Dear Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima,
I am writing to you with a suggestion about how to resolve the ongoing Futenma air base issue. I believe your best course of action is to insist that both Washington and Tokyo justify the necessity for the base to remain on Okinawan soil.
Demand specific scenarios in which the base could actually be of some practical use, in the form of “China/North Korea/Russia does this, then the U.S. does this, the U.N. says this and then the U.S. Marines at Futenma do this.” And “the reasons why the marines could only have come from a base on Okinawa are these.”
Unequivocally state that until this stipulation is met, you will consider the base both superfluous to defense of the Japanese nation and able to be located elsewhere.
Don’t hold your breath. You will never get a reply. The U.S. well knows that any scenario it forwards will be shot down in flames by academics on both sides of the Pacific before 48 hours have passed. But that’s fine. Just hold your ground and reply to the pleas from Tokyo by repeating the same demand.
Before too long some armchair admirals will start putting out some scenarios of their own. Great! Once they have been rebutted in turn, the people of the U.S. and Japan will come to accept what Okinawans have known for quite some time: Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is a Cold War dinosaur with about as much functional relevance to the likely conflicts of 21st-century Asia as the battleship Yamato possessed during the Pacific War.
“But North Korea has just attacked the South!” they will cry.
So what? The U.S. has marines to spare parked on the 38th parallel, and the “backup” capability that Futenma would offer in the event of a war on the Korean Peninsula could be easily provided from Guam or Hawaii.
“But it will make our allies nervous.”
No problem. Offer to call them and explain.
“But there is more to deterrence than the ability to actually prevent an attack.”
The promise of retaliation? What form of retaliation could the marines provide that does not exist 1,000 times over in missiles, both nuclear and otherwise?
“You are putting the linchpin U.S.-Japan alliance at risk!”
Rubbish! You are saving it. There could be nothing more beneficial to the long-term future of the alliance than the negation of that which constitutes its greatest threat.
The economic issue? The loss of Tokyo’s carrots? It will lead to some pain in the short term. But Okinawa is a tropical paradise. Reduce that oppressive military atmosphere and people will come in their droves.
Hell, I wouldn’t even mind betting you’d have Prime Minister Kan quietly jumping for joy. Sure, he signed on to the 2006 relocation accord, but what else could he possibly have done? Chances are this most pragmatic of men would like nothing more than for you to find him an exit from this intractable mess.
President Obama? Surely he has at least one Japanese “expert” who is actually an expert about Japan, and surely that individual has explained that the base is more trouble than it is worth; that before too long, the gentle people of Okinawa will likely progress from circling the exiting base in human chains to ripping down its encircling wire; that politically, the proposed replacement base cannot be built.
Yes, these are worrying times. So all the more reason to put increasingly limited resources into deterrent capabilities that will actually be of use: antisubmarine defenses, maritime patrol vessels, surveillance and — most necessary of all — an alliance devoid of insolvable problems.
And so, Gov. Nakaima, Sir, could you please do us all this favor?
PAUL DE VRIES
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