Defense Minister Taro Kono bitterly protested a recent nighttime parachute drop by the U.S. military at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture, saying it undermined efforts to maintain and enhance the bilateral security alliance.

He told reporters the incident flew in the face of efforts to "uphold and reinforce the Japan-U.S. alliance.” We urge Kono to act on his convictions and press the U.S. military to comply with the terms of the agreement.

Late on Oct. 29, U.S. military personnel parachuted from aircraft flying over Kadena base, despite calls from the central and local governments to halt the drill.

It was the fourth such exercise at Kadena this year. In this case, the drill involved riskier nighttime parachuting.

The Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) reached an agreement in 1996 that the U.S. military would carry out parachute drills only at its Iejima Auxiliary Airfield in Ie village on Iejima island in the northern part of the prefecture.

Kono filed a protest over the matter with Adm. Philip Davidson, the commander of United States Indo-Pacific Command, on Oct. 31.

Given that Kono is also scheduled to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper in mid-November, he should convey Japan’s strong message with regard to this matter.

It is not unusual in Okinawa for U.S. military parachutists to land outside U.S. military base facilities. In the past, vehicles and all kinds of materials were often delivered by parachute. In a tragic incident in 1965, a fifth-grade school girl was crushed to death under a trailer that landed in the garden of a private home.

The 1996 SACO agreement to limit U.S. parachute drills to Iejima was intended as a step to reduce the burden that Okinawa shoulders in hosting such a heavy U.S. military presence, and was taken in response to the rape of a schoolgirl by U.S. servicemen in 1995.

The U.S. military continued carrying out parachute drills at the Kadena base even after the agreement. In 2007, the two governments agreed to allow such drills outside Iejima only in “exceptional cases.”

According to the Foreign Ministry, factors that make “exceptional cases” include: an unscheduled emergency drill that is small in scale and has to be conducted in bad weather conditions that make Iejima unsuitable for the exercise.

With regard to the Oct. 29 drill, the U.S. military asserted that it was announced two days before bad weather conditions were forecast for Iejima.

But the weather turned out to be good on the day in question, and another unit conducted a parachute drill on the small island off the main Okinawa Island.

Kono rightfully noted it was not an exceptional case.

This is not the only example concerning the U.S. military’s moves to flout the rules by expanding the scope of exceptions.

U.S. forces, for instance, have often violated a bilateral agreement to restrict flights late at night and in the early morning hours. We urge Kono to call on the U.S. military to rectify this deplorable situation.

In addition, a parachuting soldier landed outside the base in Iejima two days in a row during the latest drill. This provoked angry reactions from islanders who had grudgingly accepted the agreement.

The U.S. military can have everything its own way in Japan because the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) empowers it to use U.S. bases in this country anyway it likes.

A long-overdue review of the agreement and other provisions can no longer be avoided or postponed.

U.S. forces also conduct parachute drills in Yokota Air Base in Tokyo. Last spring, a parachute fell on the schoolyard of a nearby junior high school. This is not a problem that only concerns Okinawa.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 2