US and Japan sign environmental agreement, but no obligations placed on US

September 30, 2015 Sakae Toiyama of Ryukyu Shimpo reports from Washington D.C.

On the afternoon of September 28, the governments of the United States and Japan concluded a supplementary environmental agreement regarding the performance of on-site surveys within US military base compounds. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and US Defense Secretary Carter met at the Pentagon to talk and sign the agreement.

One of the main characteristics of the agreement is that it stipulates that when US military facilities or areas are returned to Japan, the United States will allow Japan to perform on-site environmental surveys up to seven months prior to the date of return. This is the first time a supplementary agreement has been added to the Status of Forces Agreement since it came into effect in 1960. The Status of Forces agreement defines the parameters of US base operations in Japan. The new agreement went into effect the same day it was signed.

However, since the agreement does not oblige the US to allow Japan to perform an on-site survey when Japan requests permission to do so, some question the efficacy of the agreement.

The two governments reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate in proceeding with the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, Nago. With Japan’s new security bills being passed earlier this month, they also agreed to further strengthen the US-Japan alliance based on the new guidelines for US-Japan defense cooperation, revised in April of this year.

The supplementary agreement states that Japanese authorities will be allowed to enter US base compounds (1) in the event of an accident involving leakage of a substance that could have an impact on the environment, and (2) in the event that an on-site survey is necessary to prepare base land for return, including surveys on cultural artifacts. It also stated that the US military will strictly adhere to the Japan Environmental Governing Standards (JEGS).

Discussions may commence on the question of an on-site survey following the request of either the US or Japan. Surveys may include excavation surveys.

-Governor deems agreement insufficient

Upon receiving the news that the US and Japanese governments had concluded a supplementary environmental agreement, Governor Takeshi Onaga lauded the conclusion of the agreement itself, but remarked, “The agreement does not include the Okinawa prefectural government’s request that on-site surveys be conducted starting at least three years prior to land return. It says that the US military will pay consideration to Japanese requests to enter base compounds in the event of an accident, but permission could depend on US military operational demands. There are parts of the agreement that remain insufficient.”

(Translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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