Noam Chomsky criticizes Japan-US policy on relocating the Futenma base within Okinawa

Noam Chomsky criticizes Japan-US policy on relocating the Futenma base within Okinawa

In late March, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, referring to the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, Noam Chomsky said, “The people of Okinawa, as far as I can see, don’t want it, and they are the ones who should decide.”


April 22, 2013 Hideki Matsudo of Ryukyu Shimpo

Noam Chomsky, a linguistics professor who is one of the most outspoken critics of U.S. foreign policy, which he characterizes as hegemonic, gave an interview with the Ryukyu Shimpo on the U.S. military issue in Okinawa. He criticized the governments of Japan and United States for trying to forcibly relocate the functions of the Futenma base to Henoko in Nago, saying, “It shouldn’t be moved elsewhere in Okinawa either. The people of Okinawa, as far as I can see, don’t want it, and they are the ones who should decide.” Dr. Chomsky, 84, is an emeritus professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is also known a philosopher and a logician. He is the author of many books dealing with social and political issues, and was selected among the world’s top public intellectuals in 2005. The interview was conducted in late March at his office in Boston, Massachusetts.

Chomsky emphasized that the Japanese and U.S. Governments should respect the will of the people in Okinawa on the Futenma relocation issue. He stated that U.S. foreign policies in Southeast Asia and in the Middle East have consistently to undermine democracy. He also agreed with the opinion that the spirit of democracy, which is a national policy of the United States, had not been reflected in matters concerning Okinawa.

Referring to the current reality in which Okinawan people shoulder the heavy burden of hosting U.S. bases, he said, “The reason goes back to the end of the Second World War, and the U.S. had insisted that the Peace Treaty with Japan be completely [carried out] under U.S. control,” said Chomsky. “The U.S. set up a series of military bases to essentially control that region, and Okinawa was one. Japan assumed a position subordinate to the United States.” Chomsky sees that the nature of the relationship between the two countries lies at the root of the Okinawa problem.

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

The following is the full transcript of the interview with Dr. Noam Chomsky

Interview with Dr. Noam Chomsky
by Hideki Matsudo of Ryukyu Shimpo
March 23, 2013

MATSUDO: I would like to ask you about the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.

DR. CHOMSKY: Well, the reason goes back to the end of the Second World War, and the U.S. had insisted that the Peace Treaty with Japan be [carried out] completely under U.S. control. The other allies were not permitted to participate. In fact, if you take a look at the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951, not only were other… I mean nominally other allies were allowed to attend, but the U.S. ran it all, unlike say, in Europe, where there was participation. This was going to be U.S. territory.
To make it even sharper, the treaty with Japan and the War Crimes Trials and the Tokyo Tribunal, kept to crimes that were committed from 1941. Now, for the rest of Asia that was a bitter insult because the war and started ten years earlier and there were plenty of crimes in the 1930s but they were excluded. In fact, it was so extreme that the countries of Asia that were more or less independent just refused to participate. Take a look at the participation in the San Francisco Treaty. There was the Philippines under U.S. control. I think there was Ceylon, which was still a British colony. But, the major countries just refused to come.
The U.S. set up a series of military bases to essentially control that region, and Okinawa was one, and it has been used in extremely dangerous ways. It was only learn recently that in 1962, right before the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. shipped advanced missiles with nuclear warheads to Okinawa, aimed at China. If you remember, then it was a period of significant military tension. There was a war between China and India and so on. I mean, that was a very provocative move.
And in general it’s been… I won’t run through the history, but today it’s part of the so-called “pivot to Asia,” a greater U.S. military presence in the Pacific, of course aimed at China. It’s a continuation, modified because of different circumstances, but a continuation of the effort to maintain a dominant position in determining the affairs of the region. That’s a lot harder to do now. The U.S., in 1945, really did control the world and a few years later that had already changed and China was liberated and later the countries in Southeast Asia began to move toward some degree of independence and brutal wars followed. It’s a horrible story. Later, the former Japanese colonies, Taiwan and South Korea, began their industrial development, and actually picked up from where it had been before, and now were partially independent and more free and the whole region is much more diverse.
Japan, on the contrary, remains very much subordinate to the United States. Recall when there was an effort by a Japanese prime minister to offer Okinawa some support in its effort to remove the base. He was immediately thrown out. He couldn’t sustain himself under American pressure. It was just a couple of years ago.

Q: The U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is located in the densely populated area of Ginowan City. The governments of Japan and the United States are moving ahead with a controversial plan to build an alternative facility for the Futenma base at Henoko. What do you think about this?

DR. CHOMSKY: Well, that shouldn’t be allowed. But also, it shouldn’t be moved elsewhere in Okinawa either. The people of Okinawa, as far as I can see, don’t want it and they are the ones who should decide. Just as is say China wanted to put a military base outside of Boston, people in Massachusetts ought to decide.
That raises a broader question, of whether Okinawa should be subject to Japan. Look, historically Okinawa was a more or less independent country. Until Japan conquered it, it was an independent country. So, if the Okinawans want to stay as part of Japan, okay that’s their business. But, if they want to be independent they should be free to do so.
Okinawa may now become inadvertently part of some serious confrontations in the region. So the islands, what Japan calls the Senkaku Islands, China the Diaoyu Islands, are not very far from Okinawa. In fact they’re close to Taiwan, but Japan itself is very remote, but Okinawa is not too far. Undoubtedly, the military bases on Okinawa will be part of the U.S. backing for Japan in what could turn out to be a serious confrontation. I mean, China and Japan are in a conflict over who owns the islands, and Taiwan is making a claim to them also, although nobody hears them very much. They’re not that powerful. But, that could flare up into a more serious confrontation. There already have been some minor confrontations, jet planes, and scrambling that kind of thing, naval vessels and so on. And, Okinawa is part of the backup. The U.S. has a Treaty with Japan to support it if there is any military conflict, and Okinawa could be drawn into a major military conflict. I don’t expect it to happen but it’s always possible when there are military bases. And, these are forward bases for the United States, just as they were in 1962 when the U.S. put nuclear missiles there.

Q: North Korea has announced that their missiles aimed at US bases on Okinawa.

DR. CHOMSKY: North Korea is so unpredictable that it’s hard to say. It’s not exactly a normal regime. But, I’m very skeptical of that. I mean, if you look over the history of North Korea, it’s a very erratic regime. But still, if you look, I think they have been pretty consistent in keeping to what strategists have called a “tit for tat” relationship with South Korea and United States. If they’re given some concession they react with a concession. If there is what they take to be a hostile act, they respond with a hostile act, and sometimes they do violent things. But, it’s been pretty constrained.
In fact, if you look at the history there have been ways to try to reduce the confrontation. In 1994, there was the Framework Agreement with Clinton. There was a North Korea-U. S. agreement, which neither side kept too perfectly, but it was more or less observed. In fact, when George W. Bush came into office, North Korea had maybe one or two nuclear weapons and nothing under development, which was an indication that the Agreement had been more or less observed by both sides. Bush took a stance, which the North Koreans regarded, and correctly, as very harsh. They were condemned as an “Axis of Evil” and so on, and they reacted by energizing the nuclear weapons program. By the time Bush left office they had eight or ten nuclear weapons and were developing more.
If you look through that period there were a few moments when steps were taken towards conciliation. I think it was in 2005 that an agreement was reached in which the United States would provide North Korea with a reactor for medical and other purposes, and would enter into and there would be kind of a non-aggression pact and some mutual steps towards accommodation. Then right after that North Korean began to reduce its nuclear proposals. However, the Bush Administration almost immediately condemned North Korea for various financial and other crimes, and broke the agreement, didn’t provide the reactor and so on that, and North Korea again took off on a nuclear program and very inflammatory statements and so on and so forth.
A couple of years later the Bush Administration right at the end of 2008, backed off and moved towards reinstating the Agreement and at that point withdrew the original charges. Washington observers concluded that the reason probably was that the new agreement will lead to inspections and it would be determined that the charges were wrong, and so it goes on.
Right now, North Korea is reacting in what appears to be these verbally violent ways, with the kinds of threats you’re talking about. Two actions that they regard as hostile, like the South Korean-U.S. military exercises, and the building of the military base on Jeju Island and so on.
So I presume that the threats are mostly for domestic consumption, using the only way they know or that’s part of their nature now to try to move toward some kind of negotiation, mainly by being obnoxious and inflammatory. I hope so at least. If that is right, then there are ways to approach it, but the chances of them bombing an American military base, I think, are pretty low. I mean, the country will be wiped out with retaliation.

Q: The Japanese Government and the U.S. Government say to the Okinawan people that the U.S. presence on Okinawa is necessary in order to be ready in the unstable security situation in the region. They have put 74 percent of all U.S. military bases in Japan into Okinawa.

DR. CHOMSKY: Well, it’s needed for “stability,” but stability is a funny term in international politics. So for example, Iran is accused of destabilizing its neighbors. What that means is that Iran is trying to extend its influence in neighboring countries, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Well, when we extend our influence into other countries that’s not called destabilizing. That’s called stabilizing. And in fact, when the U.S. invades those countries and half destroys them, that’s not called destabilizing. That’s called stabilizing, which illustrates the way the term is used. Stability means conformity to our demands.
In fact, sometimes it reaches almost absurd levels. For example, one of the leading foreign policy analysts, a liberal and dovish foreign policy analyst, was explaining the U.S. participation in the overthrow of the democratic government of Chile, and what he said was that we had to destabilize Chile in order to bring about stability. It sounds like a contradiction, unless you understand the words. What it meant was that we had to undermine and help destroy the Chilean democratic system in order to bring about conformity to what we wanted.
And I think Okinawans, when they hear the word “stability,” should think about what it means and has always meant in international affairs. It means “doing what we say.” It’s not a contribution to stability when the U.S., for example, under the Kennedy Administration, put offensive nuclear missiles on Okinawa. It’s not a contribution to stability if the U.S. begins to play some role in supporting the Japanese claim in a conflict over the islands, which could lead to a very serious complication. In fact, Okinawa would suffer from that.

Q: Okinawan people have requested that the governments of the United States and Japan reduce the U.S. footprint on Okinawa and relieve our burden. However, they have been there for 67 years. We truly believe in the spirit of democracy of the United States, but it has never been realized in Okinawa.

DR. CHOMSKY: Well, for one thing, if you look over the history, including the U.S., there is no correlation between whether an imperial country is democratic or autocratic. There is no correlation between that and their imperial policies. Like, if Britain was maybe the most democratic country in the world at the time when British imperialism was carrying out horrendous atrocities in its colonies, and the same is true of the United States. The United States is a relatively democratic country, and it may be one of the more democratic countries, but its policies in Southeast Asia and in Latin America, and in the Middle East have been consistently to undermine democracy. I mean, over and over again.
The U.S. took the lead, along with Britain in overthrowing the democratic government of Iran in 1953, because it wanted to control their oil. The Iranian Government was trying to control its own resources. U.S. and Britain wouldn’t accept that. A year later, in 1954, the U.S. overthrew the first democratic government in Guatemala, because it was beginning to distribute land to peasants, the organized peasant majority, and the U.S. and U.S. corporations didn’t like that. So, it continues. The overthrow of the Allende Regime in Chile was not because the U.S. wanted a democratic regime. It helped to overthrow a democratic regime and it backed a brutal dictatorship. And the whole of history runs like that.
In fact, right at this moment the U.S. is trying, along with Britain and France and the other major powers, to try to prevent the democratic developments in the Middle East and in the North African region. So they are backing the oil dictatorships in maintaining stability. That means repressing the move towards democracy and reform. Both France and the United States and England in the background, supported the dictatorships and North Africa to the last minute. France in Tunisia and the United States in Egypt, both backed the dictators until they had actually been virtually overthrown from within and then shifted. And that’s the whole of history, and England was the same way, other imperial powers were the same way.
If they are imperial powers, they are interested in domination and control, and not in sponsoring a democratic process and for obvious reasons. If you allow democracy the people are going to want you to get out. So obviously you’re not going to sponsor democracy.

Q: Okinawa is one of the poorest prefectures in Japan because the U.S. military occupies land.

DR. CHOMSKY: I don’t think it’s trying to make Okinawa poor. It’s just the consequence of the policies that it follows. In fact, it’s sort of interesting. If you look at the whole imperial system during the great period of imperialism, Japan, which was a pretty brutal imperial power, nevertheless, was almost alone in that it actually developed its colonies. So South Korea and Formosa, which is now Taiwan, were brutally treated by Japan, but they did develop more or less as fast as Japan did. That is certainly not true of the countries under British and American and French rule. They just collapsed. In fact, the only other example of this, interestingly, is Russian. If you take a look at Russia and Eastern Europe, Russian was pretty brutal in Eastern Europe. Even the CIA point out that they were the first empire in which the colonies were richer than the imperial power. The eastern European countries were richer and more advanced than Russia was. Not because Russia was a nice country, but because they wanted to ensure their subordination to Russia. So they subsidized them.
So the correlation between the level of democracy or autocracy in a country and its attitudes, its policies towards its colonies, is just not there, as these examples show, it was often to the contrary.
So, the United States is not trying to make Okinawa poor. It’s just carrying out policies that prevented it from developing, which is the typical imperial role, to prevent development. Japan and Russia were a little unusual in this respect.

Q: Do you think there is a possibility that the U.S. Government would create tensions in the region?

DR. CHOMSKY: I don’t think the U.S. government is purposefully creating confrontation, but actions it takes do increase confrontation. We see it in North Korea. The U.S.-South Korean military maneuvers are creating tension. The construction of the naval bases on Jeju Island, the military base, it is a bit like Okinawa. The population is strongly opposed and protesting and constant protests and been repressed and so on. It’s also leading to potential tensions with China, because clearly, the base is aimed at China, 500 kilometers away. The whole base structure is a source of confrontation.
The United States is the only country that has a huge base structure all over the whole world. France has a few bases, but almost no other country has bases anywhere else. There are maybe 1,000 of them, and they are always a source of confrontation.
In fact, al Qaeda turned against United States because of the U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon recognized that publicly said that it wanted to move its bases out of Saudi Arabia because they were leading to the revival of Jihadi terrorism. People don’t like to have military bases in their country, as you know, for perfectly good reasons. They want their own country. They don’t want to be drawn into broader confrontations.

Q: Is there any way that the Okinawan people can reduce the U.S. presence on this island?

DR. CHOMSKY: Well, the only way available to them is significant protests. It should be a non-violent protest, in cooperation with others. There are American groups that are opposed to the bases, struggling to remove them. There ought to be interaction. In fact, there is some interaction. There ought to be closer interaction and mutual support. And also with groups in Japan that want to free themselves from the whole base structure and the confrontational structure that comes with it. There are probably groups all over, including in the United States and in Japan, that want to do this in cooperation with people on Okinawa. They can help in this common effort. There are just no other means available. And sometimes it succeeds. You know? Bases do get removed. Frankly, I doubt that the United States is going to be able to maintain its international military basing system for a very long time. The United States is no longer as financially dominant as it was, or diplomatically dominant as it was in the past.
For example, in Latin America. Latin America used to be just the backyard, and it did whatever the U.S. wanted. There isn’t a single U.S. military base left in South America. They’ve all been kicked out. The last military base was in Ecuador, and the U.S. wanted to maintain it, but the President of Ecuador made a nice comment. He said, well, you can maintain a military base here if Ecuador can put a military base next to Miami. (laughter) They withdrew the base. That’s pretty spectacular. They U.S. is trying to reintroduce a military presence, but it’s not succeeding.
In fact, the extent to which Latin America has freed itself from Western domination is pretty spectacular and people should pay attention to it. Because, you know, this was the most subordinate place. It had been under almost total European domination, first European and then American domination for 500 years. In the last, roughly 10 or 15 years, it has almost totally liberated itself. People here don’t’ like to talk about it, but should be observed by people in Okinawa and in other countries that are in somewhat similar situations.
There was a remarkable illustration of a just a few weeks ago. There is an organization in the United States called The Open Society Institute. It’s funded by George Soros. They came out with the study called Globalizing Torture. It’s about the U.S. international torture campaign based on what is called “Rendition,” taking suspects and sending them to brutal dictatorships, where they can be tortured.
It turns out that the study was investigating which countries participating in that. It requires international cooperation, and it turns out that most of Europe participated. The Middle East participated, because that’s where they were sent to be tortured, to the dictatorships of Egypt, and Syria and Libya and so on. Asia and Africa participated somewhat.
There was one region of the world, which truly refused to participate, South America. If you look at history, that is simply astonishing. For one thing, Latin America was always “under the thumb” of the West, mostly the U.S., in the last century or so. And secondly, during this whole period, Latin America itself was one of the torture centers of the world. Some of the worst torture anywhere was going on in Latin America. Well now, in just ten years, they have been refusing to participate in the “globalized torture” campaign. So dramatic illustration of what popular movements can achieve, freeing themselves from external domination, and it’s a model for others.

Q: Do you have any message for the Okinawan people?

DR. CHOMSKY: Well, I think be hopeful, and it’s possible to achieve quite a lot. There have been many advances over the years. What I just mentioned is one striking one, but it’s not the only one. The power in the world is becoming more diverse. The U.S. is still far in the lead, but it’s much more diverse and it offers plenty of opportunities. There are new centers of power developing like the so-called BRICs countries… Brazil, Russia, India, China. South Africa and maybe Indonesia might join, which are taking a somewhat independent stance in affairs. They don’t have the power to achieve a lot, but it’s moving in that direction. China can be a threat, and I think the countries of Southeast Asia and the region are right to be concerned about the expansion of Chinese power. But on the other hand it may turn out to be a constructive force too. There are a lot of possibilities in the world, and a small place like Okinawa can’t control events, but it can act in ways that will help liberate itself and that will indeed be an inspiration to others.

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