[Editorial] Consolidation Plan for U.S. bases Governments saying that they will “reduce the burden of bases on Okinawa,” is tantamount to an act of deception

April 6, 2013 Ryukyu Shimpo

Maybe this is just a strategy to maintain the burden of bases on Okinawa. The plan does not talk of even one single military base being moved outside of the prefecture. Why don’t the governments of Japan and the United States realize that their forcing even greater sacrifice on Okinawa has become untenable? The governments have announced a return and integration plan to give back land currently used for the five facilities located south of Kadena. On this occasion they have only presented the timetable because back in 2005 they announced that they would return these five bases. This is simply a ploy to manipulate public opinion and to deceive people who do not know about the processes within the Okinawa base issue. They present this as though it were proof of the Abe administration striving to reduce the burden on Okinawa. In the past, other plans that place U.S. bases only in Okinawa have failed repeatedly, so they should learn from past failures.

Governments to build new bases to replace unused facilities
There are many points in this plan that can only make us shake our heads in disbelief. The Makiminato Service Area will be returned under the condition that the government builds replacement facilities for its warehouses at Torii Station, Kadena Ammunition Depot and Camp Hansen. So in effect, it is developing U.S. bases by building new warehouses in these three other locations. The return of Naha Port is scheduled to occur sometime in or after fiscal 2028.

Why should it take 15 years to return a base that has hardly ever been used? The condition for the return of Camp Kuwae (Camp Lester) is that it happen once the Naval Hospital has been relocated to Camp Zukeran, but the hospital has already moved and is up and running, so the Navy should be able to return it now. What is the logic behind the timing of a return in 2025 or beyond? There are many other similar examples, including the conditions for the return of part of Camp Zukeran.

The agreement only states that each facility will be returned in or after a certain fiscal year, so rather than being a plan for the return of these bases, it is best described as a plan to postpone their return.

Last month, in a program on the Public Broadcasting Service, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Carl Levin, called for the reduction of the number of U.S. troops stationed overseas. He said that U.S. forces deployed in the Pacific region, and especially in Okinawa, should return to the United States. It is said that the operational significance of the Marine Corps, which is a conventional force designed for amphibious warfare on a large scale, has long since faded. The Corps’ rapid deployment capability has improved significantly due to developments in military technology. The Marines could just as well be based in America as a force specializing in a small-scale conflict, and could be dispatched from there with the necessary equipment and personnel in response to any conflicts that may occur. Considering the serious financial difficulties that the United States currently finds itself in, this is surely the option that the Marines should pursue. In this context, we cannot understand why the governments are trying to build a new base and keep the Marines on Okinawa. Some prominent people in the United States even say that there is no longer any need for the Marine Corps to exist.

In the new consolidation plan for U.S. bases in Okinawa the return of Futenma Air Station has been put off until fiscal 2022 or beyond. In the SACO agreement (Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee) concluded between Japan and the United States in 1996 this facility was scheduled to be returned in 2003. Then in 2006 the timing for the return changed again to 2014 as part of the Realignment of U.S.
Forces, and this latest announcement pushes it back even further. On top of this, once again the governments have made this subject to the construction of an alternative facility within the prefecture. This can only be described as the unpardonable forcing of further sacrifices on Okinawa.
The concept of “Making Okinawa catch up with the mainland” was nothing but an illusion.

With regard to the reduction of numbers of U.S. troops, Okinawa and the main islands of Japan have been treated differently right from the start. During the period when Okinawa was under U.S. occupation the U.S. bases in the main islands of Japan were drastically reduced in scale, but they were concentrated on Okinawa.

The Marine Corps moving to Okinawa from the main islands of Japan is one example of this.

U.S. military bases in the Tokyo metropolitan area were integrated to Yokota in 1968 in what is known as the “Kanto Plan.” Looking at the period since 1972, the year that Okinawa reverted to Japanese sovereignty, while the U.S. bases in the main islands of Japan have decreased by about 59 percent in scale, on Okinawa they have only decreased by about 19 percent. The Japanese government promised “a nuclear-free, mainland-level status” for Okinawa when it negotiated with the United States on the Okinawa Reversion Treaty, but the status of Okinawa is yet to reach the level of that of the main islands of Japan.

The governments came up with the SACO Agreement in response to the Okinawan people demanding that these differences between their prefecture and the rest of Japan be resolved. However, with regard to the return of the Makiminato Service Area, Futenma Air Station and Naha Port, the governments have stated that the facilities must be relocated within the prefecture. With this as the sticking point, the return of these bases is yet to be realized.

The Abe administration is working to persuade the governor of Okinawa and the mayors of the municipalities to accept the content of the U.S. Forces Realignment Plan. Sending a string of ministers to Okinawa, the administration has put forward various attractive measures to help develop the prefecture. The Abe government seems to be following the track of the success in 1997 in getting the Okinawan governor to agree to relocate the Futenma base within the prefecture, but they do not seem to realize that there is a crucial difference between now and the past. The Okinawan people now know that the central government’s policy has made their lives miserable, and that that is the result of discrimination. The Okinawan people will never return to the point where they will accept this discrimination.

Even when in the past the governor agreed to the relocation within the prefecture, in a public opinion poll the majority of people objected to the government’s plan of relocating the Futenma base within Okinawa. The bases will not be returned as long as the government sticks to its stance of relocation within the prefecture. The government should come to grips with the lessons from the past.

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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