John Feffer, the editor of Foreign Policy In Focus and a leader with the Network for Okinawa has written an excellent article “Small Step Forward in Resolving Okinawa Base Impasse” (May 3, 2012) that analyzes the implications of the U.S.-Japan deal to move 9000 Marines from Okinawa and distribute them to different locations in the Pacific:
It’s a deal that’s been more than 15 years in the making and the unmaking. The United States and Japan have been struggling since the 1990s to transform the U.S. military presence on the island of Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan.
In preparation for this week’s visit of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to Washington, the two sides rolled out the latest attempt to resolve what has grown into a major sticking point in alliance relations.
According to the most recent deal, 9,000 U.S. Marines will leave Okinawa, thus fulfilling a longstanding U.S. promise to reduce the overall military footprint on the island. Half of that number will go to expanded facilities on Guam while the remainder will rotate through other bases in the region, including Australia, the Philippines, and Hawaii.
Japan will cover a little more than three billion dollars out of the estimated 8.6-billion-dollar cost of the Guam transfer.
“These adjustments are necessary to realize a U.S. force posture in the Asia-Pacific region that is more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable,” according to a joint statement issued by Washington and Tokyo.
Key critics of the process of Pacific realignment – including John McCain, Carl Levin and Jim Webb – remain sceptical of the latest agreement since the review has not yet been completed.
Also skeptical are anti-base activists in the places where the Marine presence will increase.
“Hawaii does not need more military,” says Koohan Paik, a media professor at Kauai Community College.
“There are already 161 military installations in Hawaii, which have resulted in hundreds of sites contaminated with PCBs, trichloroethylene, jet fuel and diesel, mercury, lead, radioactive Cobalt 60, unexploded ordnance, perchlorate, and depleted uranium. And they call this security? The only ‘security’ this brings is economic security to military contractors.”
The latest U.S.-Japan deal comes at a time of considerable uncertainty regarding military spending. The Pentagon is under pressure to reduce costs in order to meet new spending limits dictated by concerns over rising national debt.
However, the Barack Obama administration’s “Pacific pivot”, announced last year, is difficult to achieve on the cheap. U.S. allies are concerned that they will have to shoulder an increasing amount of the costs of this realignment. Included in this bill will be the cost of upgrading the Futenma facility while Tokyo and Washington debate the base’s future.