According to the Cato Institute, the U.S. has 750 Military bases in 80 countries. Most of these nations only host a few hundred American soldiers. The largest tend to be in Europe. The two exceptions are South Korea and Japan. Japan has 63,690 members of the U.S. military, according to the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, which puts it in first place.
The two primary reasons for the size of America’s military presence in Japan are the military occupation of the nation after WWII and the strategic position the US holds geographically near China and North Korea. Japan is in a poor position to defend itself and its neighbors militarily. The Japanese Constitution, largely written by the U.S. at the end of the war, started the demilitarization of the country. In the last year, it has begun to build up its own military, largely because of the Chinese and North Korean threats.
Japan’s leaders recently proposed that by 2027, 2% of its GDP should be spent on its military. That compares to the US at 3.7% and Russia at 4.3%. Most of Japan’s military hardware will come directly from the US, which means it will have among the world’s most advanced weapons systems.
At the center of the US armed forces in Japan is the headquarters of the 7th Fleet, among the largest parts of the US Navy. According to the Navy it operates from India to Antarctica and nearly as far north as the Arctic Circle. Located in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, the 7th Fleet has 27,000 naval personnel and Marines, approximately 60 ships, and 150 aircraft. It almost always hosts one American aircraft carrier.
While the US presence in Japan is not likely to grow, it is unlikely to get smaller, even as Japan builds its military. North Korea has become a major military problem. It recently launched a ballistic missile that flew over part of Japan. In theory, these could carry nuclear warheads.
China has menaced Japan because of a dispute over ownership of the Senkaku Islands. These sit in the East China Sea between the two nations. The Chinese have built a large military presence nearby to get Japan to relinquish its ownership. The US sends warships close to the islands frequently, primarily as a reminder of the presence of the US Navy.
Based on current circumstances, Japan will continue to play host to more American military personnel than any other country over the course of the foreseeable future.
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