Real contribution of U.S. bases

There are many problems with Yoshio Shimoji’s Aug. 1 letter, “Don’t cry for Okinawa’s economy.” Suffice it to say that the figures that Shimoji cites from “an Okinawa Prefectural Government document” grossly underestimate the economic contribution of the U.S. military bases. Indeed, based on my preliminary research and own experiences, I would say a conservative estimate for the holistic contributions as a result of the bases being in Okinawa is four to five times Shimoji’s 5.2 percent estimate, or at least 20 to 25 percent of Okinawa’s gross domestic income.

The OPG report that Shimoji cites artificially limits the scope of the contributions to three areas — land rentals, salaries to base workers and entertainment [contributions by U.S. service members and their dependents for patronizing local bars, restaurants and souvenir shops] — with the 5.2 percent figure being the result.

I am surprised that so little intellectual rigor has been put into analyzing the figure and that some people continue to recite it. As economists, company presidents and public experts point out, this smaller figure is still significant, but when one factors in all the other areas not identified, a much larger percentage is found.

U.S. bases in Okinawa contribute in more than just the aforementioned three ways. Procurement (local and external), off-base housing, services, compensation, special measures and assistance bills, Okinawa preference programs (such as hosting the Group of Eight summit), numerous stimulus packages, five 10-year development plans to date, base-related tourism and visits by politicians, activists, family and friends of American personnel, etc.

Two other things must not be forgotten: (1) the hard and soft infrastructure (airports, ports, roadways as well as the human resources) that the United States built or developed during the Occupation and administration years (1945-1972), and (2) the offsets to the Okinawa (and Japanese) taxpayer through the low defense costs that Japan pays thanks to the U.S. presence. This tax savings is used for consumption or other familial needs and thus goes into the Okinawan economy.

Shimoji suggests that Americans should not care about what happens to Okinawa if the bases go away. This shows his lack of understanding about the history of the relationship, the degree of how intertwined we really are and the interest that Americans — many of whom are longtime residents with Okinawan spouses and children as well as active members in the community — have in the past, present and future of their adopted hometowns.

robert d. eldridge
chatan, okinawa

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • Yoshio Shimoji

    How to break away from this lackadaisical base economy structurally so intertwined with Okinawan society — that’s the problem everyone must do his or her utmost to solve. But, unfortunately, there are some people even in Okinawan society who proactively support base economy, saying appreciatively that the U.S. military presence contributes to Okinawan economy more than generally estimated.

    If all the factors Eldridge suggests be taken into consideration as part of base revenues (20 to 25 percent of Okinawa’s gross domestic income in his random estimate), then the percentage points U.S. service members or the U.S. side directly contribute to local economy will probably shrink all the more — from 1.5 percent to a minuscule 0.4 percent.

    Does he know that local business people, traditionally most potent supporters of the U.S. military presence, have begun to say U.S. military bases are a hindrance to Okinawa’s economic development?