Okinawa’s win may be Hawai’i's tragedy

February 2, 2012 

As Okinawans move closer to removing the oppressive presence of U.S. military bases from their island, the repercussions are already being felt across the Pacific. In November, President Obama announced that the U.S. will deploy 2,500  troops to Australia.  Recently, the U.S. and Philippines have engaged in talks about expanding the U.S. military presence in the Philippines twenty years after popular movements forced the U.S. to remove its military bases. The prospect of renewed U.S. military expansion in the Philippines has been met with strong denunciations and protests.

As discussed previously on this site, despite looming Pentagon budget cuts (actually reductions in the rate of increase of the military budget), Hawai’i will continue to be inundated with more troops and military construction with the U.S. strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.  The expansion of Marine Corps aircraft and training areas may have been a fallback plan in the event that the plan to relocate troops in Okinawa and Guam fell through.

William Cole revealed in the Honolulu Star Advertiser “Isle Marine forces could grow by 1000″:

Hawaii’s military future could include another Navy cruiser and at least 1,000 more Marines if some forces are removed from Okinawa, the Star-Advertiser has learned.

The Pentagon outlined plans Thursday to cut $487 billion over the next 10 years, but Hawaii’s location makes it key in a new military strategy that emphasizes the Pacific, Asia and the Middle East. As such, Hawaii’s military forces are expected to grow in certain areas and stay about the same in others, such as Army strength, which will remain constant on Oahu, military officials said.

While the Marine Corps is making plans to drop to a force of 182,000 from 202,000, Hawaii’s Marine contingent could grow by 1,000 troops or more as the Pentagon looks at alternatives to moving Marines from Okinawa to Guam, a source familiar with the plans told the Star-Advertiser. Hawaii could get some of those reshuffled forces, said the source, who is not authorized to speak publicly about the plans.

The sheer cost of the Futenma-Henoko-Guam relocation plan is working to slow, or possibly even derail the plan. The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported:

In May the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the cost estimate to move the 8,000 Marines and 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam, and to relocate other Marines to another location on Okinawa, had ballooned to $29.1 billion from $10.3 billion.

Currently, the Marines maintain approximately 11,000 troops at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay, and another 700 at Camp Smith.  If the Marines were to increase troop numbers by 1000, the total number of Marines in Hawaiʻi would reach 12,700, not counting dependents.   The Army will maintain 23,000 troops in Hawaiʻi. The Navy has six destroyers, two frigates and three cruisers homeported at Pearl Harbor.   However, Cole reported, “As part of the effort to strengthen a Pacific presence, another cruiser also might be moved to Hawaii, the source said.”

The Mainichi Shimbun reported:

The U.S. Defense Department is considering shifting part of some 8,000 Marine troops in Okinawa Prefecture to Hawaii and other Pacific areas instead of Guam, Pentagon sources said Tuesday.

According to the sources, the Pentagon is contemplating transferring about 3,000 of the Okinawa Marines to those locations as Guam, which is geographically close to China, could receive a catastrophic attack by Chinese forces in case of a contingency.

It is very curious that the Pentagon is using the excuse that Marines on Okinawa would be too close and vulnerable to Chinese attack.  Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee reacted that “It is almost inconceivable to me that the marines are being moved because of safety fears related to China.”  Instead, he interpreted the news as part of a psychological campaign to pressure Okinawans and Japanese to accept the base relocation to Henoko and a response to the lack of infrastructure on Guam and Congress’ refusal to fund upgrades to the military infrastructure on Guam.

Col. (Ret.) Ann Wright said that the possible expansion of Marines in Hawai’i may increase the danger to the public when seen in the context of two cases of aborted justice involving violent crimes by Marines:

Another military expansion threat to Hawaiʻi is the possible return of high-speed catamaran “superferries” to transport military troops and equipment. In “Isle home possible for past superferry”, William Cole of the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported:

The $35 million sale of the defunct Hawaii Superferries Ala­kai and Hua­kai by the U.S. Maritime Administration to the U.S. Navy, finalized last week, raised the possibility that one of the blue-and-white high-speed vessels could return to Hawaii in battleship gray.

All that’s certain is that one of the former passenger catamarans will not be operating out of Hawaii in the near future.

The Navy’s Military Sealift Command in Washington, D.C,. said one of the superferries will replace the leased 331-foot Westpac Express based out of Okinawa, Japan, a vessel used to transport Marines and equipment around the Western Pacific, sometime before the end of the calendar year.

The Hawaii Superferry was an ill-conceived and controversial venture to supposedly provide a passenger ferry service for the Hawaiian islands. But the project, which enjoyed the support of Governor Lingleʻs administration and many in business and political circles, was fast-tracked without an environmental review process.  Protests by surfers on Kauaʻi blocked the ship from entering Nawiliwili harbor, and legal challenges from Maui environmental groups eventually stopped the project.  The Hawaiʻi Supreme Court ruled that the ferry was operating illegally and ordered a halt until an environmental review was conducted. The company subsequently went bankrupt, and the two ferries were repossessed by the Maritime Administration which had given a $140 million loan guarantee. The Navy recently acquired the two vessels from the Maritime Administration for use as military transport vessels.

The transfer of the ships to the Navy confirmed what many had suspected, that military interests were the underlying driving force behind the superferry project.  The ships were overbuilt for the small Hawaiʻi market, but were perfect for military transport specifications.  The investment company of John F. Lehman, former Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan, owned Hawaii Superferry.  Austal, the Australian shipbuilder leveraged the Hawaii Superferry contracts to successfully bid for the Joint High Speed Vessel contract and the Littoral Combat Ship contract.   (Only ships in the U.S and under U.S. flag could be eligible for Navy shipbuilding contracts.)

The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported:

Separate from the two former superferries, the Pentagon had plans to build and operate 10 additional Joint High-Speed Vessels, and said in 2010 that it was looking at basing up to three of the speedy cargo and troop carriers at Pearl Harbor.

But new defense budget priorities released Thursday call for reducing that number by eight. Officials with the Sealift Command, which will operate the high-speed vessels, could not be reached for comment about the reduction.

The Army talked for years about the advantages of having one of the big Joint High-Speed Vessels in Hawaii to transport Stryker armored vehicles and troops to Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii island.

But the federal budget crises may have trimmed the original plans:

The Army published a notice in the Federal Register in early 2010 saying it would conduct a programmatic environmental impact statement analysis of the potential basing of up to 12 Joint High-Speed Vessels at five locations, including up to three of the ships at Pearl Harbor.

Other locations to be considered in the study were Guam, the Virginia Tidewater area, San Diego and Seattle-Tacoma, Wash.

The Joint High-Speed Vessel program initially had five of the first 10 ships assigned to the Army and five to the Navy, but the Army agreed in May to transfer its ships to the Navy.

The Army subsequently said it would not conduct the basing study. How much the basing examination has changed is unclear.

What is clear is that the situation in the Asia Pacific regarding U.S.  military bases and troops is rapidly evolving.  Resistance to bases in Okinawa, Japan and Korea is forcing the military adjust its basing plans and withdraw more military troops to Guam and Hawai’i, and possibly also to the Philippines and Australia.  As the hub of U.S. military bases and operations in the Asia-Pacific region, Hawai’i will face particularly intense militarization pressures.  Hawai’i can learn from the movements in Asia and use their momentum to push for an overall reduction, rather than relocation of U.S. troops and bases in the Pacific.


Okinawan Anti-Bases Delegation Makes An Impression in Washington, D.C.

January 30, 2012 

Even as Tokyo tried to force the Futenma base relocation plan on Okinawa in a desperate effort to salvage its unraveling deal with the U.S., a prominent delegation from Okinawa visited Washington, D.C. to educate political movers and shakers and lobby Congress to close the military bases in Okinawa.  An overview of the delegation “Making Okinawan Voices Heard in America” can be found at  David Swanson wrote “Japanese Delegation Wants the U.S. Out of Okinawa” on
A 24-member delegation from Japan is in Washington, D.C., this week opposing the presence and new construction of U.S. military bases in Okinawa.  Participating are members of the Japanese House of Councilors, of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, and of city governments in Okinawa, as well as leading protest organizers and the heads of several important organizations opposed to the ongoing U.S. military occupation of Okinawa.

The famously stingy U.S. tax payer, frequently seen bitterly protesting outrageously wasteful spending of a few million dollars, is paying billions of dollars to maintain and expand some 90 military bases in Japan (and to make those who profit from such business filthy rich).  Thirty-four of those bases, containing 74% of their total land area, are in Okinawa, which itself contains only 0.6% of Japanese land.  Okinawa is dominated by U.S. military bases and has been for 67 years since the U.S. forcibly appropriated much of the best land.

In addition to numerous meetings, briefings and media sessions, the delegation held a public forum at Busboys and Poets. Here are a few snippets about the speakers:
Keiko Itokazu, a Member of the Japanese National Diet, depicted in this painting, said the Okinawan people had been heartbroken since having been unable to protect a 12-year-old girl from gang rape by U.S. troops in 1995.  The Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Japan gives U.S. troops immunity from Japanese prosecution.  Between 1979 and 2008, U.S. forces in Okinawa caused 1,439 accidents (487 of them airplane related), and 5,584 criminal cases (559 of them involving violent crimes).  The list includes fatal driving incidents, residential break-ins, taxi robberies, sexual violence, and other serious crimes against local citizens.
Hiroshi Ashitomi has been a leader of the nonviolent resistance in Henoko for 16 years.  “We use our own bodies,” he said on Monday, “to resist aggressive actions by the Japanese government.”  Pointing to the picture of Gandhi in the collage on the wall at Busboys, Ashitomi said, “We follow the example of Gandhi.  It is not easy.  We receive threats from the police.  But we are determined to use nonviolent resistance, and we get a lot of support from all over Japan.  We are trying to protect the environment, so many young people from all over Japan come to our tent and participate in our resistance.”
Specifically, the delegation is asking for the closure of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station; cancellation of plans to construct a new Marine Corps air base at Cape Henoko; reduction of unbearable noise caused by air operations at Kadena Air Base; withdrawal of any proposal to integrate Futenma’s helicopter squadrons into Kadena’s operations; an end to the construction of six new helipads in the Yanbaru forest in northern Okinawa; and revision of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement to allow fair prosecutions of crimes.
The article mentioned the role of international solidarity in the Okinawan movement:
Base opponents in Okinawa work with others in Korea, Guam, and Hawaii, and with former residents of Diego Garcia, as well as others around the world.
Doug Bandow in Forbes Magazine wrote a thoughtful and in depth article entitled “Give Okinawa back to Okinawans”.   He wrote of the Okinawan movement:
Civil disobedience is a potential game-changer.  In May 2010 17,000 Okinawans created a human chain surrounding Futenma.  More recently roughly 200 demonstrators delayed delivery of an environmental impact report on a new runway from the defense ministry to the prefectural government.  Using force against protestors would threaten a future Japanese government’s survival and embarrass Washington.

Rather than resist Okinawan demands, the U.S. should voluntarily reduce its military presence on the island.  Jeffrey Hornung of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies observed:  “Given how much problems this is causing in Okinawa, it’s finally time to rethink things.”

Bandow also discussed how the Okinawa issue is helping to move public sentiment away from the Japan-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty (ANPO) which maintains Japan’s subordinate role to the U.S.:
Tokyo has essentially relinquished control over its own territory to comply with U.S. demands.  Although the Obama administration frustrated the 2009 DPJ campaign pledge to create a more equal security partnership, Japanese citizens will inevitably raise more questions about the bilateral relationship as they debate security issues.
Prof. Kenneth B. Pyle of the University of Washington argued that “the degree of U.S. domination in the relationship has been so extreme that a recalibration of the alliance was bound to happen, but also because autonomy and self-mastery have always been fundamental goals of modern Japan.”
The article goes on to explain that the United States’ paternalistic relationship with Japan is based on two rationales: containing a rising China and preventing a resurgent militaristic Japan. However, as Bandow points out, the “China peril” rationale for the Okinawa bases is overblown:

Exactly how the Marines help contain Beijing is not clear.  As Robert Gates observed, U.S. policymakers would have to have their heads examined to participate in another land war in Asia.  If a conflict with China improbably developed, Washington would rely on air and naval units.

Moreover, despite persistent fear-mongering about Beijing, the PRC is in no position, and for many years will not be in position, to harm the U.S.  Chinese military spending remains far behind that of America.  Beijing is working mightily to deter the U.S. from attacking China, not to attack America.

The article concludes that what Japan decides to do about the Japan-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty is up to the Japanese people; the U.S. should not try to dictate Japan’s policy:
Adopting such a stance would be in the interests of the American and Japanese people.  And especially in the interest of the Okinawan people.  The U.S. should begin transforming its alliance relationships.  Now is a good time to do so with Japan.
And even in TIME magazine, Kirk Spitzer wrote “Marines on Okinawa: Time to Leave?”:
More than six decades after U.S. Marines stormed ashore on Okinawa, it may finally be time for them to go home.
The visit seems to have influenced some lawmakers to take more proactive steps to call for the closing of the bases in light of the current U.S. budget woes and in response to President Obama’s new defense guidance statement. Representatives Barbara Lee, Barney Frank, Lynn C. Woolsey, and Rush D. Holt sent a letter to President Obama that criticized the U.S. troops in Okinawa and proposed expansion of troops in Australia:
Some of our troops in Asia as well, particularly our Marines in Okinawa, are stationed on bases with no well-thought out purpose, at considerable cost both in funding and in causing enmity with our Japanese ally.  While we should continue to offer protection to South Korea and enforce its cease-fire with its unstable and hostile northern neighbor, and we understand your overall emphasis on Asian security, particular South Asia with its proximity to the Persian Gulf and oil-shipping, we see no reason for any expansion into Australia.
These advances for the Okinawan movement have been hard fought and well deserved. But the consequences of their success may spell disaster for Hawai’i unless peace movements in the Asia-Pacific and the United States can push for a reduction of military forces in the region.   My next post will cover this issue.

The Grim Implications of Obama’s New Defense Plan

January 14, 2012 

Joseph Gersonʻs analysis of the Pentagon’s New Strategic Guidance “The Grim Implications of Obama’s New Defense Plan” has been published in Counterpunch:

In early January the Obama Administration released the Pentagon’s new Guidance, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. It is clearly designed less to cut U.S. military spending than to reorder Pentagon priorities to ensure full spectrum dominance (dominating any nation, anywhere, at any time, at any level of force) for the first decades of the 21st century. As President Obama himself said, after the near-doubling of military spending during the Bush era, the Guidance will slow the growth of military spending, “but…it will still grow:, in fact by 4% in the coming year.”

The new doctrine places China and Iran at the center of U.S. “security” concerns. It thus prioritizes expansion of U.S. war making capacities in Asia and the Pacific and Indian Oceans, by “rebalanc[ing] toward the Asia-Pacific region…empahsiz[ing] our existing alliances.” This means Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and now Australia and India as the U.S. “pivots” from Iraq and Afghanistan to the heartland of the 21st century global economy, Asia and the Pacific.  The implications for Okinawa and Japan should be clear: Washington will be doing all that it can to ensure that Japan remains its unsinkable aircraft carrier, including pressing for construction of the new air base in Henoko.