Photo/IllutrationSaitama Governor Kiyoshi Ueda, second from left, president of the National Governors’ Association, submits a recommendation calling for a revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement to Tomohiro Yamamoto, state minister of defense, on Aug. 14. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

In a recommendation to the Japanese and U.S. governments, the National Governors’ Association has unanimously called for a full revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which provides privileges to the U.S. military in Japan.

The solidarity presented by the governors of all 47 prefectures, some of which do not host U.S. bases, is of tremendous significance. The Japanese government should face the recommendation squarely and propose necessary revisions to the U.S. government.

Okinawa Prefecture, having borne the brunt of the U.S. base burden, has sought a SOFA review for decades. But Tokyo and Washington have refrained from amending the agreement, doing nothing beyond improving the way it was implemented or signing supplementary agreements on limited issues.

The governors’ association established a study panel in 2016 in response to Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga’s appeal that the U.S. base issue was “not the problem of just one prefecture.” Onaga died on Aug. 8.

The governors' recommendation on Aug. 14 was based on the panel’s findings from nearly two years’ work, including reports on the current situation in Okinawa as well as in Germany and Italy where U.S. military bases are being hosted.

In Japan, U.S. bases are located in 30 prefectures. Facilities used exclusively by the U.S. military are found in 13 prefectures, including Okinawa, Aomori, Kanagawa and Tokyo. Even in communities that do not have bases, flight training is conducted by U.S. military aircraft, which means that the U.S. base issue is a shared problem of many citizens.

In the recommendation, the governors sought the application, in principle, of domestic aviation and environmental protection laws to U.S. forces. They also demanded that local government officials be allowed on the sites of accidents and crimes involving the U.S. military, and that these be spelled out in the SOFA.

As for low-altitude flight training for U.S. military aircraft, the governors called for prior disclosure of information concerning the times and flight paths.

While the governors’ association acknowledged the importance of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, that did not stop it from coming up with a set of specific proposals. This indicates governors acute sense of responsibility for the welfare of their citizens.

According to a report compiled by Okinawa Prefecture on its on-site surveys, agreements in Germany and Italy were revised or replaced with a new one after the occurrence of accidents involving U.S. military aircraft, and the U.S. bases are subject to local laws.

In both countries, a system is in place to relay the wishes of local communities to the U.S. military, for example, through committees for noise reduction and other issues.

This is a far cry from Japan, where domestic laws do not apply to the U.S. military, in principle, and local residents have no way of communicating their thoughts and concerns.

At issue here is Japan’s sovereignty. Even though Japan is obligated to host U.S. bases in accordance with the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, this does not mean that the country must never complain about the excessive privileges accorded to the U.S. military.

Come to think of it, stable management of U.S. bases would be a tall order without the understanding of local residents.

Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, also recommended to the government earlier this month a revision or specific review of the SOFA. We hope this will be a topic of thorough debate during the LDP presidential election campaign next month.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 22