Editorial: MCAS Futenma will remain hazardous in current location until at least 2025

February 26, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

It has been demonstrated once again that dangers from U.S. Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma cannot be removed without construction of a new base in Henoko, Nago.

Commander of U.S. Pacific Command Harry Harris expects the replacement facility to MCAS Futenma in Henoko to be completed no earlier than 2025. The U.S. Department of Defense is standing by its arrangement that USMCAS Futenma will be maintained until its substitute facility is complete.

This means that the dangers surrounding MCAS Futenma will continue for a minimum of nine more years. It is abundantly clear that the U.S. has no intention of complying with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s public commitment to cease operations on the base within five years.

Word from Commander Harris that plans for construction of the replacement facility are falling behind schedule is proof that relocation to Henoko is meeting with difficulties. The Abe administration should share this awareness.

Upon hearing about the statement by Commander Harris, Japanese Minister of Defense Gen Nakatani expressed that “if land reclamation and construction proceed favorably [the replacement facility] could be completed in five years.” He assured that, “It is possible Futenma will be restored [to Okinawa] in 2022.” The U.S. and Japan’s disagreement on the replacement facility’s completion period throws the issue into doubt.

In the event of Henoko relocation, MCAS Futenma will remain in its current location for an extended period of time and residents will be exposed to base-related hazards. Since Henoko relocation ultimately entails leaving Futenma as it stands for some time, the danger it poses will persist for some time as well.

Prime Minister Abe stated that, “The most important thing is to avoid letting [Futenma] stay in its current location, right in the middle of an urban area surrounded by houses and schools.” He noted that addressing the root of the issue means achieving the return of Futenma as soon as possible. To realize this goal swiftly, however, there is no choice but to abandon the option of relocation to Henoko. Abe should recognize the carelessness of his own words on these matters.

We cannot overlook the fact that the Abe administration has avoided properly explaining to the Okinawan people the promise that it made to the U.S. to allow the continued use of MCAS Futenma until the marines have been completely relocated. Far from explaining the truth, in its desire to get the land reclamation authorized, the Abe administration acquiesced to former governor Nakaima’s demand and promised to do its best to get operations at Futenma stopped within five years.

Around the time of the Ginowan City mayoral election the Abe administration made the public commitment to cease operations on Futenma within five years. Following this, the Abe-backed Atsushi Sakima was reelected as mayor. It is easy to understand many citizens’ expectations that the administration will shoulder responsibility and cease operations on Futenma by February 2019, within five years of its commitment.

Despite this assurance, the Abe administration has yet to request a cease of operations on Futenma within five years from the U.S. As such, the Abe administration has fooled the citizens who expected adherence to its public commitment. This is inexcusable.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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