Relocating U.S. Marines outside of Okinawa entails no significant loss of operational effectiveness

October 5, 2011 Ryukyu Shimpo

In an essay published in the September/October 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs, an American magazine and website focusing on international relations and U.S. foreign policy, Senior Political Scientist Eric Heginbotham and Associate Political Scientist Ely Ratner of the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit global policy think tank with a close relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense, and a notable security analyst and director of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Richard Samuels, pointed out that relocating the U.S. Marine Corp outside Okinawa would not have a significant impact in terms of the execution of operations in most emergency circumstances.

They wrote, “On the other hand, although the U.S. Marine Corps’ presence in the region is extremely important, its particular location in the western Pacific is less critical, as long as training facilities and infrastructure are adequate. Wherever they are based, the marines would deploy out of garrison for any conceivable mission.”

The essay denies “Okinawa’s geopolitical significance,” which was claimed by the Japanese government as the reason why it advocates the relocation of Futenma Air Station within the prefecture.

They continued, “The United States should continue working to relocate its marines off Okinawa to Guam (or elsewhere), as both sides agreed to do in 2006. This move would entail no significant loss of operational effectiveness in most contingencies, and it would be welcomed in Okinawa, reduce political pressure in Tokyo, and ultimately enhance the U.S.-Japanese alliance.”

The title of the essay is “Tokyo’s Transformation.”

Referring to Kadena Air Base’s effectiveness in deterring aggression by China and North Korea towards Taiwan and South Korea, the authors wrote, “The Kadena Air Base, for example, is particularly critical for deterrence against China and North Korea in Taiwan and South Korea. It also helps with a wide spectrum of other functions, including humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief operations, and provides some of the best access to parts of Southeast Asia.”

With regard to the Kadena-Futenma integration plan, which is proposed by U.S. Senators John McCain, Carl Levin, and Jim Webb, the authors claimed, “This proposal is refreshing and creative but problematic. The aircraft at Futenma are primarily transport helicopters designed to support the Marine Corps infantry on the ground in Okinawa; they contribute little to U.S. combat airpower. More important, if moved to Kadena, the U.S. Marine aircraft would occupy space needed for additional fighters, bombers, and combat support aircraft in the event of hostilities. Alternative solutions to the Futenma impasse should certainly be explored, but this should be done without compromising the Kadena Air Base’s unique benefits.”

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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