuity. Well, at least until recently.
Since the waning days of the Trump administration, Lee has become more of a Twitter troll and MAGA opportunist than a US Senator, tweeting under the handle @BasedMikeLee (for the uninitiated, ‘based’ is online right-wing lingo for cool/badass). Just last night, he put out a series of tweets that caught my attention. In the thread starting with the tweet below, Senator Lee questions the necessity and prudence of our military commitment to Japan.
Even though the Senator has the full resources of the federal government with which to get answers to his question, he chose to ask it on Twitter. This has become a trend with the so-called ‘New Right’, virtue signaling online for the validation of the base instead of actually seeking real answers or doing one’s job as a member of the legislature. This is quite lame coming from someone who has oversight responsibility over the very troop presence he is complaining on the Internet about. Still, this lone taxpayer (yours truly) will provide a brief answer to Senator Lee’s misdirected question.
Let’s start with the blatantly obvious: we have a Senate-approved mutual defense treaty with Japan. That treaty has been in force since 1960, and American troops have been in place in Japan since 1945. Article V of that treaty reads:
Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations in accordance with the provisions of Article 51 of the Charter. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.
Article VI discusses how the United States can uphold its side of the agreement with basing and troop presence in Japan, agreed by the Japanese and American governments (and reinforced several times since 1960):
For the purpose of contributing to the security of Japan and the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East, the United States of America is granted the use by its land, air and naval forces of facilities and areas in Japan. The use of these facilities and areas as well as the status of United States armed forces in Japan shall be governed by a separate agreement, replacing the Administrative Agreement under Article III of the Security Treaty between Japan and the United States of America, signed at Tokyo on February 28, 1952, as amended, and by such other arrangements as may be agreed upon.
As a lawyer, a former Supreme Court clerk, and an American Senator, Mike Lee should be able to understand how this very simple treaty operates. He does understand this, of course, but it is harder to play to the rubes when you acknowledge that.
Besides the clear obligations of the US-Japan treaty, the geopolitical and geographic situation makes the need for American troops in Japan abundantly clear. Let’s look at a few maps to prove that necessity.
First, check out the map which leads this post; it shows the relative positions of China, Japan, Taiwan, and other lands in the East Asia/West Pacific (WestPac) region. The area labeled the ‘first island chain’ is critical to the maritime security of WestPac, as it controls the access to the important straits where commercial traffic plies its trade as well as the approaches to the open sea of the Pacific Ocean. This has been a key geostrategic region since World War II, pivoting on the island of Taiwan. The island labeled Okinawa is the site of most American military deployments in Japan; notice how it sits very much in the middle of that first island chain, in close proximity to Taiwan. Also notice how much further the American bases at Guam are from the likely theater of conflict, making it harder for American forces to rapidly reach the battlefield in the first island chain without taking significant casualties.
The next map is above, showing a closer view of the area between Taiwan and Japan. You can see the strategic importance of Okinawa, lying on the approach to the Miyako Strait and close to Taiwan and the disputed Senkaku Islands. Given that China is the main threat to American hegemony and the fact that its first aggressive moves would be towards Taiwan or the Senkakus, forward deployment of American troops on Okinawa is not only useful in case of conflict, but also serves a deterrent purpose. Having troops in-theater influences the Chinese calculus as to how much risk it would incur taking either Taiwan or the Senkaku archipelago.
The final map is the one below, which shows the scope and scale of Chinese military exercises in the water surrounding Taiwan. You can easily see the perimeter which the Chinese would seek to control in any attempt at forcible conquest or blockade of Taiwan. This perimeter includes several areas of sovereign Japanese territory, as well as the key waters by which any American-led relief force would have to transit to aid Taiwan. Okinawa is visible on this map, meaning it is very close to this potential Chinese operation; that allows us to possibly disrupt the CCP plan before it becomes a fait accompli. If we were to withdraw from the first island chain and instead move our troops in WestPac to Guam, the Chinese would be able to set a defense perimeter around Taiwan (like the one shown in the map) far before we could prepare an adequate response force and get it into position.
As you can see, the presence of American troops in Japan is deeply within American national security interests. Not only do we have a legal treaty obligation to the Japanese, we also have the ability from our current position to disrupt a Chinese attempt on Taiwan. China is the grand strategic challenge of the 21st century and has already shown itself as an expansionist global power seeking to topple American hegemony. 55,000 American troops in Japan is the bare minimum we should have in-theater to counter and deter the malign force that is the CCP.
Senator Lee knows all of this, but he would rather play dumb for the online ‘New Right’ than he would do his job and seek to advance American interests abroad. The Senate was known as the world’s greatest deliberative body, but folks like the august Senator from Utah seem to prefer playacting on the Internet than they do actually doing the hard work of governance. The lions of Senates past would be rolling in their graves.