WASHINGTON – A former U.S. Defense Department official said Monday that the Futenma base should be relocated within Okinawa in line with the current bilateral accord, and that moving the facility outside the island prefecture is “not wise.”
Wallace Gregson, a retired U.S. Marine general who served as assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs from 2009 to 2011, said that “it makes no military sense” to move the controversial base away from Okinawa.
Gregson, the top commander of the U.S. military forces in Okinawa from 2001 to 2003, spoke in an interview ahead of Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima’s crucial decision in connection with the long-stalled Futenma relocation project.
Gregson expressed hope that Nakaima would give the green light to a plan to create a landfill site off the Henoko area so the base can be moved there from densely populated Ginowan, as has been agreed between the two governments.
Nakaima has challenged the Japan-U.S. agreement on the Futenma relocation and demanded the base be moved away from Okinawa.
“If the governor doesn’t approve it and Japan doesn’t take some other action, then we remain at Futenma,” Gregson said. “It will be permanent.”
The possible transfer of the functions of the Futenma base outside Okinawa would “provide a far less useful facility than the one that’s currently envisioned,” Gregson said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet endorsed new National Defense Program Guidelines last week that mentioned the need to strengthen the defense capability for remote islands in the southwestern region, including the Senkaku Islands that are claimed by China.
Gregson implied that Futenma’s replacement site should be considered in the context of how the U.S. military and Self-Defense Forces can operate in a more integrated manner in the defense of the outer islands.
Japan and the United States came up with the relocation plan in a bid to reduce the burden on Okinawa, which already hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
The relocation plan has hit numerous snags due to strong opposition in Okinawa.