ND proposes Henoko alternative in Washington, expressing skepticism about “deterrence”

ND proposes Henoko alternative in Washington, expressing skepticism about “deterrence”

The symposium where the New Diplomacy Initiative (ND) proposed its alternative to the Henoko plan on July 12 at the East-West Center in Washington, DC

July 14, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

Correspondent Yukiyo Zaha reports from Washington D.C.

On July 12, the New Diplomacy Initiative (ND), a think tank made up of former Japanese government officials, journalists and others, held a symposium at the East-West Center in Washington, DC. The group proposed an alternative to the plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma to Henoko, Nago on the grounds that Okinawans do not accept the plan. According to their alternative, Futenma would not be relocated within Okinawa. The ND board members who came up with the alternative plan voiced skepticism with the idea that the new base construction being advanced by the Japanese government will contribute to deterrence, and emphasized the military rationality of their alternative, saying it presents an opportunity to consider options besides Henoko.

The symposium, titled “A New Vision for Okinawa and Asia-Pacific Security,” was attended by more than 50 people, including Japanese media and local researchers. Attendees asked questions like whether ND had proposed their plan to the Japanese government, and what effect base closure and realignment will have on the economy.

ND board member Tomohiro Yara proposed that the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), a forward-deployed Marine unit stationed in Okinawa, be relocated outside of Okinawa, and that the “rendezvous point” where the unit meets up with the ships on which it travels be moved to a location outside of Okinawa. Yara stated that if the Japanese government provides a high-speed transport vessel to the U.S. Marines, they will enjoy increased mobility, and through cooperation with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief units from various countries, a 21st century-style security can be realized.

ND member and Tokyo Shimbun editorialist and senior staff writer Shigeru Handa discussed the fact that the Japan Self-Defense Forces have developed new capabilities in recent years and stated, “The time has come to re-think Japan’s national security as a whole.” In 2006, the Japanese and U.S. governments decided to move the command element of the U.S. Marine Corps from Okinawa to Guam, but in 2012 that plan was revised, and Marine Corps combat troops, rather than the command element, are now scheduled to move to Guam. Pointing to the fact that combat troops are in fact planning to leave Okinawa under the current plan, Handa stated, “Talking about ‘deterrence’ is just a means the Japanese government uses to achieve the U.S. government’s aims.”

ND board member and George Washington University professor Mike Mochizuki referred to the possibility of a contingency on the Korean peninsula in light of heightened tensions caused by North Korea’s missile development, pointing out that it would be more effective to position the Marines in Kyushu, which is closer to the Korean peninsula than Okinawa. If the new base construction is pushed forward amidst Okinawan opposition, “Okinawan anger will grow even further, which could put Kadena Air Base at risk,” said Mochizuki.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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