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US, Japan Drone Agreement Brings Enhanced Surveillance Amongst 'Pacific Pivot'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, second from left, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera second from right, and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, shake hands before the Japan-U.S. 2+2 meeting in Tokyo, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 (Koji / AP)U.S. drones are heading to Japan.

The so-called “Pacific Pivot”—which describes the growing shift of U.S. military focus on the Asian Pacific region under President Obama—took another step Thursday as the U.S. and Japan moved forward on an agreement to increase the U.S. presence and enhance Japan’s military capabilities in the region. As part of the agreement, new long-range U.S. surveillance drones and a second early-warning radar system will be deployed despite warnings that such moves could increase regional tensions with North Korea and China.

The new ‘defense partnership’ agreement, which will go into effect next year, is a continuation of a long-standing miltary agreement between the two countries but is the first time the Pentagon has been able to secure base rights for its drones in Northeast Asia. The exact base has not yet been named.

“Japan is changing, and so is its neighborhood,” Kerry told reporters after the meeting. “So we’re coming together now to modernize our deep cooperation, through both our military alliances and our diplomatic partnerships, and that is so we can better prevent and respond to the ever-changing threats of the 21st century.”

The Washington Post reports:

The drones‘ primary mission will be to fly near North Korea, an area where U.S. officials hope they will greatly enhance current spying capabilities [...]

The unarmed drones carry multiple spy sensors and are the most advanced surveillance aircraft in the Air Force’s fleet. They fly at altitudes above 60,000 feet, placing them out of range of most air defenses. [...]

The presence of Global Hawks in East Asia is sure to irritate China, which has increasingly pushed back against the U.S. military presence in the region. Officials in Beijing had criticized Tokyo in recent days over reports that the Japanese military was considering acquiring its own Global Hawks, saying the move could escalate tensions.

However, as John Glaser at AntiWar.com points out, the move may not be “exactly a win for regional security” and points out the hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy in the context of Pacific region geopolitics. Glaser writes:

Really, the U.S. should just mind its own business instead of trying to dictate China’s behavior in a desperate attempt to hold on to world hegemony.

Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, provides the following anecdote to sum up the hypcritical U.S. position on China:

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel declared at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore earlier this year, “The United States stands firmly against any coercive attempts to alter the status quo.” Similarly, Hagel’s deputy, Ashton Carter, noted in reference to the Asia-Pacific, “We oppose provocation. We oppose coercion. We oppose the use of force,” adding a U.S. preference for “peaceful resolution of disputes in a manner consistent with international law.” Of course, resorting to coercion and the use of force to change the status quo are defining characteristics of U.S. foreign policy, and — as the reactions to Syria demonstrate — they are widely embraced among pundits and officials. The defining questions of East Asian relations in the coming decades is whether China emulates the U.S. military by embracing coercion, or follows U.S. guidelines as to how local disputes should be resolved.

Do as we see, not as we do. Follow our orders, or prepare for aggression.

Not exactly a constructive approach.

Glaser also points to a new piece by John Reed at Foreign Policy, entitled “New U.S. Drone Base is America’s Latest Move to Contain China,” which argues that “the bottom line is that the U.S. is prepositioning forces around China.”

As Reed points out:

The latest news out of Japan comes several months after the top U.S. Air Force general in the Pacific revealed that American fighters, bombers and tankers will constantly deploy to a string of bases in the Pacific and Indian ocean regions. These facilities aren’t slated for permanent occupation by American aircraft — or at least that’s what American commanders say. Instead, these sites will see a steady stream of U.S. units visiting on a regular basis.

These temporary American bases range from Tinian and Saipan to Australia, Singapore, Thailand, India and possibly sites in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. American jets permanently stationed at dozens of U.S. bases in the Pacific — as well as bases in the U.S. — will rotate in an out of these airfields under a concept that harkens back to the Cold War.

The U.S. has used drones in Japan in the past, but this will be the first time that drones would be housed on a U.S. base in the country, expanding their surveillance capabilities in the region, The Associated Press reports.

The agreement also involves shifting a portion of U.S. troops from the controversial U.S. base in Okinawa, which has spawned tensions in the past over the U.S. military’s land and air space use as well as numerous crimes committed by service members in the area. About 9,000 of the Marines stationed on Okinawa will be moved out, with 5,000 going to Guam.

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