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U.S. military’s Pacific ‘pivot’ and Okinawa drawdown unsettles the region

February 14, 2012 

After several weeks of speculation and anonymous ‘leaks’ about possible changes to the U.S.-Japan plan to relocate the Futenma Marine base to Henoko, Okinawa, government officials announced that the U.S. would begin moving some troops out of Okinawa, independent of the base relocation to Henoko. But the news is having an unsettling effect across the entire region.  Here are a sampling of the articles.

The AP reported “Okinawa Marines going to Guam, Australia, Hawaii and Philippines” (February 7, 2012):

Japan and the United States agreed Wednesday to proceed with plans to transfer thousands of U.S. troops out of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, leaving behind the stalled discussion about closing a major U.S. Marine base there.

The transfer, a key to U.S. troop restructuring in the Pacific, has been in limbo for years because it was linked to the closure and replacement of the strategically important base that Okinawans fiercely oppose.

The announcement Wednesday follows high-level talks to rework a 2006 agreement for 8,000 Marines to transfer to the U.S. territory of Guam by 2014 if a replacement for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma could be built elsewhere on Okinawa.

That agreement has been effectively scuttled by opposition on Okinawa, where many residents believe the base should simply be closed and moved overseas or elsewhere in Japan. More than half of the 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan, including 18,000 Marines, are stationed on Okinawa, taking up around 10 percent of the island with nearly 40 bases and facilities.

The two governments said in a joint statement that the transfer of thousands of U.S. Marines to Guam would not require the prior closure of Futenma, as the original pact required. Details of the realignment will be discussed further, but about 10,000 troops will remain on Okinawa, as in the original agreement.

The reduced number of troops projected to move to Guam may be encouraging to grassroots groups who have fought against the military expansion in Guam. However the Governor of the U.S. colony, and the many businesses that hoped to cash in on the boom, were disappointed:

Guam, meanwhie, has pushed hard for the troop buildup because of the potential economic boom.

“We are the closest U.S. community to Asia. We are very patriotic citizens. And unlike many foreign countries and even some U.S. communities, we welcome an increased military presence,” Gov. Eddie Calvo said in a statement last week.

Guam, which is being built up to play a greater role in Washington’s Asia-Pacific strategy, could also stand to get far fewer Marines than expected if the new plan goes through. The tiny U.S. territory had been counting on a huge boost from the restructuring plan, and may have to revise its forecasts.

But officials said the revised number could be more manageable.

A smaller contingent of Marines would alleviate concerns on Guam that the swelling military presence would overwhelm the island’s infrastructure and environment.

Mark G. Calvo, the director of Guam’s military buildup office, said the territory has been briefed by the Department of Defense about the talks with Japan and supports the transfer, even if it is smaller than expected. He said the idea of reducing it to about 4,000 Marines had been discussed after an environmental impact assessment two years ago pointed to possible problems.

“There are concerns about a loss of economic benefits, but it puts us in a better position to adjust our infrastructure,” he said.

The AFP reported “US Marines may leave Japan before base closure” (Febraury 8, 2012):

Thousands of US Marines could leave Japan’s Okinawa island before a controversial American base is closed, Washington and Tokyo announced Wednesday, in the latest twist in a long-running saga.

In a densely-worded joint statement, the two sides said they were talking about “delinking” the redeployment of 8,000 Marines from a 2006 agreement to close the base in the crowded urban area of Futenma.

It has been widely reported in Japan that Washington has now set its sights on shifting 4,700 Marines to Guam without waiting for Japan to stop its foot-dragging over the accord, which would see a new facility built in a sparsely populated coastal area.

The original agreement offered the carrot of a Marine drawdown in exchange for Okinawans allowing the construction of an airstrip at Henoko.

The Washington Post headline was “U.S. likely to scale down plans for bases in Japan and Guam” (February 8, 2012):

The U.S. military will probably scale back plans to build key bases in Japan and Guam because of political obstacles and budget pressures, according to U.S. and Japanese officials, complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to strengthen its troop presence in Asia.

Under a deal announced Wednesday with Japanese officials, the U.S. government said it will accelerate plans to withdraw 8,000 Marines from the island of Okinawa. The decision came after several years of stalled talks to find a site for a new Marine base nearby.

Washington’s inability to resolve its basing arrangements on Okinawa, as well as the rising price tag of a related plan for a $23 billion military buildup on Guam, underscore the challenges facing the Obama administration as it seeks to make a strategic “pivot” toward the Pacific after a decade of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Japanese government said it is still committed to a 2006 accord with the United States to find a new base location for other Marines who will remain on Okinawa. But officials in Tokyo acknowledged that they had made little progress in the face of fierce resistance from islanders opposed to the long-standing U.S. military presence there. Bleak public finances in the United States and in Japan have also undermined the effort.

The article also described the proposal to rotate troops to different locations in the Asia-Pacific region, including an expanded U.S. military presence in Singapore:

The administration has moved on a series of fronts to bolster the U.S. military presence in Asia and the Pacific recently. Officials reached a deal with Australia to deploy a small number of Marines to Darwin and are holding talks with the Philippines about expanding military ties.

Those moves, along with an agreement to station Navy ships in Singapore, are part of a broader strategy aimed at countering China’s rising influence in the region. Although the Obama administration wants to retain the bulk of U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan, where they have maintained a heavy presence since World War II and the Korean War, officials said they are looking to expand their presence in Southeast Asia.

An Asia Times article Okinawans see duplicity in US withdrawal” (February 11, 2012) was more critical and emphasized the Okinawan reaction to the announcement:

With the United States shifting its axis of security toward the Asia-Pacific by expanding its military footprint in Australia, the Philippines and Vietnam, it may be high time for the United States Marine Corps to leave Japan’s Okinawa.

A shifting security dynamic in the region, most notably due to China’s enhanced strike capabilities, will likely marginalize the marines’ presence on the island.

The Asia Times article explored how the U.S. strategy is directed at countering China’s rise, but it tended to overemphasize the military threat from China as the reason for moving troops from Okinawa:

The planned transfer of thousands of marines to Guam without progress on the Futenma relocation is also part of an ongoing US strategy to counter China’s military build-up, especially its growing naval power in the West Pacific.

The Pentagon is closely watching China’s “anti-access/area denial” strategy, which envisions blocking freedom of movement for US ships. By creating two lines of coastal defenses in the region, military analysts believe Beijing aims to nullify the capabilities of US aircraft carriers and air defenses within the zone.

The so-called AirSea battle concept combines US air and naval strengths. It departs from the Cold War-era AirLand Battle doctrine drafted to prepare for an invasion by the former Soviet Union.

The AirSea battle concept meant to combat China’s growing military might doesn’t fit with high troop levels on Okinawa, since the latter cannot be moved swiftly and could be easily targeted by China’s middle-range ballistic missiles such as the DF-21.

The new battle strategy forces the Pentagon to keep key US forces out of China’s strike range.

“It’s better for US Marines to keep at a safe distance from China,” Japanese military analyst Toshiyuki Shikata told Asia Times Online. “I expect the US to fortify Guam as a strong military base from now on.”

The Asia Times also revealed that in addition to shifting troops to Guam, Hawai’i, Australia and the Philippines, there have been talks about moving Marines to South Korea or other parts of Japan:

Japanese media have reported that apart from moving 4,700 marines from Okinawa to Guam, the Pentagon is also considering rotating 3,300 to other overseas bases in the Pacific such as Hawaii, Australia and the Philippines.

Of the 3,300 marines, media have reported that 1,000 will be deployed to Hawaii and 800 to the US mainland. Meanwhile, other media have said 2,300 will go to Darwin in northern Australia and 1,000 to Hawaii.

It’s also been reported that the US has sounded out Tokyo on transferring about 1,500 marines to the Iwakuni marine base in Yamaguchi Prefecture – the only Marine Corps Air Station on mainland Japan – with central and local governments flatly rejecting the idea.

Some US Marines stationed in Okinawa will likely move to South Korea, Chosun Ilbo also has reported. Pentagon spokesperson Leslie Hull-Ryde on Friday denied the South Korean newspaper’s report by saying, “there has been no discussion between the US and the Republic of Korea [South Korea] on this issue”.

Unclear figures on how many US Marines are actually on Okinawa – due to expeditions and rotating shifts – has also aggravated the Japanese public. While both the US and Japanese governments claim 18,000 marines are normally based on Okinawa, the Okinawa prefectural government says only 14,958 marines were based on the island as of September 2009.

Military experts estimate the number at 12,000-14,000 at best in recent years because of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Then Japanese defense minister Toshimi Kitazawa said in February 2010 that there were only 4,000 to 5,000 marines stationed on Okinawa due to Iraqi and Afghanistan deployments.

The US and Japanese governments say there will 10,000 marines in Okinawa even after shifting 8,000 marines around the island. But the claim could be just a pretext to avoid military budget cuts.

Plans for deep US defense cuts are another major likely reason why moving the marines out of Okinawa has been disconnected from the relocation of the Futenma airbase.

The Marine Corps Times published an article “More Marines may deploy to South Korea” (February 14, 2012) expounding on the possible stationing of more Marines in South Korea:

Recent South Korean media reports have highlighted two items of interest. The first was a Jan. 19 meeting in Seoul attended by the commanding generals of Marine Corps Forces-Korea and the Republic of Korea Marine Corps. There, the two sides agreed to expand combined training exercises, including a large joint-landing operation planned for the first half of this year.

The second report is potentially more sensitive. Two articles, one Feb. 8 and another Feb. 10, published in the Chosun Ilbo, a national daily newspaper, indicate that as part of the planned move of U.S. Marines from Okinawa, an undetermined number may end up going to South Korea on a rotational basis.

A Defense Department spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, had no immediate comment on either of the South Korean media reports, saying no decisions have been finalized concerning the scope of planned personnel shifts in the Pacific.

Reuters published an interesting article “Exclusive: U.S. military seeks more access in Philippines” (February 9, 2012) on the proposed expansion of the U.S. military presence and activities in the Philippines. Calling it “access, not bases,” the Philippines government hopes to deflect public protest for violating the 1987 constitutional ban on any permanent foreign military presence. The Philippines has been a laboratory for new types of basing arrangements, where U.S. troops, equipment and supplies are “temporarily” stationed in the country for training missions:

The United States is seeking more access to Philippines ports and airfields to re-fuel and service its warships and planes, diplomatic and military sources said on Thursday, expanding its presence at a time of tension with China in the South China Sea.

But it is not trying to reopen military bases there.

Washington’s growing cooperation in the Philippines, a U.S. ally which voted to remove huge American naval and air bases 20 years ago, follows the U.S. announcement last year of plans to set up a Marine base in northern Australia and possibly station warships in Singapore.

It also coincides with diplomatic and military friction in the South China Sea and its oil-rich Spratly Islands, which are subject to disputed claims by China, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.

Last month, senior Philippine defense and foreign affairs officials met their U.S. counterparts in Washington to discuss ways to increase the number and frequency of joint exercises, training, ship and aircraft visits and other activities.

“It’s access, not bases,” a foreign affairs department official familiar with the strategic dialogue told Reuters.

“Our talks focus on strengthening cooperation on military and non-military activities, such as disaster response and humanitarian assistance, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation. There were no discussions about new U.S. bases,” he said.

These activities would allow the U.S. military more access in the Philippines, stretching its presence beyond local military facilities and training grounds into central Cebu province or to Batanes island near the northern borders with Taiwan. (Emphasis added)

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported “Admiral Seeks Freer Hand in Deployment of Elite Forces” (February 12, 2012) that the Commander of the Special Operations Command wants more autonomy for special forces, which as Filipino activists point out, is the main branch of the military involved in counterinsurgency operations in Mindanao:

The officer, Adm. William H. McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, is pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy. The plan would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed.

It would also allow the Special Operations forces to expand their presence in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Filipino reactions to the news has ranged from outrage to sarcasm.  Erick San Juan wrote an opinion piece in the Zamboanga Today Online,Let’s get our acts together! (February 14, 2012), in which he suggested that Senator Inouye’s visit to the Philippines last year was a prospecting mission for expanding the U.S. military presence:

Americans are our friends. But, let us all be wary every time Uncle Sam’s top officials and representatives visit the country. . .

In May of last year, I wrote about the “visit” of US Senators Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and William Thad Cochran (R- Mississippi) to the country for a “possible return of the US naval base in Subic.” Of course, the US embassy here denied this and that the visit was “to see the economic progress in the Subic Freeport area that has been made over the years and to ask how the US can collaborate.”

And, could it be that the said visit of the two elder senators from the US Senate Appropriations committee was to test the water, so to speak of what could be the reaction of the populace?

[…]

US troops never left and they are using our military camps as portable bases via the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). In this way, they are actually saving a lot of dollars because in reality the annual joint military exercises has benefitted them a lot more than our Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Actually that “smaller base” in the south has been there as the aftermath of Bush’s synthetic war on terror. And now, according to reports, Uncle Sam will send its marines and navy men in Subic Bay on rotation with its other allies.

*Floating Base

Speaking of portable base, Washington has plans of deploying of what they call “floating base”, first in the Middle East this summer. According to news release from the New York Times online dated 1/27/2012 – The conversion of the Ponce, which had been scheduled for retirement, would be an interim step to providing the military with its first afloat staging base.

The Pentagon’s new budget proposals, unveiled Thursday, included money to turn a freighter hull into a full-time floating base that could be moved around the world for military operations or humanitarian missions.

Seriously? That familiar line again – for humanitarian missions?

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

February 2, 2012 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mainichi Shimbun reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

January 30, 2012 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members of U.S. Congress question costs of military realignment on Okinawa and Guam

December 16, 2011 

The Ryukyu Shimpo reports:

Barney Frank, a leading Democratic Congressman was quoted in the U.S. magazine “Foreign Affairs” (December issue) as saying, “I do think we could remove the Marines from Okinawa; whose only purpose has been to destabilize Japanese politics, so when the first alternative government to the conservative regime got elected, we caused them trouble.” He is known to have advocated the withdrawal of the U.S. Marines from Okinawa.

The remarks of such an influential congressman, who also suggested that the Marines in Okinawa are a factor destabilizing Japanese politics, may serve to intensify the debate over the necessity of the U.S. Marine Corps being stationed in Okinawa.

Meanwhile Senator McCain urges elimination of all funding for Department of Defense public infrastructure projects on Guam:

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today sent a letter to Senators Daniel Inouye and Thad Cochran, Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, urging them to exclude unneeded spending for public infrastructure on Guam from the Department of Defense section of H.R. 3671, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 pending action in the Senate.

McCain attacks the funding for non-base related expenses.   Presumably, he still supports funding for the buildup.  But even he urges a pause in funding projects, given the lack of progress on the Futenma base realignment plan:

The President’s budget request included $33 million in the operations and maintenance account for the Department of Defense to be transferred to other federal agencies to carry out socioeconomic infrastructure improvements on Guam. It is our understanding these funds are intended to be used to purchase 53 civilian school buses and to construct a cultural artifacts repository (museum) and a mental health facility on Guam.  The budget justification states that the funds are required in 2012 to address the impact of the relocation of 8,700 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam as well as the temporary migrant workforce that will be needed to support over $20 billion in new construction for facilities required to support the realignment.

I have strong concerns about the challenges and growing costs in a time of severe fiscal constraints of building large new U.S. military facilities and associated training areas on Guam for the permanent stationing of 8,700 Marines and their families. In addition, the Defense Policy Review Initiative as detailed in the 2005 U.S.-Japan Alliance Transformation and Realignment for the Future and the U.S.-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation agreement (‘Roadmap agreement’) of 2006 requires the realignment of forces to Guam to be contingent on tangible progress towards the construction of a Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) for U.S. Marine air assets remaining on Okinawa. To date, there has been no tangible progress on the construction of the FRF.  As a result of these developments, we believe a pause in further obligations of either U.S. or Government of Japan funds is reasonable pending a study of the strategy and U.S. force posture in the Pacific area of responsibility.

The programs that McCain singles out for cuts may have been items thrown in by Congress to sweeten the pot and mask the bitter taste of the build up. It seems to follow a similar pattern to military-funded, non-military earmarks in Hawai’i.

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.

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.

Deception and Diplomacy: The US, Japan, and Okinawa

May 26, 2011 

Distinguished Asia scholar Gavan McCormack has published in the Asia Pacific Journal an excellent analysis of the recent developments in U.S.-Japan relations and the deceptions and subservient posture that lay behind Japan’s decisions.  It is important reading to understand the politics of the Okinawa situation:

For the student of contemporary Japan, these are sad times, and it is not just because of the catastrophe that struck the country in March and the Chernobyl-like horrors that have continued since then to spread across the Northeast, though it has been impossible to observe these without shock and grief. But it is sad above all because of the growing sense that Japan lacks a truly responsible democratic government to address these issues, and because its people deserve better.

It seems only yesterday that the Japanese people, tired and disgusted with a half century of corrupt and collusive LDP rule, voted to end it. How quickly since September 2009 their efforts were reversed, renewal and reform blocked, and a compliant US-oriented regime reinstated whose irresponsibility is matched only by its incompetence. This is true whether considering the response to the nuclear crisis, marked by evasion, manipulation and collusion (of bureaucrats, politicians, the media, and the nuclear industry), or of the handling of the Okinawa base issue, which is central to the country’s most important relationship, that with the United States. The argument of my book published in 2006 was that Japan is a US “Client State,” or zokkoku, structurally designed to attach priority to US over Japanese interests.1 Much fresh evidence to support that thesis has come to light since I wrote, exposing the relationship as marked by the sort of humiliation that used to be characteristic of relations between centre and periphery in the old Soviet empire. Between the world’s two most powerful capitalist economies and supposed flag-bearers of democracy it is deeply incongruous.

Especially since the September 2009 advent of the Hatoyama government, which came to office promising a new regional order in the Asia-Pacific, there have been successive revelations of the truncated character of the Japanese state. Created and cultivated under US auspices in the wake of war nearly seven decades ago, that state maintains to this day a submissive orientation towards its distant founding fathers. Here I focus on five recent events or sets of materials that between 2009 and 2011 help illuminate it: the mitsuyaku or secret agreements, the “confession” of Prime Minister Hatoyama, the Wiki-leaks revelations, the “Maher affair,” and something still in train as these words are being written (May 2011) that may, provisionally, be called the “Levin-Webb-McCain shock.”  Seen as a whole, they compel the sad conclusion that the notion of democratic responsibility on the part of the Japanese state is illusory. Independence for Japan is not something to be protected, but something still to be won.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

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.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

Pacification of Okinawa – Senators call Base Realignment Plan “unrealistic, unworkable and unaffordable”

May 13, 2011 

The Asahi News published a series of articles from Wikileaks diplomatic cables that reveal Tokyo-D.C. deception & fraud re the planned “Futenma Replacement” U.S. Marine base in Okinawa.   The Network for Okinawa published a synopsis of the disclosures and links to each article in the series.

These damaging disclosures were followed by a statement by powerful U.S. Senators calling for a reworking of the plans for bases and troops realignment in East Asia. The Asahi Shimbun reports:

Three influential U.S. senators, in joint statement on May 11, called on the Pentagon to abandon plans to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko district of Nago in Okinawa Prefecture.

The senators are Carl Levin, D-Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain, R-Arizona, the ranking minority member on the committee and committee member Jim Webb, D-Virginia, who also serves as chairman of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee.

The three recommended the Pentagon consider integrating Futenma’s functions at Kadena Air Base, also in Okinawa.

The Armed Services Committee has authority over the Pentagon’s budget and the senators’ recommendations carry considerable weight. It will likely make more difficult implementation of the Japan-U.S. agreement reached in May 2010 to relocate Futenma to Nago.

Joseph Gerson made the following remarks in an email communication:

As the following article from today’s Asahi Shimbun indicates, the powers that be in the U.S. Congress have decided to pacify Okinawan public opinion – and to reinforce both the U.S. presence on Okinawa and the U.S.-Japan military alliance – by raising the white flag of surrender on Henoko/Nago, and pressing to move Futenma’s functions to Kadena Air Base, one of the largest in the world.  The Pentagon won’t click its heals immediately and follow suit, but this will probably be where the U.S. and Japanese governments eventually go.

Would that all U.S. forces were leaving Okinawa, Guam and elsewhere…

Here is the statement from Senators Webb, Levin and McCain

SENATORS LEVIN, McCAIN, WEBB CALL FOR RE-EXAMINATION OF MILITARY BASING PLANS IN EAST ASIA

Warn present realignment plans are unrealistic, unworkable and unaffordable

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), John McCain (R-AZ), and Jim Webb (D-VA) call on the Department of Defense (DoD) to re-examine plans to restructure U.S. military forces in East Asia, while providing assurances to Japan, Korea, and other countries that the United States strongly supports a continuous and vigorous U.S. presence in the region. The senators believe the current DoD realignment plans are unrealistic, unworkable, and unaffordable.

“Much has changed since the US-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation agreement was signed in 2006,” said Senator Levin. “The projected times are totally unrealistic. The significant estimated cost growth associated with some projects is simply unaffordable in today’s increasingly constrained fiscal environment. Political realities in Okinawa and Guam, as well as the enormous financial burden imposed on Japan by the devastation resulting from the disastrous March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, also must be considered.”

“The Asia-Pacific region’s growing role in the global distribution of power requires us to consistently review and update plans for the U.S. military’s role in the region,” said Senator McCain. “In addition, it’s very important to maintain strong bilateral alliances to ensure regional security and our national security interests.”

“Our country has reached a critical moment in terms of redefining our military role in East Asia,” said Senator Webb. “This moment in history requires that we clearly articulate our operational doctrine, thus reshaping the structure of our military posture in that region, particularly in Korea, Japan and Guam. The success of our relationships is guaranteed by the stability our forward-deployed military forces provide in this region and by our continuing close alliances with Japan and Korea.”

Senators Levin, McCain and Webb Propose

· Placing the realignment of the basing of U.S. military forces in South Korea on hold pending further review, and reevaluate any proposal to increase the number of family members accompanying military personnel.

· Revising the Marine Corps force realignment implementation plan for Guam to consist of a presence with a permanently-assigned headquarters element bolstered by deployed, rotating combat units that are home-based elsewhere, and consideration of off-island training sites.

· Examining the feasibility of moving Marine Corps assets at MCAS Futenma, Okinawa, to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, rather than building an expensive replacement facility at Camp Schwab – while dispersing a part of Air Force assets now at Kadena to Andersen Air Base in Guam and/or other locations in Japan.

The proposals would save billions in taxpayer dollars, keep U.S. military forces in the region, greatly reduce the timing of sensitive political issues surrounding MCAS Futemna, and reduce the American footprint on Okinawa. The recommendations were based on proposals made by Senator Webb to the Committee and build upon the concerns expressed by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Acts for the past two years.

LETTER FROM SEN. ARMED SERVICES CHAIR LEVIN, ASIA SUBC. CHAIR WEBB TO DOD SEC. GATES LAST FRIDAY:

Dear Secretary Gates:

The purpose for this letter is to give you our observations and recommendations regarding the future U.S. defense posture and restructuring of our forces in East Asia. During the recent Senate recess, we visited Guam, Tinian, Okinawa, and Tokyo. Numerous meetings with US military commanders and diplomats, government officials, business leaders, and members of local communities allowed us to assess the current status of the planned realignment of our military forces and the political dynamics associated with them.

Our country has reached a critical moment in terms of redefining our military role in East Asia. This moment in history requires that we clearly articulate our operational doctrine, thus reshaping the structure of our military posture in that region, particularly in Korea, Japan and Guam. Importantly, it also warns against a basing policy that now seems to be driven by little more than the momentum of DOD appropriations related to construction projects, rather than an analysis of the logic that set those projects into motion. It calls upon those of us in the Congress, and especially on the Armed Services Committee, to both evaluate and become the stewards of the vital role that the United States military will play in Asia throughout the present century.

Much has changed since the US-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation agreement was signed in 2006. The projected times are totally unrealistic. The significant estimated cost growth associated with some projects is simply unaffordable in today’s increasingly constrained fiscal environment. Political realities in Okinawa and Guam, as well as the enormous financial burden imposed on Japan by the devastation resulting from the disastrous March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, also must be considered. What has not changed is that our country is the key to stability in this region. The success of our relationships is guaranteed by the stability our forward-deployed military forces provide and by our continuing close alliance with Japan.

In our view, present realignment plans are unrealistic and unworkable. They need to be carefully re-examined, while providing assurance to Japan, Korea, and other countries in East Asia that we strongly support a continuous and vigorous US presence in the region. Our observations are brief and general in nature, intended as the basis for detailed analysis by your staff.

Observations:

Korea

We are not confident that the proposed basing realignment in Korea is proceeding from an operational posture that fits our future role in Korea and the region writ large. Unlike any other “permanent” posturing of US forces abroad, our military forces in Korea are justified in terms of “local defense” – in other words, the defense of South Korea against an attack from the north. By contrast, our forces in Okinawa and Germany are considered to be available for multiple contingencies throughout their regions and beyond. This reality calls into question their size, positioning, and compatibility with the South Korean military. Thus, the credibility of our commitment to the defense of Korea should not be measured by the simple number of our troops, but by the specific missions that they perform. In that regard, we recommend a stringent review of their present missions to examine which are redundant, or capable of being performed by the South Korean military, and which are unique to the special capabilities of our own.

The ongoing construction of facilities at Camp Humphreys has been taking place through three separate funding mechanisms, only one of which seems to have been subject to careful review by the Congress. First, the South Korean government has been funding “one for one” replacement facilities for the transplacement of US bases in Seoul. Second, the US Commanding General seems to have had wide latitude in approving projects from discretionary funds under his control. And third, future projects, especially those related to the reconfiguration of combat units now on or near the DMZ, will be funded through specific appropriations and thus should receive closer scrutiny by Congress. In some respects this scrutiny is at risk because the momentum from the projects already underway threatens the ability of the Congress to properly examine issues related to the size, functioning and capabilities of US forces that were raised in the above paragraph.

Additionally, the estimated costs for relocations to Camp Humphreys are growing substantially. It is unclear how they will be distributed and whether the Republic of Korea’s share of costs is over and above its total direct financial contribution to support US troops in ways not contemplated when the relocation agreement was adopted. In today’s fiscal environment, we must achieve cost savings and identify cost avoidances in current and planned military construction projects. We recommend that the proposed restructuring of US forces in South Korea be placed on hold until the review mentioned above has taken place.

The US commander in Korea has decided that the number of American family members and civilians be dramatically increased under a process known as “tour normalization.” This process, which would convert almost all US military assignments in Korea from “deployed” status, without family members, to “accompanied” status, would drive up housing, medical, school, recreational, and other infrastructure costs. We are not convinced of the arguments that have been used to support this concept. Nor have we seen clear, measurable data that properly calculates the cost.

We question the analysis that has been used to support the decision to pursue tour normalization. There is an inherent contradiction in planning to increase the number of U.S. military family members in South Korea when there is the real potential that a destabilizing security situation in North Korea could unfold rapidly and unpredictably. We recommend that this proposal be the subject of further, careful review.

Okinawa / Guam

The issues related to downsizing the US presence on Okinawa and transferring some of these functions to Guam are militarily complex, potentially costly, and politically sensitive. The US and Japanese governments have been working for fifteen years to come up with an acceptable formula. A general framework has now been agreed upon, whereby the US will relocate many of its bases from the populous southern end of Okinawa, moving some forces to the less populous north and also rebasing 8,000 US Marines on Guam. However, a stalemate has ensued, with many in Okinawa growing intransigent and, to a lesser extent, many on Guam losing their enthusiasm.

On Okinawa, the most difficult issue regards the long-standing dilemma of relocating the US Marine Corps air facility at Futenma, now operating in a highly populated section of the island and the subject of numerous protests. The Marine Corps insists that any relocation must remain on Okinawa due to the unique air / ground partnership that is characteristic of Marine Corps operations. One option – moving Marine Corps helicopter and other functions from Futenma to nearby Kadena Air Force Base – has been opposed because it would bring increased noise levels to Kadena. Many Okinawans, including many leaders, are adamant that the facility should be relocated off-island.

The present compromise reached between the US government and the Government of Japan calls for the construction of a contiguous, partially offshore replacement facility to the far north at Camp Schwab. The US government and the GOJ seem determined to pursue this option in order to bring final closure to the debate, but it is rife with difficulties. This would be a massive, multi-billion dollar undertaking, requiring extensive landfill, destruction and relocation of many existing facilities, and in a best-case scenario, several years of effort – some estimate that the process could take as long as ten years. Moreover, the recent earthquake and tsunami around Sendai in the north of Japan is creating an enormous burden on the Japanese economy and will require years of reconstruction.

On Guam, environmental issues have not been resolved, and many community leaders are concerned that local communities and facilities would be overwhelmed by any large increase in our military presence. Their clear message is that federal money would be necessary to build up infrastructure outside of the bases in a manner commensurate with an increase in the bases themselves. Although several issues are being debated related to firing ranges on Guam and training activities on places like Tinian, the principal issue for military planners involves whether to relocate families along with the 8,000 Marines who would be assigned to that island or to configure the Marines mostly as deployed units rotating into and out of Guam from a home base such as Hawaii or Camp Pendleton. This distinction would make a strong difference in terms of infrastructure costs for schools, medical, recreational facilities, and housing. A good estimate is that 8,000 Marines would become 23,000 Americans if family members were included.

It should also be noted that Guam’s Anderson Air Force Base is a large, under-utilized facility. Mindful that B-52 missions were conducted continuously there in the 1970s, we estimate that Anderson Air Force Base is now operating at less than half of its capacity.

Recommendations.

The Marine Corps should consider revising its implementation plan for Guam to a stripped-down presence with a permanently-assigned (family accompanied) headquarters element bolstered by deployed, rotating combat units that are home-based elsewhere, and the construction of a “Camp Fuji” style training site on Tinian. The “planned” versus “preferred” options for Marine Corps presence on Guam need to be resolved so that the Navy can develop and provide to the Committee the master plan for the overall buildup on Guam that was first requested in 2006.

DOD should immediately examine the feasibility of moving the Marine Corps assets at Futenma into Kadena Air Force Base, while dispersing a percentage of Air Force assets now at Kadena into other areas of the Pacific region. A number of other options exist in Japan and, especially, Anderson Air Force Base in Guam. In addition, the 6,000-acre ammunition storage area at Kadena could potentially be down-sized, especially in light of the two ammunition storage areas already located on Guam – one of them comprising 8,000 acres in and of itself, and the other one already located on Anderson Air Force Base.

Reducing the burden of the US presence on the people of Okinawa is an important goal associated with the realignment roadmap. Relocating Marine Corps aviation assets as outlined above will allow the US to return the land at the Futenma Air Base faster and at substantially less expense than the current plan for the Replacement Facility at Camp Schwab. Additionally, it is imperative that we pursue every opportunity to avoid unnecessary and unaffordable costs to the US taxpayer. Money saved by abandoning the Camp Schwab FRF could be applied to new projects in the revised realignment plan following negotiations with the Government of Japan to formulate a new cost-sharing agreement.This option would keep our military forces in the region, would greatly reduce the timing of the sensitive political issues surrounding Futemna, could save billions in costs that would have gone into the offshore facility at Camp Schwab, would reduce the American footprint on Okinawa, and potentially could result in the return of more land to the Okinawan people if the size of the ammunition storage area at Kadena could be reduced.

We look forward to discussing these and other possibilities with you and your staff at your earliest convenience.

 

Return of US forces to Subic possible

April 27, 2011 

When you cut off a tentacle of a he’e (octopus), the severed arm grows back.  Such is the case with the monstrous octopus of the U.S. military in the Asia-Pacific region.  With the U.S. bases in Hawai’i as the head of this he’e, its tentacles are grasping Okinawa, Guam, Korea, Japan, the Marshall Islands, and now once again the Philippines.  The Philippines People’s Power  movement forced the U.S. to close Subic Bay and Clark military bases more than a decade ago.  But the tentacles of U.S. militarism have regenerated in Mindanao under the guise of fighting terrorists, and now Senators Inouye and Cochran have visited the Philippines to explore the possibility of U.S. forces returning to Subic.  We expect that resistance will be fierce to U.S. forces returning to Subic.  But the peace and justice movements in the Pacific region will need to neutralize the head of the he’e in Hawai’i if we will have peace from America’s empire of bases.

The article below quotes former UH professor Dean Alegado:

In an earlier interview, Dean Alegado, executive director of the Association of Pacific Islands Local Government Conference, said the disaster that hit Japan “made the fate of the military build-up uncertain, to say the least.”

Alegado was once very active in progressive Philippines solidarity work in Hawai’i. He worked with the Filipino American Coalition for Environmental Solutions (FACES) which fought for the clean up of the former U.S. military bases at Clark and Subic and for just compensation for the victims of the environmental contamination.  We hope he will be vocal in opposition to the return of U.S. forces in Subic.

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http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20110428-333354/Return_of_US_forces_to_Subic_possible

Return of US forces to Subic possible

US military build-up in Guam delayed

By Robert Gonzaga
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:18:00 04/28/2011

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — High-level visits here by American officials have raised the prospect of a return of the United States’ military presence in this former naval base in the wake of disasters that hit Japan, which have delayed the planned US military build-up in Guam.

US Senators Daniel Inouye and Thad Cochran visited this free port on Tuesday and met with Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and Olongapo City officials.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer learned of the visit but was told that it was “not open to press coverage.”

In March, US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. also met with local officials and briefed them about the impact of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on the transfer of US military bases in Okinawa to Guam. The visit was not announced to reporters here.

Inouye and Cochran, chair and ranking member, respectively, of the US Senate committee on appropriations, appeared to be interested in the possibility of an increased presence of the US military in the country, a source present at the luncheon meeting for the visiting senators hosted by Subic and local officials told the Inquirer.

The source, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said: “Their official reason for being here was to obtain a situationer of developments in the area and to consult with local officials about these. They even brought their technical staff. During the discussion, they were curious about the reception in the country of an [increased presence of the US military] here.”

The source also said the US embassy “gave strict instructions that [the media] not be allowed to cover the visit.”

“Their embassy arranged the logistics of the visit directly with Olongapo City [officials], and not the SBMA,” the source said.

Facilities in the free port that can be used by the US military, like the airport and seaport, are intact, according to the source.

“Even now, they are already using it as part of the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement). But if they substantially increase their presence here, then the free port can still accommodate them,” the source further said.

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