Defense secretary nominee vows to address Okinawa’s concerns about U.S. bases

February 1, 2013 Hideki Matsudo of the Ryukyu Shimpo reports from Washington D.C.

On December 30, in a written statement submitted to a hearing of the Senate Arms Services Committee, Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator who has been nominated to become defense secretary in the second Obama administration, pledged to work with the Japanese government to address Okinawa’s concerns about U.S. forces. Hagel indicated that he intends to strive to ease the burden on Okinawa of hosting the U.S. bases. This is the first time that he has referred to Okinawa since being appointed as secretary of defense. Relatively close to President Obama in terms of his political standpoint, Hagel is known as having been a moderate Republican senator who was opposed to the Iraq War and advocates nuclear disarmament. While the U.S. government has made no change to its stated policy of relocating the United States Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko in Nago, Hagel has referred to the need for a politically sustainable stance for U.S. military readiness. His leadership as the head of the Department of Defense is likely to be tested when it comes to walking the talk on reducing the burden on Okinawa.

With regard to the new defense strategy that reorients the U.S. military toward the Asia-Pacific region, Hagel stated that, “A robust U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific has underwritten peace and prosperity in the region for the past 60 years. The Department should be able to assure regional allies and partners, deter threats to regional stability, and prevail in conflicts if necessary,” and that ” I would support the administration’s effort to work towards a posture that is more geographically distributed—for example, the movement of forces to Guam and Australia.” He also stated that the U.S. military presence must be politically sustainable and that the United States must work with its partners and allies to address their concerns about that presence, such as in Okinawa.

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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