Disarray or disinformation? – Shifting U.S. military plans in the Asia Pacific region

February 6, 2012 

Over the past week there have been confusing and contradictory reports about plans to relocate U.S. military bases in Okinawa. Do they reflect the actual state of disarray in the U.S.-Japan alliance or psychological operations to pressure local communities into accepting base relocation plans in Okinawa and Guam?

On February 1, the Kyodo News Service reported that:

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.

This alarmed the Pacific Daily News in Guam: “BREAKING NEWS: Kyodo reports that 3,000 Marines may move to Hawaii instead of Guam.”  However its concern was that Guam would lose out on the economic “benefits” of the military buildup.  Meanwhile grassroots communities in Guam and Hawai’i brace to fight the latest threats of military expansion.

Then Bloomberg News reported “Obama Said to Curtail $21 Billion Guam Military Expansion”(February 3):

President Barack Obama plans to curtail a plan costing as much as $21.1 billion to expand the U.S. military’s presence in Guam and instead will rotate some of the Marines through the Asia-Pacific region, people familiar with the matter said.

The administration now intends to send about 4,500 U.S. Marines stationed in Japan to Guam and to rotate an additional 4,000 through Australia, Subic Bay and perhaps a smaller base in the Philippines and Hawaii, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the plan hasn’t been announced.

Joseph Gerson suggested that these news leaks may have been part of a psychological campaign to pressure Japan and Okinawa into accepting the 2006 “Roadmap” relocating the Futenma base to Henoko and moving 8000 Marines to Guam.    It appears that some elements of the base realignment will proceed, while others are put on hold.  On February 4, the Japan Times reported “Genba, U.S. huddle anew over ’06 base pact”:

“Both Japan and the U.S. remain unchanged in that we think relocating the Futenma base to Henoko is the best plan and that the number of marines who will remain in Okinawa will also be the same — 10,000,” Genba said.

Earlier this week, Kyodo News reported that out of the 8,000 marines that would be redeployed to Guam under the Futenma relocation plan, the U.S. was instead considering deploying some 3,000 of them elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, including Hawaii, because of Guam’s proximity to China.

On Friday, Bloomberg also reported that about half the marines would be rotated around the region, including Australia and Subic Bay in the Philippines, in line with Washington’s new defense strategy to increase the U.S. presence in Asia.

The bilateral 2006 realignment plan entailed shifting 8,000 marines and their dependants to Guam upon completion of the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko coast in Nago farther north on Okinawa Island.

But on February 6, a Kyodo/Bloomberg article reported “Marine base to remain in Futenma: U.S.”:

A senior U.S. official told Japanese officials in late January that Futenma Air Station will have to stay in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, for the time being because of the standoff over its relocation plan, sources close to bilateral relations said Sunday.

This suggests that the facility, U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, is staying in the crowded city despite a formal bilateral agreement to return the land to Japanese control once a replacement facility is built for it elsewhere in the prefecture.

On Saturday, Japan and the United States reportedly agreed to move 4,700 marines in Okinawa to Guam instead of 8,000, delinking the transfer plan from the contentious Futenma relocation plan stipulated in the road map for realigning U.S. forces in Japan.

The developments have increased the likelihood that the relocation issue is headed for the back burner, which is likely to upset the already upset Okinawan public, which has been fighting the plan tooth and nail for well over a decade.

Meanwhile, the AP reported “Army reducing number of combat brigades to cut costs.”  Taking into account the Pentagon’s new concentration on the Asia Pacific region, it could mean an increase in the size of Army brigades in Hawai’i:

The Army plans to slash the number of combat brigades from 45 to as low as 32 in a broad restructuring of its fighting force aimed at cutting costs and reducing the service by about 80,000 soldiers, according to U.S. officials familiar with the plans.

Officials said the sweeping changes will likely increase the size of each combat brigade — generally by adding another battalion — in a long-term effort to ensure that those remaining brigades have the fighting capabilities they need when they go to war. A brigade is usually about 3,500 soldiers, but can be as large as 5,000 for the heavily armored units. A battalion is usually between 600-800 soldiers.

It’s time to reduce, not relocate U.S. bases and forces from the Asia Pacific and invest in “Trans Pacific Peace”!

U.S. and Japan may cut funding for base relocation in Okinawa and Guam

December 14, 2011 

There’s been a lot happening related to the Defense Authorization Act.  The fiscal crisis is finally resulting in some cuts to the military budget.   But the Senate approved inclusion of language authorizing the detention of U.S. citizens.

However, regarding the military base realignment in Okinawa and Guam, there have been some positive developments.  It looks like the U.S. Congress will cut the funding for the relocation of U.S. Marines from Futenma to Guam.   This would be welcome news for the peace movements in Okinawa and Guam.

Mainichi Shimbun reports:

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives agreed Monday to cut from the annual spending bill for fiscal 2012 through next September the entire $150 million funding requested by the government for the planned relocation of some 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa in Japan to Guam.

The Marianas Variety reports that Japan has also cut its contribution to the base realignment costs:

Following a contentious decision from U.S. Congress that slashed funding for Guam’s military buildup, the Japanese government has announced it too will cut expenses for the planned realignment of U.S. troops from Okinawa to Guam.

The Mainichi Daily reported yesterday that the Japan Defense Ministry and Finance Ministry plan to reduce funding allocated for the relocation of 8,000 U.S. Marines from about ¥52 billion ($667 million) to just ¥10 billion ($128 million) for Fiscal Year 2012.

The announcement comes on the heels of U.S. Congress concluding negotiations on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, that freezes significant funding for the Guam military buildup.

Even Nobuteru Ishihara, Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the conservative, opposition party acknowledged the political realities in Okinawa have made the base expansion in Henoko very difficult.  In remarks to the Hudson Institute, Ishihara deflected from the Futenma controversy, saying that the collapse of the base realignment agreement is “not the main issue” and that the two countries should instead focus on the continuation the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance.    Although the LDP maintains that the agreement to relocate Futenma to Henoko should proceed, Ishihara admitted that in Okinawa gubenatorial campaign LDP incumbent candidate Governor Nakaima adopted an anti-base stance and that the LDP had to “accept local opinion.”

But, let’s not celebrate too fast.  Mainichi Daily News also reports that Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, told Ishihara that funding for the relocation could be rescued if Japan follows through on its environmental assessment of the “rape” of Henoko:

Schiffer said it is possible for Congress to be flexible on funding to move the Marines to Guam — a plan linked to relocating the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district in Nago from a densely populated area of Ginowan, both in Okinawa Prefecture — if the Japanese government goes through with its plan to submit to Okinawa by the end of this year an environmental assessment report for the relocation.

‘Rape’ remark by Japan Defense Ministry official may be final nail in the coffin of Futenma base relocation plan

December 2, 2011 

The statement by Japanese Defense Ministry official  in Okinawa comparing the base relocation plan to ‘rape’, only the latest outrage over the proposed relocation of the Futenma military base to Henoko, is causing a political storm that, as the Asahi Shimbun opined, “could spell end to (the) Futenma plan”:

Discussing the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Satoshi Tanaka, director-general of the Okinawa Defense Bureau, said to the effect on Nov. 28, “Would you say, ‘I will rape you,’ before you rape someone?”

Tanaka used the rape analogy to explain the government’s reluctance to set the submission date of an assessment report on the environmental impact of the air station’s planned relocation to the Henoko district in Nago–a plan the people of Okinawa vehemently oppose.


In fact, it was the rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl by U.S. soldiers 16 years ago that triggered the move to relocate the Futenma base. But the girl was certainly not the last victim of sex crimes by U.S. service personnel. Anyone who has any understanding of the feelings of the people of Okinawa would never even dream of saying what Tanaka said.

The Japan Times published a similar editorial:

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda should realize that trustful relations no longer exist between his administration and the Okinawan people, and that the Henoko plan has no chance of being implemented.

According to a Facebook posts by Satoko Taira:

Defense Minister is having a meeting with Governor Nakaima.  Nakaima will present Okinawa Prefecture Assembly’s resolution of protest over the remarks made by Tanaka, to Ichikawa, which was adopted unanimously yesterday.

Another post by Masami Mel Kawamura reports:

Defense Minister visits Okinawa to apology for ODB’s officers’s gaff to Okinawa Governor.

Okinawan people are holding a rally in front of Okinawa Prefecture Office.

Keiko Itokazu, councilor, is now giving a speech there.

Senator Inouye working against the people of Okinawa

September 9, 2011 

According to the Japan Times, it appears that Senator Inouye is using his power as the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee to pressure the Japanese government to proceed with plans to relocate the US Futenma base to Henoko despite the overwhelming opposition of the people of Okinawa:

Democratic Party of Japan policy chief Seiji Maehara agreed with an influential U.S. senator Thursday to proceed with the current plan for relocating the Futenma base within Okinawa Prefecture, a DPJ source said.


Inouye told Maehara that the two governments need to work together toward promoting the bilateral accord to transfer Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa from the densely populated city of Ginowan to a coastal area in Nago.

Itʻs not enough that Hawaiʻi has been devoured by military interests. The tentacles are squeezing Okinawa, Guam, Korea.

Pressure builds for US shift on Okinawa

May 14, 2011 

The Japan Dispatch blog has very interesting analysis about the possibility of shifts in U.S. policy about the military bases in Okinawa, and a larger shift in foreign policy toward an emphasis on Asia.   He points to the APEC summit in Honolulu and the Trans Pacific Partnership as indicators that the Obama administration is pushing for a shift to an Asia focus. Here are some excerpts:

Pressure is growing on the Obama Administration to significantly alter plans for US Marine basing arrangements on Okinawa, but chances seem slim for a policy shift at least until Defense Secretary Robert Gates departs office late next month.

Several factors have converged to give the issue new urgency. Opposition remains strong on Okinawa to construction of a new facility in the Henoko Bay area, to replace the US Marine Air Station Futenma, which has been slated for closure since 1995. There is simply no momentum in Japan to move forward with the project, a situation made more stark by the Great Eastern Earthquake of March 11. Tokyo is intensely focused on reconstruction efforts; neither the financial nor political capital is available to push the Henoko project through.

Meanwhile, construction delays and cost overruns continue to bedevil a critical, related portion of the plan: the relocation of over 8,000 Marines and 9,000 family members from Okinawa to Guam.

And in Washington, an increasingly debt-weary Congress is asking whether it is worth the cost of building the new Henoko facility and the new Marine housing and related facilities on Guam, when cheaper force configurations more conducive to strategic needs in Asia might be found.


ASIA POLICY SHIFT: Evidence continues to grow that President Obama and his top aides would like to see a major US strategic shift toward greater emphasis on Asia, which should be particularly evident when the President hosts the APEC summit in Hawaii next November.

It’s notable that in a recent New Yorker analysis of Obama’s foreign policy, NSC director Tom Donilon, deputy director Ben Rhodes (Obama’s long-time chief foreign policy speechwriter), and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell were all quoted outlining just such a strategic “rebalancing” of American foreign policy. The Pentagon’s top policy chief, Michelle Flournoy, outlined a similar policy in a recent talk at Johns Hopkins.

The administration is looking to energize America’s role in East Asia by fomenting a system of open and transparent economic and security cooperation in the region, defining the terms of engagement to which China has to respond. The economic component, for now, is the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade initiative. And the security component involves building on America’s traditional bilateral security alliances in the region to include a network of overlapping bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral security relationships from India, through Vietnam and Indonesia, to Australia, and up to Korea and Japan.


WORKING WITH CONGRESS: But the White House continues to send signals that it is serious about a shift in strategy toward Asia. A restructured US force posture would not be seen as retreat, but rather an effective region-wide “hedge” in the event China tries to throw its growing weight around in the region. And sources close to Kurt Campbell say that he is convinced that continued US and Japanese wrangling over Futenma will threaten the whole “shift” strategy, because it can’t work without a vibrant US-Japan alliance.

Campbell is prepared to work with Webb and others in Congress on a new basing arrangement for the Marines in the Pacific. Once Panetta takes over as defense secretary, and assuming Lippert becomes his top deputy for Asia, the White House would have in place an administration-wide team to pursue an expanded role in the region.


Japanese ex-Marine strives to debunk ‘myth of deterrent’

June 17, 2010

FOCUS: Japanese ex-Marine strives to debunk ‘myth of deterrent’

NAHA, Japan, June 16 KYODO

A Japanese man with the unusual background of having served in the U.S. Marine Corps is using his experience to vigorously campaign against the U.S. military presence in Okinawa Prefecture.

Kimitoshi Takanashi, 38, joined the U.S. Marine Corps in his 20s and once served in Okinawa during his four-year career in the U.S. military.

The sharp-eyed man, sporting a Mohican hairdo, has a muscular build that hardly looks like the body of a man nearing 40. On his right arm are tattooed the words, “KILL ‘EM ALL.”

After he began publicly speaking on the issue of U.S. forces in Okinawa, the fearless-looking ex-Marine gained a following among activists and members of university faculties in Okinawa. At their request, he is giving talks about what he perceives to be the injustices of keeping U.S. military installations in Okinawa.

He delivered his first speech as a former Marine at Okinawa University in the prefectural capital of Naha on May 23, the very day former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama paid a visit to the southern island prefecture.

Hatoyama traveled to Okinawa to report on his decision to strike a deal with the United States by agreeing to move the heliport at the Futenma air base from the residential area of the island’s Ginowan to shallow waters adjacent to the Henoko district at the Marines’ Camp Schwab in Nago in the same prefecture.

Okinawa residents were predictably outraged, due to Hatoyama having initially promised to move the Futenma facility out of the island prefecture, which houses about 75 percent of the land area used for U.S. military facilities in Japan and half of the roughly 50,000 U.S. service personnel in the country, including well over 10,000 Marines.

After failing to find any other prefectures that were willing to host a replacement facility for Futenma and bowing to pressure from the United States, Hatoyama gave up and chose Henoko as the relocation site, as demanded by Washington.

In defending his decision, Hatoyama argued Japan had to host the U.S. military as a deterrent against military threats from outside.

When he spoke at Okinawa University during Hatoyama’s visit, Takanashi compared a deterrent to a police officer guarding a safe to prevent possible theft.

“U.S. Marines are stationed all over the world and they are fighting at this very moment,” said Takanashi.

“There would be no conflicts if the Marines were serving as an effective deterrent.” Takanashi argues that the word “deterrent” is a fictitious mantra the government uses to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

When asked whether the world would face any difficulty if the Marines were not in Okinawa, he said the Marines can operate effectively in any place in East Asia, meaning their presence in Okinawa is not indispensable.

“The Marine Corps is still in Okinawa because the United States built its military bases here after Japan’s defeat in World War II and the situation has gone unchanged ever since,” Takanashi said.

Takanashi grew up in Hiroshima City where his great-grandparents died because of the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945. As a child, he often saw off-duty U.S. soldiers come to his city from another Marine Corps air station in Iwakuni of the neighboring Yamaguchi Prefecture.

He grew resentful of the Americans who visited the city to have fun, even though it was a site of intense suffering during the final days of the war. He also felt that Caucasians looked down on Asians.

After serving in Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force for two years, he obtained his U.S. green card and joined the Marine Corps at the age of 23, partly to prove that he could do as well at work as any white American.

Still, he commends the U.S. military, saying, “Compared with the thorough training at a Marine Corps boot camp, what the Japanese SDF recruits go through is like boy scouts’ assignments.”

He was shipped out to some of the world’s hot spots including Africa and the Korean Peninsula. “The good thing about the Marines is that they can be dispatched to their destination from anywhere.”

He was assigned to Camp Schwab in Okinawa in June 1995. Three months later three U.S. soldiers gang-raped a 12-year-old local girl and Okinawa exploded in fury.

The gravity of the matter prompted Tokyo and Washington to agree in the following year on the return of the Futenma base to Japan on condition that Tokyo provides a replacement facility elsewhere.

Amid the vigorous protests by the enraged Okinawans, the U.S. servicemen in general, according to Takanashi, were apathetic. Marines around him were annoyed by the incident because they were afraid that they might get banned from going out when they were off duty, he said.

Okinawans began calling for a full revision of the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States, which pertains to the handling of U.S. soldiers who commit crimes in Japan. Of particular concern for both countries was defining the specific circumstances under which offending U.S. servicemen should be handed over to Japanese law enforcement authorities.

No major progress has been made on the overhaul of the accord while the planned relocation of the Futenma base went nowhere.

“U.S. soldiers tend to think they won’t face criminal charges whatever they do here and also know that it is unfair,” Takanashi said. “They don’t talk about this because the inequities (inherent in the Status of Forces Agreement) are advantageous for them.”

Takanashi argues that their attitude reflects their disregard for human rights and racism. “Japan is like a colony of the United States and the most important issue facing Okinawa is neither military nor political but ethnic,” he added.

He is also critical of the way money Japan pays for the U.S. armed forces as host-nation support is squandered.

“Facilities where no one works are air-conditioned to excess and almost nobody goes to movie theaters the Japanese government has built,” he said. “Japan should stop playing the role of a sugar daddy.”

The Futenma Base and the U.S.-Japan Controversy: an Okinawan perspective

May 17, 2010

The Futenma Base and the U.S.-Japan Controversy: an Okinawan perspective



This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of the revised Japan-U.S. Mutual Security Treaty (Ampo). The original treaty was signed on September 8, 1951, the same day the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed. One of its provisions stipulated that Japan must guarantee the U.S. the same stable use of military bases as it did under the occupation. Without accepting that requirement, Japan could never have won its independence.

Yoshida Shigeru signs the San Francisco Treaty for Japan

Dean Acheson signs the San Francisco Treaty for the United States

This stipulation was carried over to the revised Mutual Security Treaty of 1960 (Article 6) and with it the U.S. has been assured of its continued formidable military presence in Japan, dominating its sea, land and air space to this day.

Japan’s independence was also achieved at the cost of Okinawa, which was kept under harsh military administration until the reversion of its administrative rights to Japan in 1972. But even after reversion, the U. S. bases in Okinawa remained intact. Today, the negative side of the Japan-U.S. Mutual Security Treaty appears most conspicuously in Okinawa, where 75 percent of U.S. bases and facilities in Japan are concentrated. Although those bases and facilities (totaling 85 in number, and 31,000 ha in area) are formally offered to U.S. Forces under the Security Treaty, they are in essence spoils which U.S. forces won in war.

From Okinawa’s perspective, Japan’s independence appears only an illusion. Japan is still a semi-independent or client nation unable to challenge Uncle Sam’s demands; hence, Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s wish list in his inaugural speech showcasing, among other things, the desire to make Japan a partner equal to the U.S.

Early history of Ginowan City

The U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, currently a hot issue straining the Japan-U.S. relationship because of the dispute over its relocation, is located in the middle of densely populated Ginowan City. Houses cluster closely around the fences close together, even abutting the approach lights on both sides of the runway. This unbelievable situation has something to do with the city’s post-war history.

While the battle was still going on in the south, the invading U.S. Army encroached upon large swaths of land in the central part of the island, where villages, farmland, school yards and cemeteries existed cheek by jowl with each other. The people who surrendered or survived the battle were herded into concentration camps, mostly in the north.

When they were allowed to return home a few years after the war ended, many people from central Okinawa found their hometowns and villages turned into vast military bases. Reluctantly, they began to live alongside barbed-wire fences, some earning a meager livelihood by working for the bases. This is how Ginowan City, which now surrounds the Futenma Air Station, came into being [1].

Futenma Air Station occupies 25% of densely populated Ginowan City

In response to the strong demand of the residents of Ginowan for its closure because of various hazards it poses, Japan and the U.S. struck a deal in 1996 to close the base and return the land when a suitable relocation site was found elsewhere on the island.

Henoko as a site for relocation

Apparently, from early on, the U.S. had Henoko in mind as a site for the relocation. The Marine Corps Okinawa submitted a blueprint every fiscal year to the Pentagon and eventually to the U.S. Congress for approval in the 1960′s, with an air station and port facilities to be constructed on reclaimed land off the coast at Henoko. Whether it would be a replacement for Futenma or an outright new air base is not clear, but the design for its functions was the same as the current V-shaped runway plan set forth in the United States-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation agreed in 2006 (hereafter called 2006 Road Map): to integrate the newly constructed air base with Camp Hansen, Camp Schwab and the central and northern training areas, thus strengthening military functions (as had been the plans for Okinawan bases during the Vietnam War) and deterrence capability against North Korea, China or Russia today [2].

Map showing Futenma and Henoko sites

However, the ’60′s plan didn’t materialize, probably because the U.S. Congress didn’t pass the bill for the necessary appropriations due to skyrocketing expenditure on the Vietnam War, as Masaaki Gabe suggests [3], or because U.S. lawmakers were afraid the whole project would prove useless if Okinawa were returned to Japan in the future. The situation is totally different today, however. If all goes according to Pentagon plans, Tokyo will shoulder all the expenses for land reclamation and the construction of runways and other facilities, not to mention the high-end equipment, as well as the cost of relocating thousands of US troops to Guam.

The Futenma issue started as part of the 1995 Special Actions Committee on Okinawa (SACO) initiative to reduce burdens on Okinawa. But fifteen years later, the burdens remain as heavy, nor will they be lightened if Futenma’s operations are moved to another location within Okinawa. Moving the base around in Okinawa or, more broadly, in Japan will clearly signal that Tokyo has yet again consented to a permanent U.S. military presence or “a life-of-the-alliance presence for U.S. forces” in Japan (2006 Road Map) , a transparent cover term for the unlimited occupation of Japan. This must be prevented by all means. This is the essential issue concerning Futenma, one which cuts to the very heart of the U.S-Japan strategic alliance.

Marines and Washington’s explanation

Washington persists in saying that Henoko is the best site for the relocation of Futenma if Japan wishes to continue to maintain the American military deterrence capability, warning that contingencies could occur in the Pacific region, for example, in the Korean Peninsula or the Taiwan Straits, requiring the Marines’ presence as essential deterrence.

On January 6, 2010, the U.S. Marine Corps Okinawa announced its position on the relocation of Futenma. In order to counter contingencies effectively, a helicopter squadron must be deployed within a 20-minute distance from a base where ground forces are standing by. This is why they claim Futenma’s function must be relocated to Henoko, which is adjacent to Camp Schwab and Camp Hansen where the Marines’ ground troops are stationed.

Aerial photograph of Cape Henoko

Note that this is an argument based on tactical rather than strategic reasoning.

According to this explanation, a helicopter squadron must pick up ground troops in 20 minutes and transport them to the frontline in a short span of time (perhaps one hour). But can one realistically imagine such a situation in and around Okinawa Island? Do the Marines think a ground battle similar to the World War II Battle of Okinawa will be replicated in the southern section of this island? Is Okinawa still a war zone in their thinking?

Suppose war occurred in the Korean Peninsula and the Marines from Okinawa successfully landed there in one hour. Would 17,000 Marines go into battle against North Korea’s 1.2 million standing army? The same issue pertains to the Taiwan Straits. As is well known, China has a 1.6 million regular army. Or can they function as a bulwark against potential missile attacks, say, by North Korea, China or Russia?

Of course, the Marines alone may not work as deterrents against outside threats; they may be an integral part of the USF Japan together with the Navy and the Air Force. However, if contingencies occurred in the Korean Peninsula or in the Taiwan Straits, they would certainly have to increase their number substantially, probably to 500,000 troops at a minimum. But assembling troops takes several weeks or even months as the Persian Gulf War and the initial stage of the Iraq War demonstrated.

Consequently, the explanation by the Marines and Washington that a helicopter squadron must be deployed within a 20-minute distance from a base where ground forces stand by and, therefore, the claim that Henoko is the best relocation site for Futenma’s operations lacks credibility.

The Marines aren’t here to defend Japan

The Okinawan press reports that Camp Hansen (Kin) and Camp Schwab (Henoko) are both empty shells these days because their occupants were deployed to Iraq and now to Afghanistan to fight against insurgents there.

Obviously, the U.S. Marines or the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, to be more specific, are stationed in Okinawa not to defend Japan as ballyhooed but simply to hone their assault skills in preparation for combat elsewhere. It’s a cozy and easy place to train, with Tokyo providing prodigious financial aid, which Washington demands in the name of “host nation support.” I liken it to turf dues exacted by an organized crime syndicate, which offers protection from rival gangs.

In 2003, for example, Japan’s direct “host nation support” amounted to $3,228.43 million or $4,411.34 million if indirect support is added. Compare these figures with Germany’s and Korea’s support. Germany’s direct host nation support in the same year was $28.7 million (1/112th that of Japan) and indirect support $1.535.22 million. Korea’s direct host nation support in that same year was $486.31 million (about 1/7th that of Japan) and indirect support $356.5 million [4].

For ten years from 2001 through 2010, Japan shouldered an average annual sum of $2,274 million for host nation support [5], which incidentally is known as “sympathy budget” as if Japan were voluntarily doling out money out of compassion for those U.S. service members who are deployed in this far-away country. The amount Japan has financed to support USF Japan operations since the system started in 1978 totals an astounding $30 billion.

That the Marines are based in Okinawa not to defend Japan but mainly to strengthen U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific and beyond is widely recognized, as the following quotation from suggests:

“The Regiment (3rd Battalion 6th Marines) continues to support the defense of the Nation by maintaining forces in readiness in support of contingency operations and unit deployments to the Mediterranean, Pacific rim and around the globe.”(Italics mine)

Pundit Kevin Rafferty is more direct saying, “some of the bases (in Japan) are staging-posts for deployment in Afghanistan and elsewhere [6].”

When Marine contingents were compelled to move out of Gifu and Yamanashi Prefectures in mainland Japan in the face of mounting anti-U.S. base demonstrations and moved to Okinawa in the 1950′s, a number of Pentagon strategists are reported to have cast doubt on the wisdom of such a shift.

The U.S. Army was the major element in the U.S. Forces in Okinawa during the occupation period which ended in 1972 with reversion. Apparently, the Army recognized the limited value of being stationed in Okinawa and so withdrew, leaving behind only a few hundred troops. The Marines grabbed this chance to expand their role and function, taking over everything from the departing Army. They are not, however, deterrents against outside “threats” as they boast.

Guam Integrated Military Development Plan

Washington has remained adamant in insisting that Futenma’s operations be moved to Henoko. On meeting Foreign Affairs Minister Okada Katsuya in Tokyo last October, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Tokyo to implement the agenda specified in the 2006 Road Map as soon as possible.

In return, Washington would relocate to Guam 8,000 (later modified to 8,600) Marine personnel, consisting mostly of command elements: 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force Command Element, 3rd Marine Logistics Group Headquarters, 1st Marine Air Wing Headquarters, and 12th Marine Regiment Headquarters. The remaining Marines in Okinawa would then be task force elements such as ground, aviation, logistics and other service support members.

Japan agreed under pressure to fund $6.09 billion of the estimated $10.27 billion for the facilities and infrastructure development costs — another example of extortion. Upon completion of the relocation of Futenma’s function to Henoko and the transfer of the Marine command units to Guam, the U.S. would return six land areas south of Kadena Air Base, including the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. In trying to sell this package, Washington claims that this reduces Okinawa’s burdens tremendously.

Note, however, that these lands will be returned only if their replacements are found somewhere within Okinawa: for example, Henoko for Futenma, the very question which is straining the bilateral relationship. The 2006 Road Map clearly states: “All functions and capabilities that are resident in facilities designated for return, and that are required by forces remaining in Okinawa, will be relocated within Okinawa. These relocations will occur before the return of designated facilities.”

This is the gist of the 2006 agreement particular to bases on Okinawa. However, a curious situation has developed over the U.S. Forces realignment. Two months after the 2006 Road Map was agreed, the U.S. Pacific Command announced the Guam Integrated Military Development Plan, and on September 15, 2008 the Navy Secretary, who also represents the Marines when dealing with Congress, submitted a report titled “Current Situation with the Military Development Plan in Guam” to the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services [7]. In April 2008, this plan was entirely incorporated into the “Guam Integrated Master Plan,” and in November, 2009 a public hearing was held on a “Draft Environmental Impact Statement/ Overseas Environmental Impact Statement [8].”

These documents show that the U.S. military considers Guam strategically most important in the Asia-Pacific region and plans to transform already existing bases there into a colossal military complex by expansion and development. The U.S. military’s strategic thinking is apparently motivated by the rise of China, particularly by China’s development of new types of long-range missiles. The plan includes re-deploying 8,600 Marines now stationed in Okinawa and relocating most of the Marine capabilities, including helicopter and air transport units in Futenma, to Guam.

A Conundrum

How should we interpret this situation: Futenma’s relocation to Henoko so urgently demanded by the U.S. government, on the one hand, and the U.S. military’s Guam military development plan in which most of Futenma’s operations are to be moved to Guam, on the other? What is the current obfuscation all about?

One answer may be that the U.S. government is manipulating the situation in order to retain every right to a permanent military presence in Japan. This suggests that U.S. policymakers mistrust Japan and the Japanese people despite repeated statements that Japan is the U.S.’s most important ally. In other words, their “deterrence” is not only directed against North Korea, China or Russia, but also against Japan.

When the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many expected a substantial reduction of the U.S. footprint on Okinawa. The drawdown of U.S. troops in Europe augured well for Okinawa, or so it seemed to me. Then came the 1995 Nye Report and the new US policy based upon it, shattering Okinawan hopes and expectations. On the pretext that the U.S. military presence was a driving force for keeping peace and prosperity in this allegedly volatile region, it announced that the U.S. would continue to maintain bases and troops in East Asia at approximately the same level as before.

William Cohen, Secretary of Defense under the Clinton administration, thwarted our hopes around 2000, when the two Koreas seemed to be reducing tensions on the peninsula and even, perhaps inching to reunification, by saying that there would be no U.S. military withdrawal from Okinawa even if peace was established in a unified Korean Peninsula.

That the U.S. intends to perpetuate its military presence in Japan is evident from its insistence that not only Futenma’s operations be transferred to a new high tech base at Henoko, but also that other facilities such as Naha military port, whose return was promised years before Futenma, must be relocated within Okinawa. The 2006 Road Map betrays Washington’s real intention by accidentally stating, “A bilateral framework to conduct a study on a permanent field-carrier landing practice facility will be established, with the goal of selecting a permanent site by July 2009 or the earliest possible date thereafter.” (Italics mine)

The Defense Ministry’s bureaucrats and their close associates at the Ministry-affiliated National Institute for Defense seem well aware of Washington’s designs, for their East Asia Strategic Review 2010 is written on this unspoken premise.

Concluding Remarks

As suggested above, the Futenma relocation issue is grounded on political rather than military foundations, and the party most responsible for this confusion is the U.S. government, not the Hatoyama government, despite the latter’s ham-fisted handling of the matter. U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma should be closed down and the land returned to its legitimate owners unconditionally and without delay in accordance with the overwhelming wish of the Okinawan people. The U.S. has no inherent right to demand a quid pro quo in exchange for its return. Military training can be conducted on the vastness of U.S. soil with impunity and to their satisfaction.

Yoshio Shimoji, born in Miyako Island, Okinawa, M.S. (Georgetown University), taught English and English linguistics at the University of the Ryukyus from April 1966 until his retirement in March 2003. This is a revised and expanded version of an article posted at the website of Peace Philosophy Centre.

Recommended citation: Yoshio Shimoji, “The Futenma Base and the U.S.-Japan Controversy: an Okinawan perspective,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 18-5-10, May 3, 2010.

Articles on related themes:

Gavan McCormack, The Travails of a Client State: An Okinawan Angle on the 50th Anniversary of the US-Japan Security Treaty

Kikuno Yumiko and Norimatsu Satoko, Henoko, Okinawa: Inside the Sit-In

Urashiima Etsuko and Gavan McCormack, Electing a Town Mayor in Okinawa: Report from the Nago Trenches

Iha Yoichi, Why Build a New Base on Okinawa When the Marines are Relocating to Guam?: Okinawa Mayor Challenges Japan and the US

Iha Yoichi. Ginowan City Mayor Iha Yoichi’s letter to U.S. President George W. Bush dated October 15, 2003 (Japanese and English).  Posted at Ginowan City home page.

Tanaka Sakai, Japanese Bureaucrats Hide Decision to Move All US Marines out of Okinawa to Guam

Gavan McCormack, The Battle of Okinawa 2009: Obama vs Hatoyama

Hayashi Kiminori, Oshima Ken’ichi and Yokemoto Masafumi, Overcoming American Military Base Pollution in Asia: Japan, Okinawa, Philippines

See also: the Peace Philosophy Center, particularly the two articles posted on March 16, 2010 entry on recent plans for a new offshore base and plans for a naval base and casino.


[1] Land seizure was not limited to central Okinawa; in fact, it was almost universal throughout the island at the time. If that was the first wave of land seizure, the second one started in the early 50′s, hard hitting Iejima, where 35.3 percent of the island’s land area is still military, the Isahama district of Ginowan and the Gushi district of Oroku (later incorporated with Naha City). Land expropriation was brutally undertaken, as Ota (1995) writes: “In some cases during the 1950′s, bayonets and bulldozers were used to expropriate Okinawans’ land and uproot owners from their homes.” It was indeed a flagrant violation of the Hague Convention (Article 46), which clearly states: “Family honour and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practice, must be respected. Private property cannot be confiscated.”

[2] The Ryukyu Shimpo, June 4, 2000 (morning edition): pages 1 and 7. Also, The Okinawa Times, June 3, 2001 (morning edition): pages 1, 3 and 21.

[3] The Ryukyu Shimpo (ibid.): page 7.

[4] See the U.S. Defense Department’s 2004 Statistical Compendium on Allied Contributions to the Common Defense.

[5] Japanese Ministry of Defense web site.

[6] The Japan Times: April 27, 2010.

[7] Ginowan City Home Page.

[8] Yoshida. 2010.


Ginowan City. 2010. “Possibility of Futenma’s Relocation to Guam,” Mayor’s explanatory document prepared for the Meeting on Okinawa’s Military Base Problems held December 12, 2009. Home page.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. 2006. “United States-Japan Roadmap for Realignment


McCormack, Gavan. 2007. Client State: Japan in American Embrace (Japanese translation). Gaifusha: Tokyo.

Ota, Masahide. 1995. Essays on Okinawan Problems (English). Yui Publishing Company: Okinawa.

____________. 2004. Discrimination against Okinawa and the Pacific Constitution (Japanese). BOC Publishing Company: Tokyo.

The National Institute for Defense. 2010. “East Asia Strategic Review 2010″ (Japanese).

Rafferty, Kevin. 2010. “Hatoyama’s fate tied to Futenma” in the April 27, 2010 Japan Times.

The Okinawa Times, June 3, 2001 (morning edition)

The Ryukyu Shimpo, June 4, 2000 (morning edition)

U.S. Department of Defense. 2004. “2004 Statistical Compendium on Allied Contributions to the Common Defense”.

Yoshida, Kensei. 2007. Okinawa: The Military Colony (Japanese). Kobunken: Tokyo.

____________. 2010. Okinawa-Based Marines will Go to Guam (Japanese). Kobunken: Tokyo.

Okinawans surround Futenma Air Base with a 13 km ‘Human Chain’; solidarity demo in Honolulu

May 16, 2010 

Yesterday, tens of thousands of Okinawans surrounded the Futenma Air Base with a Human Chain 13 kilometers long calling for the removal of the U.S. military base. There is video at the Okinawa Times website:

On Friday, 5/14/2010, the Hawai’i Okinawa Alliance held a demonstration in front of the Federal Building in Honolulu in solidarity with the Okinawa action.   Also in support were Fight for Guahan, youth from the Rise Up! Roots of Liberation camp, the American Friends Service Committee, DMZ-Hawai’i / Aloha ‘Aina, Hawai’i Puerto Rican scholar/activist Tony Castanha, and professors Mari Matsuda and Vincent Pollard.  Also joining the demonstration were TAKAHASHI Masaki and ICHINOSE Emiko, former Peace Boat comrades who were visiting Hawai’i to write a book about the “hidden” history of occupation, militarism, corporate tourism and genetic engineering in Hawai’i.

13 Kilometer Human Chain protest May 16 in Okinawa

May 11, 2010 

According to email notices being distributed widely on listserves, Okinawans are planning another massive “human chain” protest at Futenma air base in Ginowan City:

“13 Kilometer Human Chain” Protest Announced For May 16″

A massive 13 kilometer long human chain will protest against the Futenma relocation of the American military base in Okinawa on May 16, 2010, according to Sankei.

Mayor Youichi Iha told a news conference on Tuesday that people in Okinawa Prefecture want the central government to negotiate with the US to remove the bases from Okinawa…

The people of Ginowan and other municipalities accommodating US bases, together with peace activists, plan to surround Futenma Air Station with a human chain on Sunday to demand its removal. The event’s organizers are calling for more than 30,000 participants, as the air field has a circumference of 11.5 kilometers.

Supporters from Guam, the Philippines, Korea, and the US will participating in the island wide march, the international conference, the indigenous people’s meeting, Human Chain at Futemma and visits with local folks opposing the bases.

Japanese and Okinawan journalists are continuing to ask who wants to profit from the base deals and have found opposing interests behind opposing proposals:

The Feud Behind the Scenes: Relocation of the US base on Okinawa, by Abe Takeshi, Okinawa Times:

Construction companies in the land reclamation camp were also bolstering their local offensive, forming a front led by Bechtel, the giant American construction company with close ties to the U.S. government.

Local firms in the pontoon camp who had joined the race for construction contracts as the representatives of “local interests,” were now the first to fall by the wayside. With the choice last December of a shoal reef as the construction site, all possibilities ended for building a runway on floating pontoons. At this point, Ishikawa-jima Harima Heavy Industries and several steel companies in the pontoon camp switched sides to the landing wharf camp.

Meanwhile the Hawai’i Okinawa Alliance is organizing a demonstration in solidarity with the Futenma action May 14 at 4:30 pm at the Federal Building in Honolulu.  Also, groups in Tokyo will encircle the Diet building on May 14.

Hawai’i Okinawa Alliance calls for demonstration in solidarity with Okinawa and All Pacific

May 8, 2010 





FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2010 4:30-6:30

On May 16, 2010, Okinawans will be encircling Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan City, Okinawa, forming a human chain around the enormous military base as a vote of mass opposition and solidarity against further base expansion in Okinawa, particularly Henoko in northern rural Okinawa, the proposed site of Futenma’s relocation.   On May 14, diverse people of O`ahu will gather in solidarity with the Futenma rally and other people’s movements throughout the Pacific.

However, this isn’t just about Okinawa.  This is an international problem.  US military forces are deployed in 130 countries around the world, with permanent bases in 50 nations and growing.  Because of local resistance in Okinawa, alternative sites have been proposed, such as in Guam and Tokuno Island in the Ryukyu Archipelago (north of Okinawa).  From the illegal overthrow and military occupation of Hawai`i in 1893, the US, along with other colonizers, have occupied nations throughout the Pacific with military forces and agendas.  We stand with our Pasifika sisters & brothers united against further military occupation and expansion, including localities not mentioned in this appeal.

We demand the clean-up and return of lands back to civil societies to restore true human security and self-determination throughout our island homes.  Recent proposals to relocate forces from Okinawa to Guam, the Marianas, and Tokuno Island are just spreading this problem.  This is not a “not in my backyard” movement, but a “no militarism anywhere” unity rally.  To date, policy makers have not listened to island residents, so we unite as an ohana (family), defending our rights, our homes, our human security and our legacies.   Similarly, we want occupation armed forces to return to their home fronts, to help rebuild their communities and ultimately our collective human security.

US Armed Forces invaded Lu Chu (b.k.a. Okinawa) in 1945, and have never left.  Taking over and expanding Imperial Japanese airfields built by conscripted Okinawans, US military continued to occupy almost 20% of the island of Okinawa, including Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.  Called “the most dangerous airfield” by former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, the Japanese and US governments agreed to Okinawan demands for the reduction of military occupation, including Futenma MCAS, which sits in the middle of urban Ginowan City, surrounded by neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and local business that must live with overhead jets and constant fear of accidents, such as the helicopter crash into Okinawa International University in 2004.  In addition to inevitable accidents and the social problems resulting from foreign military occupation, communities around Futenma must endure up to 200 decibel-shrieking flights a day over their neighborhoods and studies have found disproportionate low-weight births and lower academic outcomes in surrounding schools attributed to the noise pollution.  Slated for closure by 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama recently announced that complete closure of Futenma is now somehow “impossible.”

Among the tired excuses for continued military occupation of Okinawa is the Cold War relic North Korea.  For 60 years, militarist strategies have failed to end the war between the Koreas.  It is clear that these militant policies don’t resolve conflict, but acerbate tensions, suffering and militarism on all fronts.  We call for peaceful resolution to such conflicts through diplomatic, cultural and economic exchange towards our collective security, as militaristic approaches have failed.  We link our struggles for peace with the people of the Koreas, sisters and brothers divided by failed, archaic politics.

Guahan, better known as the US colony of Guam, has shown widespread opposition to the resettlement of occupational forces from Okinawa to Guam that will overwhelm the fragile ecology of this even smaller island and reef system.  Meanwhile, other Micronesian and Mariana islands have been considered for relocation, while islanders disproportionately serve and die as fodder for a foreign commander-in-chief they could never vote for as non-citizens, nor serve as officers in this military poverty draft.

As island cousins, we sound the call to unite for our common defense against all forms of militarism and colonization, and our collective aspirations for international peace through social justice, sustainability, self-determination and mutual support.  After WWII, Okinawans in Hawai`i came together to help war-torn Okinawa; it is time we come support again.  Supporters include: DMZ-Hawai`i Aloha Aina, AFSC-Hawai`i, Ohana Koa NFIP and Buddhist Peace Fellowship-O`ahu; contact us to add your associations.

Parking is limited to streets, so consider carpooling and bus.  Feel free to bring signs, banners, instruments, friends and family to this unity rally committed to non-violence and popular sovereignty.


HOA (Hawai`i Okinawa Alliance)

Pete Shimazaki Doktor

Jamie Oshiro 808-728-0062

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