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

March 7, 2010 

Gavan McCormack provides an excellent analysis of Japan’s ‘client state’ position, the anti-bases movement in Okinawa and the crisis it represents for the US-Japan Security Treaty.

He links the bases issue to “poison” of war and occupation of other countries:

While official 50th anniversary commemorations celebrate the US military as the source of the “oxygen” that guaranteed peace and security to Japan, it is surely time for Japanese civil society to point out that the same oxygen is elsewhere a poison, responsible for visiting catastrophe in country after country in East Asia and beyond, notably Korea (1950s and since), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Vietnam (1960s to 70s), Chile (1973), the Persian Gulf (1991), Afghanistan (2001-), and Iraq (2003-), and that now threatens Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and (again) Iran. Millions die or are driven into exile, and countries are devastated as the US military spreads its “oxygen” by unjust, illegal and ruthless interventions and permanent occupations. The degree to which allied countries share criminal responsibility has been the subject of major public review in Holland (which found that the Iraq War was indeed illegal and aggressive) and in the UK (where the Chilcot Inquiry continues). It is time for similar questions to be asked in Japan of the Iraq and Afghan wars, and Japan’s direct and indirect involvement in them.

His description of Okinawa as Japan’s ‘war state’ could also apply to the role of Guam and Hawai’i in American policy.   Unfortunately, his critique of U.S. military interventions and wars does not include Guam, Hawai’i or the other American colonies, some of the earliest casualties of the American Empire.


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

Gavan McCormack

“It is incredible how as soon as a people become subject, it promptly falls into such complete forgetfulness of its freedom that it can hardly be roused to the point of regaining it, obeying so easily and so willingly that one is led to say that this people has not so much lost its liberty as won its enslavement.”

Etienne de la Boétie (1530-1563). Discours de la servitude volontaire ou le Contr’un (Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, or the Anti-Dictator).[1]

For a country in which ultra-nationalism was for so long a problem, the weakness of nationalism in contemporary Japan is puzzling. Six and a half decades after the war ended, Japan still clings to the apron of its former conqueror. Government and opinion leaders want Japan to remain occupied, and are determined at all costs to avoid offence to the occupiers. US forces still occupy lands they then took by force, especially in Okinawa, while the Government of Japan insists they stay and pays them generously to do so. Furthermore, despite successive revelations of the deception and lies (the secret agreements) that have characterized the Ampo relationship, one does not hear any public voice calling for a public inquiry into it. [2] Instead, on all sides one hears only talk of “deepening” it. In particular, the US insists the Futenma Marine Air Station on Okinawa must be replaced by a new military complex at Henoko, and with few exceptions politicians and pundits throughout the country nod their heads.

Okinawa in the East China Sea. Why the Ryukyus are the “Keystone of the Pacific” for US strategic planners

Chosen dependence is what I describe as Client State-ism (Zokkoku-shugi). [3] It is not a phenomenon unique to Japan, nor is it necessarily irrational. To gain and keep the favor of the powerful, dependence can often seem to offer the best assurance of security for the less powerful. Dependence and subordination during the Cold War brought considerable benefits, especially economic, and the relationship was at that time subject to certain limits, mainly stemming from the peculiarities of the American-imposed constitution (notably the Article 9 expression of commitment to state pacifism).

But that era ended, and instead of gradually reducing the US military footprint in Japan and Okinawa as the “enemy” vanished, the US decided to ramp it up. It pressed Japan’s Self Defence Forces to cease being “boy scouts” (as Donald Rumsfeld once contemptuously called them) and to become a “normal” army, able to fight alongside and if necessary instead of, US forces and at US direction, in the “war on terror,” specifically in support of US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It wanted Japanese forces to be integrated under US command, and it wanted greater access to Japan’s capital, markets and technology. “Client State” status required heavier burdens and much increased costs than during the Cold War, but it offered greatly reduced benefits.

Ever since the Hatoyama team first showed signs of being likely to assume government, and talked of “equality” and of renegotiating the relationship, Washington has maintained a ceaseless flow of advice, demand and intimidation to push it into the kind of subservience that had become the norm. The same “Japan experts” and “Japan-handlers” that in LDP times offered a steady stream of advice to “show the flag,” “put boots on the ground” in Iraq, and send the MSDF to the Indian Ocean, now send a steady drumbeat of: Obey! Obey! Obey! Implement the Guam Treaty! Build the new base at Henoko!

Yet, with the important exception of Okinawa, there is little sign of outrage in Japan. Instead, US demands are echoed by a chorus of Japanese voices agreeing that Hatoyama and his government be “realistic.” One well-placed Japanese observer recently wrote of the “foul odor” he felt in the air around Washington and Tokyo given off by the activities of the “Japan-expert” and the “pro-Japan” Americans on one side and “slavish” “US-expert” and “pro-American” Japanese on the other, both “living off” the unequal relationship which they had helped construct and support.[4]

Another recent Japanese critic, quoting the passage from de la Boétie that prefaces this article, writes:

“Struggling to be ‘best’ under the American umbrella, and taking it as matter for pride when cared for by the US, has become a structure in which ‘servitude’ is no longer just a necessary means but is happily embraced and borne. ‘Spontaneous freedom’ becomes indistinguishable from ‘spontaneous servitude’.” [5]

As the security treaty in its current form marks its 50th anniversary in 2010, it should be possible to reflect on the relationship, to continue it unchanged, straighten it out and revise it if necessary, or even to end it, but such reflection is blocked by a combination of cover-up of the past record, one-sided pressure to revise in a certain way, and political hype and rhetoric. As a result, in the year of the “golden Jubilee” anniversary, a more unequal, misrepresented and misunderstood bilateral relationship between two modern states would be difficult to imagine.

Although Hatoyama called for an “equal” relationship, the truth is that the US state does not admit the possibility of equality in its relations with any other state. The “closeness” and “reliability” of an ally is simply a measure of its servility. According to one senior member of the cabinet of Britain’s Tony Blair, looking back on her Government’s role in the war on Iraq, despite being the US’s supposedly closest of allies, “We ended up humiliating ourselves [with] unconditional, poodle-like adoration” because the “special relationship” meant “we just abjectly go wherever America goes.”[6] Her words deserve to be taken seriously by all America’s allies.

Only twice have Japanese governments made an effort to think of an alternative to the dependence rooted in the treaties of 1951 (San Francisco) and 1960 (Ampo) that have formed the legal frame for the post-Occupation relationship. In 1994 the Higuchi Commission recommended to Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi that Japan revise its exclusively US-oriented, dependent diplomacy to become more multilateral, autonomous, and UN-oriented. [7] However, a US government commission headed by Joseph Nye then advised President Clinton almost precisely the opposite: since the peace and security of East Asia was in large part due to the “oxygen” of security provided by US forces based in the region, the existing defence and security arrangements should be maintained, the US military presence in East Asia (Japan and Korea) held at the level of 100,000 troops rather than wound down, and allies pressed to contribute more to maintaining them. Higuchi was forgotten and the Nye prescription applied. Not until 2009 was there any serious questioning of the wisdom of the Nye formula.

It was Nye and his associates (notably Richard Armitage) who from 1995 drew up the detailed sets of post-Cold War policy prescriptions for Japan. Paradoxically, but also reflecting the “Client State” phenomenon, they came to be respected, even revered, as “pro-Japanese” or “friends of Japan.” They and their colleagues drew the 2000 goal (in the “Armitage-Nye Report”) of turning the relationship into a “mature” alliance by reinforcing Japanese military subordination and integration under US command, removing barriers to the active service of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces on “collective security” missions, and taking the necessary steps towards revising the constitution, and in 2007 the further agenda of strengthening the Japanese state, revising the (still unrevised) constitution, passing a permanent law to authorize regular overseas dispatch of Japanese forces, and stepping up military spending.[8] The agreements on relocating US Forces in Japan (Beigun saihen, 2005-6) and Guam Treaty (2009) were the detailed policy instruments towards those goals. The “Futenma Replacement” (Henoko) project formed a central plank.

As Hatoyama’s team began to talk of equality and of an Asia-Pacific Community, it was Joseph Nye who issued a series of warnings, first spelling out (in December 2008) the acts that Congress would be inclined to see as “anti-American,” prominent among them being any attempt to revise the Beigun Saihen agreements (including the Futenma transfer).

The Treaty system whose anniversary is celebrated in 2010 has been unequal throughout its 50 years and is encrusted with deception and lies. The 1960 Treaty, rammed through the Diet in the pre-dawn hours and in the absence of the opposition, reconfirmed the (1951) division of the country into a demilitarized mainland “peace state” Japan and a directly American-controlled Okinawan “war state.” That division was maintained even when, in 1972, Okinawa was restored to nominal Japanese administration, in a deal that was also a model of deception. Firstly, the Okinawa “return” was in fact not a “giving back” but a “purchase,” Japan paying the US even more (for “return” of assets that in fact the US military retained) than it had paid seven years earlier to South Korea in compensation for forty years of colonial rule. And secondly, although the deal was declared to be one of reduction of Okinawan bases to mainland levels and without nuclear weapons, “kaku-nuki hondo-nami,” it was neither. The “war state” function remained central, bases remained intact and the US was assured (in the secret agreement, or mitsuyaku) that its nuclear privilege would remain intact. Despite the nominal inclusion of Okinawa under the Japanese constitution, then and since it has continued in fact to be subject to the over-riding principle of priority to the military, that is, the US military, and in that sense, ironically, matching North Korea as a “Songun” state.

Both governments prefer secret diplomacy to public scrutiny. By simple bureaucratic decision, Japan instituted a system of subsidy for US wars known as the “omoiyari” (sympathy) payments and expanded the scope of the security treaty from Japan and the “Far East” (according to Article 6) into a global agreement for the combat against terror. “Client State” Japan pays the US generously to continue, and not to reduce, its occupation.[9]

In mainland Japan, political and intellectual resistance to the Nye Client State agenda for Japan quickly crumbled nationally from 1995 with the return to power in Tokyo of the LDP, and the qualities of nationalism, democracy and constitutionalism were gradually relegated to second place to the “higher” cause of the alliance. In Okinawa, however, forced to bear the brunt of US military rule, civil democracy in the form of anti-base resistance grew steadily and the Client State agenda was never able to attain legitimacy. Consequently, for 14 years, through the terms of 8 Prime Ministers and 16 Defense Ministers, the 1996 bilateral agreement to substitute a Henoko base for the Futenma one made no progress. It was blocked by the fierce, uncompromising, popularly-supported Okinawan resistance.

In 2005 Okinawan civil society won an astonishing, against all odds, victory over the Koizumi government and its US backers, forcing the Government of Japan to abandon the “offshore” (on-reef, floating, pontoon structure) Henoko base project. It was a historic event in the history of democratic and non-violent civic activism. The government returned to the offensive in 2006, however, with its design for an enlarged, “on-shore” Henoko base to be built on reclaimed land that would jut out into Oura bay from within the existing Camp Schwab marine base. This dual runway, hi-tech, air, land and sea base able to project force throughout Asia and the Pacific was far grander and more multifunctional than either the obsolescent, inconvenient and dangerous Futenma or the earlier offshore, pontoon-based “heliport.”

Oura Bay

Though widely reported (with the subterfuge that is characteristic of the “Alliance”) as a US “withdrawal” designed to reduce the burden of post-World War II American military presence in Okinawa, the 2006 agreement would actually further the agenda of integration of Japanese with US forces and subjection to Pentagon priorities and increase the Japanese financial contribution to the alliance (with Japan paying $6.1 billion for US marine facilities on Guam and up to $10 billion for a new Marine Base at Henoko). “Consolidation” and “reinforcement” were the appropriate terms.

When Obama took office in early 2009, his Japan expert advisers seem to have advised him to move quickly to pre-empt any possible policy shift under a future DPJ government. They therefore exploited the interval when the LDP still enjoyed the two-thirds Lower House majority delivered by Koizumi’s “postal privatization” triumph of 2005 to press the 2006 agreement into a formal treaty and had Prime Minister Aso ram it through the Diet (in May 2009), so as to tie the hands of the Democratic Party forces about to be elected to government.

The Guam Treaty of 2009 was a defining moment in the US-Japan relationship, when both parties went too far, the US in demanding (hastily, well aware that time was running out to cut a deal with the LDP) and Japan in submitting to something not only unequal (imposing obligations on Japan but not on the US), but also unconstitutional, illegal, colonial and deceitful. [10] Yet few Japanese seemed able to detect the “foul odor” that arose from the deal.

In Okinawa, however, the Hatoyama DPJ election victory of August 2009, marked not only by the national party’s electoral pledge to relocate the Futenma base outside the prefecture but by the clean sweep within the prefecture of committed anti-base figures, was taken as signalling that a new and favourable tide to Okinawa was rising. Opposition to any “within Okinawa” Futenma relocation became almost total across the political spectrum. When a committed anti-base candidate was elected mayor of Nago City on 24 January 2010, the threat to Oura Bay (and its dugong, coral and turtles) seemed drastically diminished. Having witnessed the lies and deceptions by which over 13 years the temporary, pontoon-supported “heliport” gradually evolved into the giant, reclamation, dual-runway and military port project of 2006, and having experienced the emptiness of the promise of economic growth in return for base submission, Okinawans were in no mood to be tricked again.

Author being briefed at the site of the Helipad Sit-In, Higashi village, Yambaru, Okinawa, 6 December 2009.

If the two elections gave great heart to Okinawans, however, they also shook the “alliance” relationship. Washington insisted on fulfilment of the Guam Treaty but the Henoko base could only now be built if Hatoyama was prepared to adopt anti-democratic measures of something akin to martial law to defy the will of Okinawan voters and protesters. That would be a peculiar way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “Alliance.”

At Honolulu in January 2010, Hillary Clinton insisted that the Ampo base system was indispensable for East Asian, especially Japan’s, security and prosperity. It was essentially Joseph Nye’s 1995 point. But is it true? The idea that the peace and security of East Asia depends on the presence of the Marines in Okinawa (the “deterrence” function) is tendentious. There is today almost zero possibility of an attack on Japan by some armed force such as was imagined during the Cold War, and in any case the Marines are an expeditionary “attack” force, held in readiness to be launched as a ground force into enemy territory, not a force for the defense of Okinawa or Japan as stipulated under Article 4 of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. Since 1990, they have flown repeatedly from bases in Japan for participation in the Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq Wars.

Furthermore, the hullabaloo in Japan surrounding the Henoko project rests on a serious misunderstanding. As Ginowan City mayor, Iha Yoichi, has repeatedly shown from his analysis of US military planning documents, the Pentagon from 2006 has been committed to transfer main force Futenma marine units to Guam, upgrading it into the military fortress and strategic staging post covering the whole of East Asia and the Western Pacific (and thus undercutting the strategic importance of any new Okinawan base). [11] Iha’s analysis was at least partially confirmed by a senior official of Japan’s defense bureaucracy who described the 3rd Marine Division as a “force for deployment at any time to particular regions beyond Japan …. not for the defense of particular regions.” [12] In short, the Guam Treaty is concerned not with a Futenma substitute, or even with the defense of Japan, but with construction of a new, upgraded, multi-service facility that U.S. Marines will receive for free and will use as a forward base capable of attacking foreign territories.

US military footprint on Guam

Virtually without exception, American officials, pundits and commentators support the Guam treaty formula and show neither sympathy nor understanding for Japanese democracy or Okinawan civil society, and by and large the Japanese pundits and commentators respond to this in “slave-faced” manner (do-gan in Terashima’s term). The Okinawa Times (19 January 2010) notes that the 50th anniversary offered a “chance to reconsider the Japan-US Security treaty that from Okinawa can only be seen as a relationship of dependence.” To seriously “re-consider” would require wiping the “slave faces” off Japan’s politicians and bureaucrats.

Hatoyama’s government has enunciated idealistic sentiments – including statements such as from Party Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro saying that “Okinawa beautiful blue seas must not be despoiled” [13], and the postponing of a decision on the Futenma issue to May opened the issue to a measure of public scrutiny and discussion. However, neither the Prime Minister nor any of his senior ministers offered leadership or did anything to encourage discussion on the nature of the alliance or Okinawa’s burdens. Instead, the Hatoyama government backed itself into a corner by assuming the legitimacy of the Guam Treaty, from which it followed that Futenma could not be returned unless or until it was replaced. Furthermore, prominent ministers, in “Client State” spirit, publicly identified with the position of the US government. Thus Foreign Minister Okada in Nago on 5 December 2009 pleaded with Okinawans to understand the “crisis of the alliance” and the “difficulty” of the negotiations. He suggested that Okinawans should have sympathy for President Obama “who might not be able to escape criticism for weakness in his dealings with Japan at a time of falling popularity” if the Guam Treaty deal was not implemented. [14]

When Hatoyama announced the postponement of decision till May 2010, a Pentagon Press Secretary declared that the US “did not accept” the Japanese decision, [15] and Joseph Nye referred to the DPJ as “inexperienced, divided and still in the thrall of campaign promises,” plainly meaning that attempts to renegotiate the Guam Agreement would not be tolerated. [16]

Yet, the mood in Okinawa unquestionably strengthened following the Hatoyama victory and the sweeping aside of the representatives of the “old regime” in Okinawa in August 2009. Opinion polls had long shown levels of around 70 per cent against the Guam formula (for Henoko construction), [17] but that figure rose steadily, so that one May 2009 survey found a paltry 18 per cent in favour of the Henoko option on which Washington was adamant, and by November that figure had fallen to 5 per cent; hardly anyone. [18] Both Okinawan newspapers, and the most prominent figures in Okinawan civil society, were strongly opposed. [19] The signals of anger and discontent rose to their peak in February 2010 with the adoption by the Okinawan parliament (the Prefectural Assembly) of an extraordinary resolution, unanimously demanding that Futenma be closed (moved “overseas or elsewhere in Japan”), [20] and Okinawa’s 41 local district mayors also unanimously declared themselves of the same view. [21]

It meant that, while Tokyo struggled desperately to find a way to implement the Guam Treaty, Okinawa unanimously rejected it. There is no longer a “progressive-conservative” divide in Okinawan politics on this question. The Mayor of Okinawa’s capital, Naha, who in the past served as President of the Liberal Democratic Party of Okinawa, recently made clear that, as a prominent Okinawan conservative, he was disappointed by the Hatoyama government’s reluctance to redeem its electoral pledge on Futenma and hoped the Okinawan people would remain united “like a rugby scrum” to accomplish its closure and return (i.e., not replacement). [22] No local government or Japanese prefecture in modern history had ever been at such odds with the national government.

Early in March, Defense Vice-Minister Nagishima Akihisa bluntly declared that the US demands would be met, even if it meant alienating Okinawans (who would be offered “compensation.”) [23] With Hatoyama likewise insisting that he would honour alliance obligations, and the likelihood high that other formulas would prove unworkable or impossible to clear in such a tight timetable, Okinawans braced themselves. By May, 2010 Hatoyama would have to either reject the US demands, risking a major diplomatic crisis, or submit to them, announcing with regret that there is no “realistic alternative” to the “V-shaped” base at Henoko, thus provoking a domestic political crisis.

While official 50th anniversary commemorations celebrate the US military as the source of the “oxygen” that guaranteed peace and security to Japan, it is surely time for Japanese civil society to point out that the same oxygen is elsewhere a poison, responsible for visiting catastrophe in country after country in East Asia and beyond, notably Korea (1950s and since), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Vietnam (1960s to 70s), Chile (1973), the Persian Gulf (1991), Afghanistan (2001-), and Iraq (2003-), and that now threatens Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and (again) Iran. Millions die or are driven into exile, and countries are devastated as the US military spreads its “oxygen” by unjust, illegal and ruthless interventions and permanent occupations. The degree to which allied countries share criminal responsibility has been the subject of major public review in Holland (which found that the Iraq War was indeed illegal and aggressive) and in the UK (where the Chilcot Inquiry continues). It is time for similar questions to be asked in Japan of the Iraq and Afghan wars, and Japan’s direct and indirect involvement in them.

The 50th anniversary should be a time for the Japan whose constitution outlaws “the threat or use of force in international affairs” to reflect on how it has come to rest its destiny on alliance with the country above all others for whom war and the threat of war are key instruments of policy, and whether it should continue to offer unqualified support and generous subsidy, and whether it should continue to “honour” the Guam treaty, at all costs maintaining the marine presence in Okinawa. As a first step, it is time to debate openly the unequal treaties, secret diplomacy, lies, deception and manipulation of the last 50 years and time to reflect upon, apologize, and offer redress for the wrongs that have for so long been visited upon the people of Okinawa as a result.

Gavan McCormack is a coordinator of The Asia-Pacific Journal – Japan Focus, and author of many previous texts on Okinawa-related matters. His Client State: Japan in the American Embrace was published in English (New York: Verso) in 2007 and in expanded and revised Japanese, Korean, and Chinese versions in 2008. He is an emeritus professor of Australian National University. The present paper is an expanded version of his article published in Japanese in Shukan kinyobi on 5 March 2010.

Recommended citation: Gavan McCormack, “The Travails of a Client State: An Okinawan Angle on the 50th Anniversary of the US-Japan Security Treaty,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 10-3-10, March 8, 2010.


[1] In English as The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, translated by Harry Kurz and with an introduction by Murray Rothbard, Montrèal/New York/London: Black Rose Books, 1997. Web version here. I am indebted to Nishitani Osamu (see note 5) for drawing my attention to de la Boétie.

[2] Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya did set up an “Experts” committee to investigate the so-called “Secret Agreements” between US and Japanese governments on nuclear and other matters and report back during 2010, but it was of limited focus, precipitated by the common knowledge that such documents existed in the US archives and a series of public statements by former senior officials testifying to their existence. Early reports from Tokyo suggest that no such documents had been found, which raised the possibility they had been deliberately destroyed.

[3] Client State: Japan in the American Embrace, New York, Verso, 2007. Expanded Japanese edition as Zokkoku – Amerika no hoyo to Ajia de no koritsu, Tokyo, Gaifusha, 2008.

[4] Terashima Jitsuro, “Zuno no ressun, Tokubetsu hen, (94), Joshiki ni kaeru ishi to koso – Nichibei domei no saikochiku ni mukete,” Sekai, February 2010, 118-125. Terashima refers to Japanese intellectuals by the term, “do-gan” (literally “slave face”, a term he invents based on his reading of a savagely satirical early 20th century Chinese story by Lu Hsun).

[5]. Nishitani Osamu, “’Jihatsuteki reiju’ o koeyo – jiritsuteki seiji e no ippo,” Sekai, February 2010: pp. 134-140, at p. 136.

[6] Clare Short, formerly International Development Secretary, “Clare Short: Blair misled us and took UK into an illegal war,” The Guardian, 2 February 2010.

[7] Boei mondai kondankai, “Nihon no anzen hosho to boeiryoku no arikata – 21 seiki e mukete no tenbo,” (commonly known as the “Higuchi Report” after its chair, Higuchi Kotaro), presented to Prime Minister Murayama in August 1994.

[8] Richard L. Armitage and Joseph S. Nye, “The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Getting Asia right through 2020,” Washington, CSIS, February 2007.

[9] For details, see my Client State, passim.

[10] “The Battle of Okinawa 2009: Obama vs Hatoyama,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 16 November 2009.

[11] “Why Build a New Base on Okinawa When the Marines are Relocating to Guam?: Okinawa Mayor Challenges Japan and the US.” See also Iha Yoichi, interviewed in “Futenma isetsu to Henoko shin kichi wa kankei nai,” Shukan kinyobi, 15 January 2010, pp. 28-9.

[12] Yanagisawa Kyoji (special researcher and former Director of National Institute for Defense Studies), “Futenma no kakushin –kaiheitai no yokushiryoku o kensho seyo,” Asahi shimbun, 28 January 2010.

[13] “Santo raigetsu isetsusaki oteishi,” Okinawa Times, 29 December 2009.

[14] Quoted in “Kiki aoru dake de wa nasakenai,” editorial, Ryukyu shimpo, 7 December 2009. For a fascinating transcript of the meeting, see Medoruma Shun’s blog, “Uminari no hitobito,” “Okada gaisho to ‘shimin to no daiwa shukai’, zenmen kokai,” in 7 parts, beginning here.

[15] “Pentagon prods Japan on Futenma deadline,” Japan Times, 8 January 2010.

[16] Joseph S. Nye Jr, “An Alliance larger than One Issue,” New York Times, 6 January 2010.

[17] “Futenma hikojo daitai, kennai isetsu hantai 68%,” Okinawa Times, 14 May 2009. In the Northern Districts (including Nago Ciy) opposition was even higher, at 76 per cent.

[18]“Futenma iten: Genko keikaku ni ‘hantai” 67%, Okinawa yoron chosa,” Mainichi shimbun, 2 November 2009; for a partial English account, “Poll: 70 percent of Okinawans want Futenma moved out of prefecture, Japan,” Mainichi Daily News, 3 November 2009.

[19] Open Letter to Secretary of State Clinton, by Miyazato Seigen and 13 other representative figures of Okinawa’s civil society, 14 February 2009, (Japanese) text at “Nagonago zakki,” Miyagi Yasuhiro blog, 22 March 2009; English text courtesy Sato Manabu. They demanded cancellation of the Henoko plan, immediate and unconditional return of Futenma, and further reductions in the US military presence.

[20] “Kengikai, Futenma ‘kokugai kengai isetsu motomeru’ ikensho kaketsu,” Okinawa Times, 24 February 2010. A resolution to the same effect had been passed by a majority in July 2008.

[21] “Zen shucho kennai kyohi, Futenma kengai tekkyo no shiodoki,” editorial, Ryukyu shimpo, 1 March 2010. The rising tide of Okinawan sentiment on this issue is plain from the fact that the figure had been 80 per cent, or 31 out of the 41 mayors, in October “Futenma ‘kengai’ ‘kokugai’ 34 nin,” Okinawa Times, 30 October 2009).

[22] Onaga Takeshi, “Okinawa wa ‘yuai’ no soto na no ka,” Sekai, February 2010, pp. 149-154.

[23] John Brinsley and Sachiko Sakamaki, “US base to stay on Okinawa, Japanese official says,” Bloomberg, 2 March 2010.

Gavan McCormack: “Yet Another ‘Battle of Okinawa’”

November 11, 2009 

This Op Ed published in the Japan Times is critical of the “colonial” nature of the so-called Guam Treaty which provides for the relocation of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, commits Japan to foot most of the bill, allows the expansion of the military base at Henoko, Okinawa, and overrides many of Japan’s own environmental protection laws.  The author misses one big point in his analysis, however.  The Guam Treaty is colonial for its treatment of the indigenous  Chamoru of Guam as much as its disregard for the native Okinawans.


Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009

Yet another ‘Battle of Okinawa’


Special to The Japan Times

CANBERRA — Elections in August gave Japan a new government, headed by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. In electing him and his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the Japanese people, like the American people less than a year earlier, were opting for change. Remarkably, however, what followed on the part of President Barack Obama’s United States has been a campaign of unrelenting pressure to block any such change.

The core issue has been the disposition of American military presence in Okinawa and the U.S. insistence that Hatoyama honor an agreement known as the Guam Treaty. Under the Guam agreement of February 2009, adopted as a treaty under special legislation in May, 8,000 U.S. Marines were to be relocated from Okinawa to Guam, and the U.S. Marine base at Futenma was to be transferred to Henoko in Nago City in northern Okinawa, where Japan would build a new base. Japan would also pay $6.09 billion toward the Guam transfer cost.

The Guam Treaty was one of the first acts of a popular “reforming” U.S. administration, and one of the last of a Japanese regime in fatal decline. It set in unusually clear relief the relationship between the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 economic powers. It was worthy of close attention because the agreement was unequal, unconstitutional, illegal, redundant, colonial and deceitful.

It was unequal because it obliged the government of Japan to construct one new base and to contribute a substantial sum toward constructing another for the U.S. while the American side merely offered an ambiguous pledge to withdraw a number of troops and reserved the right, under Article 8, to vary the agreement at will.

It was unconstitutional since under Article 95 of the Japanese Constitution any law applicable only to one local public entity requires the consent of the majority of the voters of that district and the Okinawan wishes were clearly ignored in the Guam Treaty. The Diet simply rode roughshod over Okinawa.

Since the treaty took precedence over domestic law, it also had the effect of downgrading, in effect vitiating, the requirements of Japan’s environmental protection laws. Any serious and internationally credible environmental impact assessment (EIA) would surely conclude that a massive military construction project was incompatible with the delicate coral and forest environment of the Oura Bay area, but it was taken for granted that Japan’s EIA would be a mere formality and the treaty further undermined the procedure.

The treaty was also redundant. It simply reiterated major sections of earlier agreements (of 2005 and 2006) on which there had been little or no progress. It merely added compulsive force to those agreements and tied the hands of any successor government.

The agreement/treaty was essentially colonial, with the “natives” (Okinawans) to be guided and exploited, but not consulted. The Guam Treaty showed the Obama administration to be maintaining Bush diplomacy: paternalistic, interventionist, antidemocratic and intolerant of Japan’s search for an independent foreign policy.

Finally, the treaty was characterized by what in Japanese is known as “gomakashi” — trickery and lies dressed in the rhetoric of principle and mutuality. Although reported as a U.S. concession to Japan (“troop withdrawal”), it was plainly designed to increase the Japanese contribution to the alliance by substituting a new, high-tech and greatly expanded base at Henoko for the inconvenient, dangerous and obsolescent Futenma. The figure of 8,000 marines to be withdrawn also turned out, under questions in the Diet, to be also false. The more likely figure was less than 3,000.

While working to tie Japan’s hands by the deals with the collapsing Aso administration, the U.S. knew well that the (then) opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)’s position was clear: No new base should be built within Okinawa, Futenma should simply be returned.

Drumbeats of concern, warning, friendly advice from Washington — that Hatoyama and the DPJ had better not take such pledges seriously, much less actually try to carry them out, and that any attempt to vary the Guam agreement would be seen as anti-American — rose steadily, culminating in the October Tokyo visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who delivered an ultimatum: The Guam agreement had to be implemented.

The intimidation had an effect. Defense Secretary Toshimi Kitazawa suggested that there probably was, after all, no real alternative to construction at Henoko. Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada also began to waver. Weeks after the election victory he had said, “If Japan just follows what the U.S. says, then I think as a sovereign nation that is very pathetic.” And: “The will of the people of Okinawa and the will of the people of Japan was expressed in the elections . . . I don’t think we will act simply by accepting what the U.S tells us. . . .” After the Gates statement, however, he suggested that the Futenma functions might after all be transferred within Okinawa, even though he declined to endorse the Henoko project, proposing instead they be merged with those of the large Kadena U.S. Air Force Base nearby.

The prefecture’s Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper, in a passionate editorial, lamented the incapacity of the new Hatoyama government to counter the “intimidatory diplomacy” of Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and decried the drift back toward “acceptance of the status quo of following the U.S.”

Nearly four decades have passed since Okinawa reverted from the U.S. to Japan, yet U.S. bases still take up one-fifth of the land surface of its main island. Nowhere is more overwhelmed than the city of Ginowan, reluctant host for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station. The U.S. and Japan agreed in 1996 that Futenma would be returned, but made return conditional on a replacement, which also would have to be built in Okinawa. Thirteen years on, there the matter still stands.

The “Futenma Replacement Facility,” the subject of such intense diplomatic contention today, is one that has grown from a modest “helipad,” as it was referred to in 1996 to a removable, offshore structure with a 2,500-meter runway, and then in 2006 to its current version: dual-1,800 meter runways plus a deep sea naval port and a chain of helipads — a comprehensive air, land and sea base. Time and again, the project was blocked by popular opposition, but time and again the Japanese government renewed and expanded it.

Yet opinion in the prefecture has, if anything, hardened. An October Ryukyu Shimpo/Mainichi Shimbun poll showed that 70 percent of Okinawans opposed relocation within the prefecture and a mere 5 percent favored the Henoko design endorsed by the Guam Treaty and demanded by Washington. In the August national elections, DPJ candidates who promised they would never allow construction of a new base swept the polls in Okinawa, crushing the representatives of the compliant “old regime.”

Both prefectural newspapers, the majority in Okinawa’s Parliament, and 80 percent of Okinawan government mayors are also opposed, believing any Futenma base substitute should be constructed either elsewhere in Japan or overseas.

There has never been such a postwar confrontation between the U.S. and Japan. With the last shots of Washington’s diplomatic barrage exploding around him and Obama’s visit imminent, Hatoyama continues to study his options. If he rejects the U.S. demands, a major diplomatic crisis is bound to erupt. If he swallows them, he provokes a domestic political crisis and drives Okinawa to despair. Yet choose he must.

Gavan McCormack is an emeritus professor at Australia National University in Canberra. Japan Focus ( will post an unabridged version of this article.

The Guam Treaty as a Modern ‘Disposal’ of the Ryukyus

September 30, 2009 

The Guam Treaty as a Modern ‘Disposal’ of the Ryukyus

September 22, 2009

By Kunitoshi Sakurai
Source: Japan Focus

Introduction by Gavan McCormack

Translation by Takeda Kyousuke and Takeda Yuusuke

[Introduction: Little attention internationally was paid to the agreement signed in February, 2009 between the newly commissioned Obama government in the US and the declining and soon to be defeated Aso government in Japan -- the Guam Treaty. Many commentators drew the bland conclusion that by choosing Tokyo as her first destination Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was merely showing how highly the Obama government intended to regard the Japan alliance. Another view, advanced in these pages, was less benign. (See "Hillary in Japan - The Enforcer," 22 February 2009) It was that Clinton went quickly to Tokyo fearing the Aso government might collapse in order to tie it and any successor government to the extraordinary deals that had been done between the Pentagon and Japanese governments over the preceding years. The Guam Agreement was the culmination of those deals, Okinawa the sacrificial victim.

Clinton went, in other words, as "enforcer," to lay down the law to Japan on the multi-billions of dollars that were required of it and to press the militarization of Northern Okinawa. Japan was to pay just over $6 billion to relocate 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam (of which $2.8 billion was to be in cash in the current financial year), about $11 billion to build a new base for the marines in Okinawa itself, continuing general subsidies of about $2.2 billion per year ("Sympathy" budget or "Host Nation Facilities Support") towards the costs of US bases in Japan, and payments on Missile Defense systems, estimated by the government of Japan at somewhere between $7.4 and $8.9 billion to the year 2012. As the Japanese economy reeled under the shock of its greatest crisis in 60 years, these were staggering sums. It was once said, of George W. Bush, that he was inclined to think of Japan as "just some ATM machine" for which a pin number was not needed. Under Obama, too, that relationship seemed not to change.

The "Special Agreement" on the relocation of marines from Okinawa to Guam signed by Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Nakasone Hirofumi was necessary for two reasons. First, because Okinawan resistance had forestalled all plans for base construction in Northern Okinawa for more than a decade, ever since the deal concerning the Futenma base "return" was reached between the US and Japanese governments in 1996, and adopted in revised form in 2006. Since the target date of 2014 for the handover of Futenma seemed increasingly unrealistic, a formal diplomatic agreement was the device chosen to bring maximum pressure to bear on the Okinawan opposition. Second, because the Aso government's days were clearly numbered, and Washington wanted to get a deal signed and ratified by the Diet that would be enforceable against any subsequent government, so as to obviate any possibility of legal challenge.

The immensely unpopular Aso government (support rate languishing around the 14 per cent mark when the US pressed home the Guam deal) subsequently rammed the Agreement through the Diet on 13 May 2009, overruling the Upper House (which it did not control) by exercising its extraordinary constitutional powers under Article 59. After that, Aso's star kept falling till his government eventually collapsed after being ignominiously dismissed at the polls on 30 August 2009.

Obama came to office promising change, but at least so far as Okinawa was concerned, his government moved quickly to enforce a key policy of the Bush administration, pushing home its advantage against an enfeebled, extremely unpopular government while it still enjoyed the Diet Lower House majority won four years earlier by Koizumi on his "reform" policy (which meant postal privatization). Much of Aso's legislative record -- pleasing as it was to Washington -- was of dubious constitutional propriety since he had recourse repeatedly to Article 59 (passage of a bill once rejected by the Upper House upon its adoption a second time by two-thirds majority in the lower house). In less than nine months, Aso exploited the Lower House majority he inherited to railroad ten major bills (including virtually all the legislation of importance to Washington) through the Diet. Adopting a device unused for 51 years, he was in effect sidelining, even in a sense abolishing, the Upper House.

During those last months, while Aso clung to power and took every possible step to please Washington and to tie down the Guam deal before democracy could intervene, support for the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) grew steadily. Knowing well the DPJ's position on US-Japan relations, including opposition to the building of any new base in Okinawa, i.e. that the existing Futenma base should be returned, not replaced, the US viewed the DPJ with apprehension distrust.

Opposition Democratic Party leader Ozawa Ichiro spent a perfunctory 30 minutes with Clinton during her February tour, but found three times as much time a week later to meet and discuss the future of the region with the Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party's International Section. He also made clear his dissent from the new president's resolve to expand and intensify the Afghanistan war, and then went further, raising the possibility of reducing the US presence in Japan to the (Yokosuka-based) US 7th fleet. His message was clear. If the 7th Fleet was indeed sufficient to all necessary purposes for the defence of Japan, then the bases - all thirteen of them with their more than 30,000 officers and military personnel (other than Yokosuka) - were unnecessary. A chorus of anxious and alarmed voices rose from Washington, and pressure was applied in multiple fora. Prominent US scholar-bureaucrats issued veiled threats about the "damage" the DPJ leader Ozawa Ichiro was causing the alliance by his references to an autonomous foreign policy. In controversial circumstances, Ozawa was ousted from leadership of the DPJ and replaced by Hatoyama in May.

The drumbeats of "concern," "warning," "friendly advice" from Washington that Hatoyama and the DPJ had better not take seriously the party's electoral pledges and commitments, much less actually think of trying to carry them out, rose steadily leading up to the election and its aftermath. How Hatoyama and his government will respond remains to be seen, but the exchange in late July between the DPJ's Okada Katsuya (who in September was to become Foreign Minister) and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy was suggestive (Nikkei Net, 26 July 2009):

Fluornoy: The reorganization of US forces in Japan is in accord with agreement between the two countries.
Okada: There are 64 years of history dragging along behind the US-Japan relationship.

So, too, was Okada's comment to British journalist Simon Tisdall, weeks after the election victory: "If Japan just follows what the US says, then I think as a sovereign nation that is very pathetic." (The Guardian, 10 August)

After more than six decades, an alternative government inclining towards an independent view of Japan's defence and security and towards a renegotiated US-Japan alliance now takes office. The pattern in Okinawa is especially clear. In Okinawa in August the DPJ swept the polls, the DPJ recording a higher vote (in the proportional section) than ever before, and all five newly elected representatives promptly declaring their opposition to the base construction project.

Even if it should choose to try to buckle under US pressure, the Hatoyama government will not easily be able to sweep away this deep Okinawan anger and disaffection. Nor does it seem that the Obama administration will henceforth be able to manage Japan -- like its predecessors, Republican and Democrat -- by simply dictating to a faithful and unquestioning "ally." The world will be hearing much more about Henoko in coming months and years.

Here Professor Sakurai, president of Okinawa University in Naha and a distinguished scientist, argues that the Japanese government's environmental impact survey, on which the project to construct the new base at Henoko rests, is fatally flawed. If he is right, the Hatoyama Government must cancel it and issue orders for an internationally credible, independent scientific survey in its stead.

For an alternative, civil society-rooted view of how the Hatoyama government might proceed towards a revised relationship with the United states, see Maeda Tetsuo, "Escape from Dependency: An Agenda for Transforming the Structure of Japanese Security and the US-Japan Relationship," -- Gavan McCormack]

The Modern “Disposal” of the Ryukyus

The year 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of the Satsuma clan’s invasion of the Ryukyu Islands [today known as Okinawa], and the 130th anniversary of the “Disposal” of the Ryukyus by the Japanese Government in the Meiji Era. Both are pivotal incidents in the history of Ryukyu/Okinawa. Both are remembered as shobun or “disposal.” They were events of such moment as to change the fate of the islands forever, and both were the consequence of overwhelming external intervention. Today in Okinawa it is feared that the “Japan-U.S. Agreement on the Implementation of the Relocation of a Part of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force Personnel and Their Dependents from Okinawa to Guam” (hereafter abbreviated as “Guam Treaty”), which was concluded on 17 February 2009, may become a modern “Disposal of the Ryukyus”.

This is because of the possibility that, without asking for the opinions of the Okinawan people, the Japanese and U.S. governments might make Okinawa into a permanent military installation equipped with the latest military facilities. The Guam Treaty, which basically affects only Okinawa, is required to abide by article 95 of the Japanese Constitution, which states “Any special law that is effective only in a particular region must be approved by the majority of the residents in a referendum before it can be enacted” prior to its conclusion or ratification. However, this treaty is about to be pushed on to the people of Okinawa without their being consulted, much less giving their consent. The U.S. bases in Okinawa were built during and after the end of World War Two and through the post war era, irrespective of the will of the people of Okinawa. Now, after decades since Okinawa’s reversion to Japan, this history is about to be repeated.

Public Opinion Says No

The public opinion of the people of Okinawa on construction of new bases is simple: they don’t want any. For the Nago referendum of 21 December 1997, over 200 officials from Naha Defense Facilities Administration Bureau were mobilized into the area to support the “yes” case. The officials distributed to all houses colored brochures declaring “Sea bases are safe” “The base will lead to the promotion of development projects in northern Okinawa”, but citizens stubbornly chose to differ. In addition, various surveys by the local press have clarified that over 80 percent of citizens oppose relocation within the prefecture (for example, the morning edition of Okinawa Times 12 August 2005 showed that 82 percent of people are against relocation to Henoko). The most recent evidence of public opinion is the resolution against the construction of new bases adopted on 18 July 2008 by the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly.

Why are people so negative? It is because the people of Okinawa [in 1945] experienced catastrophic ground war. That experience has left the words “Life is a precious treasure” deeply engraved on their hearts. In 1972, when Okinawa achieved its reversion to Japan from American administration, the overwhelming majority of the people dreamed of an “Okinawa without bases” and of “rejoining the country with a Peace Constitution”. The people wanted the bases removed and everlasting peace. However, the mainland government turned a blind eye to these demands, and decided to leave the U.S. bases as they were, instead offering Okinawa subsidies for economic support. Okinawa was given three times as much funding for public works projects as similar prefectures. The Japanese Government wanted the U.S. bases to continue.

Today, Okinawa, which is only 0.6 percent of Japan’s area, contains 75 percent of U.S. bases in Japan. After World War Two, for over 60 years Okinawa was made to take part in the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, Afghanistan War, and Iraq War, all of which victimized the people of Asia. Now, the various violations of human rights and the environmental destruction caused by the bases have reached a limit. As Kurt Campbell has put it, “too many eggs are stacked on a small basket”.

Persistent Violations of Human Rights

One awful incident of human rights violation which we can never forget is the case in 1995 of three U.S. servicemen raping a 12-year-old Japanese girl. Such problems — including the violation of human rights of women — caused by the U.S. bases and U.S. soldiers (and their family members) are common, and virtually every day there are articles about them in the local press. Yet, incidents which come to light are only the tip of an iceberg. Countless violations go unreported.

Early in the morning of 4 April 2009, in a hit-and-run accident near the entertainment district of Naha City, three people crossing the crosswalk on a green light were run over by a Y-numbered vehicle and seriously injured. Y-numbered cars are registered as vehicles for US army/navy civilian employees. An hour later, the car stained with blood was found in a vacant lot in the bar quarter of Kin Town, near Camp Hansen, with two men who seemed to be U.S. soldiers standing beside it. On 10 December 2008, at Igei District of Kin Town, a stray bullet which probably came from Camp Hansen damaged the license plate of a car parked at the garage of a civilian. In the past, on at least two occasions people have been seriously injured by stray bullets in Igei District. Now the same kind of incident is repeated in the same place. To make matters worse, the U.S. army did not admit that the bullet came from their camp, and the Japanese Government could do nothing about it. The Okinawa freeway goes right by Camp Hansen. Near Igei District there is a sign saying “Beware of stray-bullets”. I duck my head every time I pass this area. Security is always threatened in Okinawa.

As a university professor, the helicopter crash incident at Okinawa International University on 13 August 2004 remains clear and vivid in my mind. It was unbelievable that there were no casualties. Moreover, I was very shocked to know that president Tomoaki Toguchi and all other people concerned were shut out from their university for 7 days. Okinawa International University is located adjacent to the Futenma base, and when the helicopter crashed into the campus, the marines rushed from the base to occupy the university. In order to secure the fuselage and to cover up all evidence of the incident, they cordoned off the area to prevent entry by university staff and mass media. On 11 August 2005, one year after that incident, I sent a statement of protest to the Japanese and the US Governments, to both President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi. I said that if a US helicopter happened to crash into Okinawa University, I, as president of the university, would not permit U.S. soldiers to enter my campus without my permission. Okinawa’s present situation is such that a university president has to take such measures.

The U.S. Marine Futenma Air Station, surrounded by a thickly populated district, is located so close to the residential area that it would not clear US safety standards under Air Installation Compatible Land Use Zone (AICUZ). Donald Rumsfeld, when Secretary of Defense, visited this area and pointed out the danger. Therefore, taking the opportunity of the rape incident in 1995, the SACO (Special Action Committee on Okinawa) decided the base should be relocated to Henoko, reaching agreement in December 1995 supposedly to “reduce the burden of Okinawa”. The helicopter crash occurred in 2004 (one year after the deadline for relocation under the SACO final agreement) but before Futenma Air Station was relocated, proving that the location of the base was dangerous.

This SACO agreement, seen from the U.S. military point of view offered a new facility with the latest technology and a naval port in a thinly populated area with all expenses covered by the Japanese people’s hard-earned taxes, while requiring only the abandonment of an inconvenient, obsolete base in the middle of a thickly populated district. In other words, it was an “unexpected windfall”. However, even if a Futenma Air Station substitute facility is needed for national security, there is no necessity for the new relocation area to be in Okinawa. As for the people, who live in a place where “too many eggs are stacked on a small basket”, they have the right, from a human security perspective, to demand the base be relocated somewhere else, inside or outside Japan.

Why the Guam Treaty Now?

The Guam Treaty between the Japanese and the U.S. Governments was supposed to reduce Okinawa’s burden. However, considering what is taking place in areas such as Kadena Air Base, Camp Hansen, and White Beach Military Port, the treaty is only making matters worse for Okinawa. In Kadena Air Base, dawn takeoffs and landings of F-15 jet fighters leave residents of the area around the bases — such as Kadena Town, Chatan Town and Okinawa City — sleepless. However, the authorities do not listen to the protests of those citizens.

Even though there is a noise abatement regulation between the U.S. and Japanese Governments on Kadena Air Base, a clause annexed to it states that exceptions may be made when requested by the USAF. The USAF claims that dawn takeoff is necessary for safe return to mainland USA and never takes the suffering of local residents into consideration. Meanwhile, the Japanese Government just keeps repeating, “We will ask the U.S. forces to improve this situation.” In 2009, squadrons of F-22 stealth jet fighters (one of which recently crashed in mainland USA) flew to Okinawa, and they now conduct daily training.

In Camp Hansen (known for the number of accidents caused by stray-bullets), the Japanese Self Defense Force and U.S. forces have started joint training for urban-warfare. Also in the White Beach Military Port area, increasing numbers of nuclear submarines call at the port. This is due to their mission of collecting information in preparation for possible military action in the Taiwan Strait.

The burden of such intensification of base functions is always accompanied by some compensation. Since reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972, over a 30 year period three “Okinawan Promotion and Development” plans were carried out and in 2002, a further, 10 year promotion plan to 2012 was launched. These four government-led development plans, which have lasted for 40 years in total, will end in a few more years. They have provided Okinawa with nearly 10 trillion yen worth of public works (mainly construction related) as a form of compensation for Okinawa’s acceptance of the bases.

However, regardless of the SACO agreement, the relocation of Futenma Air Station to the Henoko area has been deadlocked because of fierce (but non-violent) protests by the local residents against the relocation plan.

Frustrated, in May 2007 the Japanese Government took its next move, enacting the “Bill on Special Measures to Implement U.S. Military Realignment”. Under this new law, the acceptance of the U.S. bases became a kind of “piecework” for the people of Okinawa. The level of subsidy was linked to base acceptance and the Defense Force Facilities Bureau paid local self government authorities to the extent that they adopted the Futenma Replacement Facility. It was an undisguised “carrot and stick” approach. Subsidy was paid only when the local government actually completed each step in the relocation process. The government classified the level of cooperation into four stages:

(1) announcement of the acceptance of the U.S. bases in the area (10 percent of the full amount of the subsidy to be paid);

(2) commencement of the environmental impact assessment (hereafter “EIA”) process (25 percent to be paid);

(3) commencement of the main construction works, for example land reclamation (66.7 percent to be paid); and

(4) final implementation of the realignment plan (full amount to be paid).

Incidentally, as I will discuss later, public works funded by such subsidies cause serious damage to the delicate natural environment of Okinawa. Not only the environment, but also the sense of pride and self governance of Okinawa, are violated.

Why should there be another “Ryukyu Disposal” now? After the reversion to Japan, Okinawa became split between on the one hand the Okinawan people, wanting the “Peace Constitution” of Japan to be applied to their island and for their home to be free of military bases, acting to make their military base issue one of the main points of contention in Japanese politics, and on the other hand the Japanese Government and some of its collaborators in Okinawa intent on concentrating U.S. bases under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in Okinawa, and struggling to prevent the bases from becoming the main political issue. The past 30 years of Okinawan “promotion and development” plans and the ongoing plan is a political measure of the Japanese Government’s efforts to prevent the base issue from becoming a major political issue. This strategy, although it caused environmental destruction, has been politically successful to some extent.

Such a strategy can be best seen in the way the local government of Okinawa has acted for the last 10 years under former governor Inamine (1998-2006) and incumbent governor Nakaima (2006-) to avoid making the military base issue into the main political issue. This started right after the resignation of former governor Ota (1990-1998), who for eight years following the 1995 rape of the school-girl strived to make the military base issue a main political issue.

Nevertheless, the Okinawan public has continued nonviolent protests against the construction of the Henoko base replacement for the Futenma Air Station, and a wide variety of Okinawan people support the idea of stopping the governmental plan to relocate the base within Okinawa, due to the fear of human rights violations and environmental destruction caused by the presence of the base itself.

This was evident in the victory of the Opposition in the Prefectural Assembly election of June 2008, and the Assembly’s adoption of “Opinion and Resolution against the Construction of a New Military Base in Henoko” by the Assembly on 17 July 2008. Also, at the level of national politics, there is currently a chance of change of the administration [such as occurred with the landslide victory of the Democratic Party of Japan in the 30 August 2009 elections GMc]. It amounts to a crisis for the plan made by Japanese and US Governments to relocate the base within Okinawa. This may be seen as the biggest reason for concluding the Guam Treaty in February 2009.

Environmental Destruction Caused by the “Promotion and Development” of Okinawa

The Japaese government-led “promotion and development” plan for Okinawa, soon to reach its 40th year, was provided as a compensation for keeping the US bases in the region. However, state funded public works are standardized nation-wide and often do not meet the needs of particular regions. This is especially the case in Okinawa. Agricultural and road construction public works have caused massive red clay runoff into the sea, killing the coral and causing serious ocean pollution. Public works ill-suited to the environment of Okinawa have resulted in the widespread destruction of Okinawa’s mountains, rivers, and sea.

Okinawa is the prefecture that has conducted the most land reclamation. After its reversion to Japan, Okinawa went through rapid land reclamation projects under the slogan “close the gap” between Okinawa and the Japanese mainland. During the eight year-period 2000 to 2007, Okinawa acquired more land from land reclamation projects than any other prefecture. The land reclamation project of the year 2000 (the year of the G8 Okinawa Summit) was the most significant of all, constituting one-quarter of all newly gained land nationwide. Reclamation became its own end, and much reclaimed land was left unused. One of Okinawa’s characteristics is that such projects may bring a temporary benefit, but job opportunities do not last. Natural shorelines and wetlands have steadily shrunk. Furthermore, the precious coral reef that is left around the main island of Okinawa faces a critical situation because of new reclamation projects to begin at Henoko and Awase. To fulfil our responsibility to the children of the next generation, we must stop such undertakings.

The Course of Relocation of Futenma Air Station to Henoko

The U.S. plan to build a base in Henoko has existed from as early as the Vietnam War era. According to the December 1966 master plan of the U.S. navy, the marines were to reclaim the sea near Henoko and construct an airfield with a 3000 meter-long runway, while the navy was to build a port in Oura Bay. This old plan came back to life in 1996 in the form of the SACO agreement (following the 1995 assault by U.S. troops on the school girl.). The SACO agreement on the construction of a “Futenma Air Station substitute facility” in the Henoko area is described as relieving Okinawa of its burden. In reality, however, this is not simply a “substitute facility”. Rather it is to be a state of the art facility equipped with naval port (which does not exist in the current Futenma Air Station) in addition to the flight facility.

Originally, the plan was to build a heliport inside Camp Schwab. As time passed, other plans were raised, such as “limiting the use of the base to 15 years after which the site would be returned and incorporated in plans for the development of the northern region of the island” or “joint usage of the facility by both U.S. forces and the Okinawans”. They were designed to take advantage of the weakness of the northern regional economy, which suffers from depopulation. However, all such plans eventually evolved into the plan for construction of a permanent base. When the plan for building a new base off the coast of Henoko came up against a blank wall as a result of the local residents’ non-violent protest, U.S. forces and the Japanese Government came up with a plan to build it on the shore of Henoko Bay, in a restricted area attached to Camp Schwab which would be almost impossible for civil activists to enter for purposes of protest. They later further expanded their plan and came up with a plan for “V” shaped runways.

It is not surprising that some residents suspected that the whole thing was a result of a hunt for concessions by interested parties. If the plan for building the base off the coast of Henoko should be adopted, they would need to fill in the deep sea outside the coral reef and it would be difficult for low-skilled local construction companies to take part. On the other hand, if the plan for building it on the shore were to be adopted, reclamation works only in the shallow waters inside the coral reef would be required and local construction companies would have a chance to participate.

The governor of Okinawa Prefecture and the mayor of Nago City have recommended construction “a little off-shore”, aiming to increase the landfill area for the benefit of local firms. Although they explain to the public that this decision comes from their desire to protect residents from noise pollution and other dangers, nobody doubts the hidden intention. Meanwhile, the Japanese Government and U.S. forces insist upon their “strictly on-shore” plan. This is from fear that if they should adopt the “a little off-shore” plan, it would be easier for local activists to restart their protests.

The mass media from the Japanese mainland reports this as if the discrepancy between the Japanese Government and local governments of Okinawa is the main conflict. Such reporting leads the people of Japan to believe, falsely, that it is best for the people of Okinawa if the governor’s plan is adopted. As if in support of this concern, the draft EIA report for Henoko which was submitted on 1 April 2009 included six alternative plans for “a little off-shore” plan, all of which seemed designed to prepare the way to a compromise with the governor’s plan.

Yet, the large majority of public opinion of Okinawa is against the construction of the new base. Therefore, the true question at issue is whether or not to allow the base to be built.

The Henoko EIA is not an EIA

The Henoko environmental impact assessment (EIA) has, at least in form, been steadily moving ahead. On 1 April 2009, an enormous, 5,400 page draft EIA report was tabled. However, in many respects the Henoko EIA contravened the intention of the EIA Law. As a member and councilor of the Japan Society for Impact Assessment, I cannot acknowledge this as a true EIA. Due to space limitations, I will indicate just four points that are crucial violations of the EIA Law.

First, the Agreement on the Realignment of the United States Armed Forces in Japan (the so-called Roadmap) of May 2006 set the goal of a new base by the year 2014. Therefore, the EIA procedures were obliged to follow that goal,. This is a big problem. Natural phenomena are very unstable, and since understanding the behavior of animals like the dugong was necessary, the people, experts, and even the prefectural governor called for a long-term field study. However, the Okinawa Defense Bureau (hereinafter “ODB”) decided that the goal of 2014 was the higher priority, and started the study without making any definite statement about a long-term field study. A year later, on 14 March 2009, they suddenly declared a conclusion of the study and on 1 April 2009, the draft EIA report was submitted. That report does not include the study of the impact of typhoons on the local environment, even though the ODB itself recognized its necessity. Unfortunately for ODB, no typhoon struck Okinawa in that year, hence no study could be conducted.

Second, the ODB conducted a “present condition study” (at a cost of more than two billion yen) without receiving the benefit of the scoping document required by the EIA Law. This study was conducted before the EIA team had set a goal to complete all procedures before 2014. On top of that, they used the results of the study as “existing information”, and started working on their draft EIA report. The equipment for the dugong and the coral reef’s research were set up by divers at night, while the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force brought up their minesweeper “Bungo” to intimidate civilians engaged in nonviolent opposition activities. As a natural result of the operation conducted by people who were ignorant of the behavior of coral reef and the dugong, the equipment damaged the coral reef, and the video cameras turned out to threaten the dugong. The draft EIA report of 1 April 2009 says that there are no dugong in the coastal area of Henoko, but it is highly likely that such a result was caused by the threatening activities of the survey teams for dugong have actually been seen for many years in the east coast of the Okinawan mainland, including the coastal area from Kin Bay to Henoko to the north. Dugong trenches (the pattern of their grazing on seaweed) have also been spotted.

Now, according to the draft EIA report, the only dugong confirmed in the study was one offshore from Kayo and two in the bay of the Kouri islands. The report only considers the impact of the construction of a new base on the three dugong that were found, and with such invalid data concludes that the construction would have little impact on the ecosystem of the Okinawan dugong. This is clearly a leap in logic. As the draft EIA report says, according to the past research results of the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), the research results of the Naha Bureau of the Defense Facility Administration, and the survey results of 10 different fishermen’s cooperative associations that relates to this, it is clear that Henoko Bay provides (or provided) perfect conditions for dugong habitat. Therefore, the EIA procedures could not be said to have been properly conducted unless quantitative assessments were made as to the extent to which the dugong might be deprived of the possibility of maintaining and reproducing their population if a new base was constructed in the Bay of Henoko, their vital habitat.

Third, since it is the Japanese Government (Ministry of Defense) that conducts the survey but the actual base will be run by the US, beyond Japanese control, the project content listed in the scoping document is virtually zero. The scoping document submitted on 14 August 2007 was a slipshod piece of work, with only 7 pages allocated to explanation of the contents of the project. In the section on “the aviation model planned to be used”, one line refers to “US tilt-rotor aircraft and aircraft which are capable of short takeoff and landing.” Although the U.S. has since 1996 made clear their intention to deploy the next generation vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey, this matter is not mentioned at all in either the scoping document of August 2007 or the draft EIA report of April 2009. The Osprey is an aircraft notorious for its frequency of accidents, a fact that the Japanese Government has been concealing.

For those reasons, the Okinawa EIA Prefectural Reviewing Committee pointed out that ODB should start EIA procedures over again when they are ready with a clearer plan for the project. Taking this into consideration, on 11 January 2008 the ODB submitted a 150 page-long additional document on their plan. Yet, since they provided their information only little by little, the view that the ODB should be asked to go back to the drawing board as stated in article 28 of the EIA Law grew stronger within the committee. Shocked, the prefectural government tried to settle this issue by having the ODB rewrite the scoping document instead of starting its work again from scratch. One reason why things turned out this way is that there was no expert in EIA Law on the committee. Its interpretation was exclusively that of the prefecture’s environmental policy department.

ODB rewrote its scoping document twice according to the prefecture’s formula, respectively on 5 February and on 14 March 2008 before its final submission; in other words it made additions and modifications to the plan twice. The prefecture’s department of environmental policy originally said that the documents submitted by ODB in February and March 2008 were rewritten scoping documents, but later they changed that explanation to avoid being criticized for violation of article 8 of the EIA Law which guarantees citizens the rights to express their opinions on scoping documents. Violation of these rights is clearly against the spirit of the EIA Law as a procedural-law. The Okinawa prefectural government now says that the scoping document of the project is the one submitted on 14 August 2007 and the documents submitted in February and March 2008 are merely additional information. In any case, local residents were only able to submit opinion papers on the ODB’s original plan, and were denied opportunity to question or make submission about the two modified versions of the plan.

Moreover, the ODB plan, which was released to the public on 1 April 2009, included a newly added plan for four helipads. Needless to say, this is another example of ex post facto high-handedness.

The fourth issue concerns the unwillingness of ODB to make assessments concerning the environmental impact which would be caused by the new plan, released in January 2008, to purchase 17 million square-meters of sea-sand (all collected from waters near Okinawa) from private enterprises for use in the landfill projects. This vast amount is about 12.4 times all sea-sand collected in Okinawa in the year 2006, and equivalent to 1.14 times all the sea-sand collected in the year 2005 nation-wide. The effect caused by such projects on the environment of the coastal areas and beaches of Okinawa would be incalculable.

The people of Okinawa know from experience the severe damage from salt at the time of typhoons if they were to damage their beaches by collecting sea-sand offshore. Nevertheless, ODB claimed that there would be no problem in buying legally collected sand from private enterprises, and that there was no need to conduct an EIA on this issue. Even though collection of sea-sand on a small scale might have no environmental effect serious enough to require an EIA, if repeated countless times it would have a considerable effect. This is an example of what is known as the “fallacy of composition”.

Soon after that, the ODB was forced by growing public anxiety to revise their original plan and announce that they would purchase sand from outside Okinawa. Yet, considering the cost, it is clear that a large part of the sea-sand would be collected from the waters of Okinawa and the issue still remains a great concern.

The coastal areas of Henoko are classified as rank 1 (areas to be strictly protected) under the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s Guidelines for Environmental Protection. They require special care. That is to say, this area has extraordinary importance for the environment. For example, the massive colony of blue coral found a few years ago in the northern Oura Bay (near Henoko) turned out to be equivalent in size and rarity to its famed counterpart in Shiraho, Ishigaki-Island. No matter how careful they may be about the protection of the environment, as long as they continue to build bases, these environments will continue to perish. Despite references in the Henoko EIA to “concern for the environment”, since there is no option to stop the project it amounts in fact to a “death sentence”.

The eastern coast of the island of Okinawa (especially the Henoko area) is known to be the northernmost habitat of dugong. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at its fourth international conference on nature conservation held on 14 October 2008 in Barcelona adopted for the third time a recommendation for the protection of the dugong. In October 2010, the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity is to be held in Nagoya (COP 10). The whole world watches to see what efforts Japan, the host country of this conference, will make for the protection of the dugong. Besides, there has been a lawsuit in the U.S. Federal Court of San Francisco about the protection of the dugong in Okinawa, arising out of the fear that they might become extinct as a result of construction of a new base at Henoko. On 24 January 2008 the Case was decided in favor of the plaintiff [i.e. the dugong and Okinawan environmentalists] in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act. The Court ordered the Pentagon to evaluate how the construction and use of the new base in the Henoko area would affect the endangered dugong of Okinawa, and to take the result of the evaluation into account as they actually execute the construction plan and operate the base. The Pentagon responded by saying that the Japanese Government’s EIA procedures would do this task for them. However, it is questionable if the U.S. Federal Court would be satisfied with the result gained in the draft EIA report — that “Dugong are not in the Henoko area, but in the offshore area of the Kayo region. Considering the distance between these two areas, it is doubtful that construction or use of the new base in Henoko would ever affect them.”

Taking into account that this draft EIA report was tabled on 1 April (April Fool’s Day), I even think that this plan itself must be some kind of a joke, with the real thing to be turned in separately, later.

For a Foreign Policy We Could Be Proud Of

Now, let me summarize my position. The realignment plan for the U.S. forces which is behind the May 2007 “Bill on Special Measures to Implement U.S. Military Realignment” includes the relocation of the Marine Corps to Guam, relocation of Futenma Air Station to Henoko, and return of the Okinawan bases south of Kadena to the land’s civilian owners. However, due to protests by local residents and delay of EIA, it was found impossible to move the base by 2014 as originally agreed by both the U.S. and the Japanese Governments. Also, since there has been volatility in the political situation [deepened as a result of the change of government following the national elections of 30 August 2009, GMc], both governments agreed to make another international agreement called the Guam Treaty aside from the Agreement of the Realignment of the United States Armed Forces in Japan (so-called Roadmap) made in May of 2006, to bind themselves to the plans.

This Guam Treaty is totally unacceptable, since it forces the people of Okinawa to accept the plan to relocate the Futenma base to the Henoko area without listening to their opinion. The Japanese Government states that diplomacy and national defense should be under the control of the national government. But the presence of the U.S. bases constitutes an everyday threat to the lives of the people of Okinawa. Therefore, from the viewpoint of human rights, the Okinawan people have the right to demand the abolition of military bases from their island.

“Today’s self-government law provides that the national government and the local government should be considered equal. In brief, this means that even if decisions concerning the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty are made by the national government, local governments reserve the right to make decisions on how and where to actually construct the bases.” (Sato Manabu, Okinawa Times 17 March 2009)

Since the reversion of Okinawa to Japan, U.S. bases in Japan have been concentrated in Okinawa. In compensation, the government conducted many public works in Okinawa. As a result, serious environmental disruptions were expected, and EIAs (though sometimes used as a device to secure consent for their projects) were conducted because of that fear, resulting in mass production of EIAs. Since many of the EIAs in Okinawa such as those for Awase Wetland, New-Ishigaki Airport, Takae Helipads, and Henoko were made by companies specializing in conducting EIAs, a negative chain reaction resulted, spreading and expanding tactics that go against the spirit of the EIA Law.

The EIA system, which has been an indispensable part of Japanese society’s attempt to realize sustainable development, has been flawed in Okinawa, and now, that flaw is boomeranging back on the entire nation. The whole of Japanese society stands to be seriously damaged by forcing the bases on to Okinawa and acting as if this has nothing to do with the rest of the country.

In February 2003, just a year before his death, the late Chief Cabinet Secretary Gotoda Masaharu said, “Since Japan relied on the U.S. entirely on national defense, it ended up being a “client state” of the U.S.” Taking Gotoda’s words into account, Gavan McCormack, emeritus professor of Australian National University, says in his book Client State, Japan in American Embrace that “Japan has virtually changed itself into a client state of the U.S.” If Japan is a “client state” of the U.S., Okinawa may be described as its “military-colony”. As a Japanese citizen I strongly demand that the Japanese Government practice a foreign policy that the people of Okinawa can be proud of.

Author Note: Sakurai Kunitoshi is President of Okinawa University in Naha, a well-known scholar in the field of environmental studies, author, inter alia, of Chikyu bunmei no jouken (The Conditions for a Global Civilization), with Sawa Takamitsu, Iwanami Shoten, 1995.

This article is based on his testimony on 8 April 2009 as expert witness to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Japanese House of Representatives examining the Guam Treaty. It was published in Japanese as “Arata na Ryukyu shobun to shite no Nichi-Bei Guamu kyotei,” Sekai, July 2009, pp. 96-105. English translation by Takeda Kyousuke and Takeda Yuusuke.

Gavan McCormack’s introduction was completed on September 15, 2009.

Recommended citation: Sakurai Kunitoshi, “The Guam Treaty as a Modern ‘Disposal’ of the Ryukyus,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 38-1-09, September 21, 2009.

See the following relevant articles on the United States military bases and Asia:

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

Miyume Tanji, Community, Resistance and Sustainability in an Okinawan Village: Yomitan

Hideki Yoshikawa, Dugong Swimming in Uncharted Waters: US Judicial Intervention to Protect Okinawa’s “Natural Monument” and Halt Base Construction

Gavan McCormack, Okinawa’s Turbulent 400 Years

Catherine Lutz, US Bases and Empire: Global Perspectives on the Asia Pacific

Sakurai Kunitochi, Okinawan Bases, the United States and Environmental Destruction

From: Z Net – The Spirit Of Resistance Lives