With the recent arrest of a former U.S. military member in connection with the death of an Okinawan woman, the issue of U.S. bases and jurisdiction over criminal suspects has come under scrutiny. The Mainichi Shimbun answers common questions readers may have about U.S. bases and the right to try suspects.
Question: Is the U.S. military stationed in countries besides Japan?
Answer: According to a U.S. think tank, as of 2015, excluding wartime deployments to places like Afghanistan, there were around 150,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in at least 150 countries and territories. Japan has the most, at around 52,000 personnel, or about one-third of the total. Germany has around 37,000 personnel, South Korea around 25,000 and Italy around 12,000.
Q: Do other countries hosting U.S. military forces also have status-of-forces agreements?
A: Yes, because the U.S. considers the protection of its military personnel's status and rights very important. Just as in the Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement, when U.S. military personnel are accused of committing crimes while on official duty, the U.S. is given priority jurisdiction, which from the host countries' point of view can be considered unequal.
Q: Have other countries also suffered from crimes caused by U.S. military personnel?
A: Yes. In South Korea in 2002, an armored vehicle of the U.S. forces stationed there ran over a junior high school girl, killing her. The U.S. indicted two soldiers over the incident, but the U.S. military tribunal where they were tried found them not guilty, leading to anti-U.S. protests in South Korea.
In U.S. military-occupied Iraq, there were many heinous crimes by U.S. soldiers. Ahead of the 2011 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the U.S. and Iraqi governments were negotiating leaving some troops in the country, but Iraq objected to the U.S. making immunity from Iraqi criminal law an absolute requirement for leaving troops in the country. Negotiations fell apart, and the U.S. military completely withdrew from Iraq.
Q: Are there any examples of status-of-forces agreements being changed?
A: Through persistent negotiations, Germany has had its status-of-forces agreement revised several times, obtaining many sovereign rights. For example, a 1993 change made German law apply within the facilities and on land used by the U.S. military. However, the U.S. retains priority jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel.
The U.S. boasts the most powerful military in the world, and the presence of U.S. forces is very important to the national security of host countries. In many cases host countries have no choice but to accept U.S. demands. (Answers by Shizuya Fukuoka, Foreign News Department)