Top marine says Okinawa bases are vital

by Masami Ito

The U.S. bases in Okinawa are strategically necessary and marines are prepared to die to protect Japan, the commander of the U.S. Marine Corps of the Pacific said Wednesday in Tokyo.

During a speech hosted by the Tokyo American Center in Minato Ward, Lt. Gen. Keith Stalder said the U.S. understands that the alliance is not symmetrical, as Japan bears no responsibility to protect the United States, but it does shoulder the obligation of providing bases to U.S. forces.

“I want to make this clear — all of the marines standing in this room, all of my marines on Okinawa are willing to die if necessary for the security of Japan,” Stalder said. “That is our role in the alliance. Japan does not have a reciprocal obligation to defend the United States, but it absolutely must provide the bases and training that U.S. forces need.”

Marking the 50th anniversary of the Japan-U.S. security treaty, top Japanese and U.S. officials have been engaged in a series of discussions to deepen bilateral ties.

But at the same time, the Hatoyama administration’s decision to review the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan, Okinawa, has strained relations.

“Foreign governments are watching to see whether the United States-Japan alliance is strong enough to find a solution to the current issues again and ensure that the awesome deterring power of the U.S. Marine Corps remains based on Okinawa for decades to come,” Stalder said. “Potential enemies of Japan and the U.S. are watching . . . because if (the alliance) can be weakened today, perhaps it can be weakened further tomorrow.”

Japan agreed with the U.S. in 2006 to move the Futenma aircraft operations, mainly chopper, to Camp Schwab in farther north on Okinawa Island, in the Henoko district of Nago.

Stalder declined comment on alternative plans that have been floated, including moving Futenma’s operations to Guam, but he stressed the importance of the bases in Okinawa and said marine helicopters must remain close to the ground forces.

“In order to fulfill our alliance responsibilities to defend Japan, the Marine Corps, the expeditionary, rapidly deployable branch of the U.S. military and the only forward-deployed and available U.S. ground force between Hawaii and India, must be based on Okinawa and must have its helicopters near its ground forces,” he said.

Stalder also pointed out that the presence of U.S. forces in Okinawa is about more than deterrence because it also involves disaster relief missions.

He estimated hundreds of thousands of lives were saved in the last 50 years because of the U.S. bases in Okinawa.

“Okinawa is in the center of an earthquake-cyclone region. There is probably nowhere better in the world than which to dispatch marines to natural disasters,” he said. “Hours matter during such tragedies. Time saved means lives spared in the aftermath of these terrible events.”

Kokumin Shinto ideas

Kyodo News

Coalition member Kokumin Shinto formally approved two plans Wednesday on the relocation of the Futenma base, one of which would move its operations to a site somewhat inland from the currently planned coastal area.

The other plan would merge Futenma’s operations with nearby Kadena Air Base.