Over the past week there have been confusing and contradictory reports about plans to relocate U.S. military bases in Okinawa. Do they reflect the actual state of disarray in the U.S.-Japan alliance or psychological operations to pressure local communities into accepting base relocation plans in Okinawa and Guam?
On February 1, the Kyodo News Service reported that:
The U.S. Defense Department is considering shifting part of some 8,000 Marine troops in Okinawa Prefecture to Hawaii and other Pacific areas instead of Guam, Pentagon sources said Tuesday.
This alarmed the Pacific Daily News in Guam: “BREAKING NEWS: Kyodo reports that 3,000 Marines may move to Hawaii instead of Guam.” However its concern was that Guam would lose out on the economic “benefits” of the military buildup. Meanwhile grassroots communities in Guam and Hawai’i brace to fight the latest threats of military expansion.
Then Bloomberg News reported “Obama Said to Curtail $21 Billion Guam Military Expansion”(February 3):
President Barack Obama plans to curtail a plan costing as much as $21.1 billion to expand the U.S. military’s presence in Guam and instead will rotate some of the Marines through the Asia-Pacific region, people familiar with the matter said.
The administration now intends to send about 4,500 U.S. Marines stationed in Japan to Guam and to rotate an additional 4,000 through Australia, Subic Bay and perhaps a smaller base in the Philippines and Hawaii, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the plan hasn’t been announced.
Joseph Gerson suggested that these news leaks may have been part of a psychological campaign to pressure Japan and Okinawa into accepting the 2006 “Roadmap” relocating the Futenma base to Henoko and moving 8000 Marines to Guam. It appears that some elements of the base realignment will proceed, while others are put on hold. On February 4, the Japan Times reported “Genba, U.S. huddle anew over ’06 base pact”:
“Both Japan and the U.S. remain unchanged in that we think relocating the Futenma base to Henoko is the best plan and that the number of marines who will remain in Okinawa will also be the same — 10,000,” Genba said.
Earlier this week, Kyodo News reported that out of the 8,000 marines that would be redeployed to Guam under the Futenma relocation plan, the U.S. was instead considering deploying some 3,000 of them elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, including Hawaii, because of Guam’s proximity to China.
On Friday, Bloomberg also reported that about half the marines would be rotated around the region, including Australia and Subic Bay in the Philippines, in line with Washington’s new defense strategy to increase the U.S. presence in Asia.
The bilateral 2006 realignment plan entailed shifting 8,000 marines and their dependants to Guam upon completion of the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko coast in Nago farther north on Okinawa Island.
But on February 6, a Kyodo/Bloomberg article reported “Marine base to remain in Futenma: U.S.”:
A senior U.S. official told Japanese officials in late January that Futenma Air Station will have to stay in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, for the time being because of the standoff over its relocation plan, sources close to bilateral relations said Sunday.
This suggests that the facility, U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, is staying in the crowded city despite a formal bilateral agreement to return the land to Japanese control once a replacement facility is built for it elsewhere in the prefecture.
On Saturday, Japan and the United States reportedly agreed to move 4,700 marines in Okinawa to Guam instead of 8,000, delinking the transfer plan from the contentious Futenma relocation plan stipulated in the road map for realigning U.S. forces in Japan.
The developments have increased the likelihood that the relocation issue is headed for the back burner, which is likely to upset the already upset Okinawan public, which has been fighting the plan tooth and nail for well over a decade.
Meanwhile, the AP reported “Army reducing number of combat brigades to cut costs.” Taking into account the Pentagon’s new concentration on the Asia Pacific region, it could mean an increase in the size of Army brigades in Hawai’i:
The Army plans to slash the number of combat brigades from 45 to as low as 32 in a broad restructuring of its fighting force aimed at cutting costs and reducing the service by about 80,000 soldiers, according to U.S. officials familiar with the plans.
Officials said the sweeping changes will likely increase the size of each combat brigade — generally by adding another battalion — in a long-term effort to ensure that those remaining brigades have the fighting capabilities they need when they go to war. A brigade is usually about 3,500 soldiers, but can be as large as 5,000 for the heavily armored units. A battalion is usually between 600-800 soldiers.
It’s time to reduce, not relocate U.S. bases and forces from the Asia Pacific and invest in “Trans Pacific Peace”!