US warship’s rest stop at Japanese island spurs civilian dockworker strike

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Originally published by Stars and Stripes

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Editor’s Note: This piece by Seth Robson and Hana Kusumoto features quotes from CSP Senior Fellow, Grant Newsham.

Dockworkers went on strike in protest Monday when a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer visited a civilian port on the southern Japanese island of Ishigaki, according to local news reports.

The USS Rafael Peralta, based south of Tokyo at Yokosuka Naval Base, stopped for rest and replenishment allowed under the Japan-U.S. status of forces agreement, Japanese national broadcaster NHK reported that evening. SOFA outlines the rights and responsibilities of U.S. military forces in Japan.

Local officials had granted permission for the visit, but dockworkers began a strike at the port Monday afternoon, citing concerns about the impact on logistics, the broadcaster reported.

The U.S. military benefits from access to as many ports as possible, according to Grant Newsham, a retired Marine colonel and senior researcher with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo.

“And it’s important to use them in so-called ‘phase zero’ — peacetime, or at least before the shooting starts,” he said in an email Tuesday.

Port calls make military personnel familiar with a location and operating environment, so they don’t need to figure things out on the fly in an emergency, he added.

More ports and airfields make U.S. forces a harder target and gives them better odds of surviving an attack on their main base, Newsham said.

“By treaty, the Japanese government is obligated to provide such access to facilitate the operations of U.S. forces in Japan — and the U.S. forces are in fact operating to defend Japan,” he said. “It’s important that the Americans get over their self-imposed restraint on doing what’s necessary to both protect Japan and also increase their own odds of survival. These need to be regular visits.”

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