January 30, 2012
A 24-member delegation from Japan is in Washington, D.C., this week opposing the presence and new construction of U.S. military bases in Okinawa. Participating are members of the Japanese House of Councilors, of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, and of city governments in Okinawa, as well as leading protest organizers and the heads of several important organizations opposed to the ongoing U.S. military occupation of Okinawa.
The famously stingy U.S. tax payer, frequently seen bitterly protesting outrageously wasteful spending of a few million dollars, is paying billions of dollars to maintain and expand some 90 military bases in Japan (and to make those who profit from such business filthy rich). Thirty-four of those bases, containing 74% of their total land area, are in Okinawa, which itself contains only 0.6% of Japanese land. Okinawa is dominated by U.S. military bases and has been for 67 years since the U.S. forcibly appropriated much of the best land.
Keiko Itokazu, a Member of the Japanese National Diet, depicted in this painting, said the Okinawan people had been heartbroken since having been unable to protect a 12-year-old girl from gang rape by U.S. troops in 1995. The Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Japan gives U.S. troops immunity from Japanese prosecution. Between 1979 and 2008, U.S. forces in Okinawa caused 1,439 accidents (487 of them airplane related), and 5,584 criminal cases (559 of them involving violent crimes). The list includes fatal driving incidents, residential break-ins, taxi robberies, sexual violence, and other serious crimes against local citizens.[...]Hiroshi Ashitomi has been a leader of the nonviolent resistance in Henoko for 16 years. “We use our own bodies,” he said on Monday, “to resist aggressive actions by the Japanese government.” Pointing to the picture of Gandhi in the collage on the wall at Busboys, Ashitomi said, “We follow the example of Gandhi. It is not easy. We receive threats from the police. But we are determined to use nonviolent resistance, and we get a lot of support from all over Japan. We are trying to protect the environment, so many young people from all over Japan come to our tent and participate in our resistance.”[...]Specifically, the delegation is asking for the closure of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station; cancellation of plans to construct a new Marine Corps air base at Cape Henoko; reduction of unbearable noise caused by air operations at Kadena Air Base; withdrawal of any proposal to integrate Futenma’s helicopter squadrons into Kadena’s operations; an end to the construction of six new helipads in the Yanbaru forest in northern Okinawa; and revision of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement to allow fair prosecutions of crimes.
Base opponents in Okinawa work with others in Korea, Guam, and Hawaii, and with former residents of Diego Garcia, as well as others around the world.
Civil disobedience is a potential game-changer. In May 2010 17,000 Okinawans created a human chain surrounding Futenma. More recently roughly 200 demonstrators delayed delivery of an environmental impact report on a new runway from the defense ministry to the prefectural government. Using force against protestors would threaten a future Japanese government’s survival and embarrass Washington.
Rather than resist Okinawan demands, the U.S. should voluntarily reduce its military presence on the island. Jeffrey Hornung of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies observed: “Given how much problems this is causing in Okinawa, it’s finally time to rethink things.”
Tokyo has essentially relinquished control over its own territory to comply with U.S. demands. Although the Obama administration frustrated the 2009 DPJ campaign pledge to create a more equal security partnership, Japanese citizens will inevitably raise more questions about the bilateral relationship as they debate security issues.Prof. Kenneth B. Pyle of the University of Washington argued that “the degree of U.S. domination in the relationship has been so extreme that a recalibration of the alliance was bound to happen, but also because autonomy and self-mastery have always been fundamental goals of modern Japan.”
Exactly how the Marines help contain Beijing is not clear. As Robert Gates observed, U.S. policymakers would have to have their heads examined to participate in another land war in Asia. If a conflict with China improbably developed, Washington would rely on air and naval units.
Moreover, despite persistent fear-mongering about Beijing, the PRC is in no position, and for many years will not be in position, to harm the U.S. Chinese military spending remains far behind that of America. Beijing is working mightily to deter the U.S. from attacking China, not to attack America.
Adopting such a stance would be in the interests of the American and Japanese people. And especially in the interest of the Okinawan people. The U.S. should begin transforming its alliance relationships. Now is a good time to do so with Japan.
More than six decades after U.S. Marines stormed ashore on Okinawa, it may finally be time for them to go home.
Some of our troops in Asia as well, particularly our Marines in Okinawa, are stationed on bases with no well-thought out purpose, at considerable cost both in funding and in causing enmity with our Japanese ally. While we should continue to offer protection to South Korea and enforce its cease-fire with its unstable and hostile northern neighbor, and we understand your overall emphasis on Asian security, particular South Asia with its proximity to the Persian Gulf and oil-shipping, we see no reason for any expansion into Australia.