U.S. Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), John McCain (R-AZ) and Jim Webb (D-VA) today sent the following letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta regarding a new agreement with the Government of Japan on U.S. force posture in the Asia-Pacific region. The full text of the letter appears below.
Senators McCain, Levin and Webb, all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also released the following statement:
"We remain committed to working with the administration to reach a mutually beneficial, militarily effective, and fiscally sustainable agreement regarding the realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa and Guam. This agreement comprises the very crux of the vital national security interest of both our countries. The upcoming visit of Japanese Prime Minister Noda to the United States is an important opportunity to make additional progress toward this goal. We welcome Prime Minister Noda to Washington and view his visit as an opportunity to reaffirm and deepen the U.S.-Japan alliance as the cornerstone of our mutual security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.
"At the same time, we have serious questions that have not been fully addressed regarding the emerging agreement between the administration and the Government of Japan. These questions pertain to the core details of this or any basing arrangement, including cost estimates, military sustainment and force management, and how it would support a broader strategic concept of operations in this increasingly vital region. Congress has important oversight and funding responsibilities beyond its traditional consultative role for this basing agreement, and any new proposal should not be considered final until it has the support of the Congress."
Text of the letter follows:
Dear Secretary Panetta:
We have been advised informally that the United States and Japan are preparing to announce an agreement regarding basing issues on Okinawa and Guam as early as this Wednesday, April 25, in advance of Prime Minister Noda's coming visit to the United States. While we have been strongly encouraging a resolution of this complex and troubling issue, we feel compelled to emphasize that no new basing proposal can be considered final until it has the support of Congress, which has important oversight and funding responsibilities.
As you know, we have been particularly interested in this matter and included in the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act provisions that relate directly to the plans for U.S. forces in Asia. One provision, section 346, required an independent examination of the U.S. strategic posture in the Asia-Pacific region and submission of that assessment, with Defense Department review, to the congressional defense committees for our consideration; we understand that independent assessment will not be received until June 28, 2012. Another provision, section 2207, prohibits the expenditure of funds for certain activities on Guam until various conditions are met; none of those conditions have yet been met.
Based on the information we have received about this emerging agreement, we have many questions that have not been fully addressed. We require additional information regarding how this proposal relates to the broader strategic concept of operations in the region, the Marine Corps' concept of operations, master plans, and alternatives to base realignments on Guam and Okinawa, as well as the positioning of U.S. Air Force units in the Asia-Pacific region. We also remain concerned about the absence of firm cost estimates informed by basing plans, an analysis of logistical requirements, and environmental studies related to this new agreement. Further, a recent visit by Senator Webb to Okinawa (his third visit in the past two years) was characterized by a less-than-forthcoming series of responses from U.S. government officials.
We are mindful of the turbulence that this issue has brought to U.S.-Japan relations and to the domestic political climate in Japan and on Okinawa. We are fully committed to a robust U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region, and we continue to view the U.S.-Japan alliance as the cornerstone of our engagement in the region. The current decisions about U.S. force posture will help to define the U.S. involvement in the Asia-Pacific region for decades to come, which the Administration has correctly prioritized in its foreign and defense policy. It is essential that we get these important decisions right, and that they be guided by sound strategic concepts and fiscally sustainable plans.
We remain committed to working with the Administration to resolve this matter to the benefit of both the United States and Japan. But, for the reasons given above, it is our position that any announcement on this critical matter that goes beyond an agreement in principle at this time would be premature and could have the unintended consequences of creating more difficulties for our important alliance.