Japan faces intense pressure to settle uncertainties regarding the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps heliport now at the Futenma Air Station in Okinawa before July, when it hosts a Group of Eight summit. Unless the problems are settled by then, U.S. President Bill Clinton is likely to face a firestorm of anti-U.S. protests when he visits Okinawa to attend the summit. The new millennium problem for Japan will have a serious influence on Japan-U.S. security relations.

The Japanese government, in a Cabinet meeting in December, approved a plan to build the substitute facility near Camp Schwab that would take over operations of the Futenma facility, which is to be returned to Japanese control. The action came three years after the Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee on Okinawa endorsed relocation of the Futenma installation in a final report as part of agreement on reorganizing U.S. military bases in Okinawa. The new facility is to be located in the Henoko district of Nago.

A plan to build a heliport off Nago, adopted by the government following the SACO agreement, was stymied when a majority voted in a plebiscite two years ago against construction of the facility.

Last November, the Okinawa prefectural government selected the Camp Schwab area for the substitute facility. In December, the central government announced a plan to disburse about 0 billion yen over 10 years to boost the economy of the northern area of the main island of Okinawa, which includes Nago. After the Nago municipal assembly approved a resolution on the removal of the heliport to the city, Mayor Tateo Kishimoto announced the city’s official decision to accept the plan. The Cabinet decision on the issue came the next day. The series of action reflected strong Japanese and U.S. hopes to settle the issue before the end of the year.

However, it is difficult to predict how things will develop. Opponents of relocation are stepping up campaigns for the recall of Mayor Kishimoto. Kishimoto, meanwhile, is reportedly planning to resign soon to call an election, seek a new term as mayor and settle the issue. An Okinawa prefectural assembly election, scheduled for May, is likely to focus on the relocation issue. Political confusion over this matter is likely to continue until immediately before the summit.

There are two major problems with the government-endorsed plan.

First, it requires the central government and the Nago municipal authorities to reach agreement on flight routes and hours, noise prevention and other environmental problems. The SACO report calls for the same level of military functions and capabilities as at the Futenma facility. The central government will have difficulty coordinating differences between the U.S. military authorities and the local community, which will seek severe operational restrictions at the new facility.

Second, a more important problem stems from Mayor Kishimoto’s acceptance of the project while calling for a 15-year time limit on U.S. use of the facility. The government promised to put this issue on the agenda in its talks with the United States. Washington, however, is vehemently opposed to a time limit. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Franklin Kramer, during talks in December with Eisei Ito, a Democratic Party of Japan member of the Lower House, said setting a time limit contravenes the spirit of the 1996 Japan-U.S. joint declaration on security.

The declaration said, “In response to the changes which may arise in the international security environment, both governments will continue to consult closely on defense policies and military postures, including the U.S. force structure in Japan, which will best meet their requirements.” Japan’s defense chief Tsutomu Kawara also took up the time-limit issue during talks Jan. 5 with his U.S. counterpart, William Cohen, saying the Japanese government took seriously the local community’s demands. Cohen quoted from the joint security declaration to express opposition to setting a time limit. His position was that changes in the international security environment are hard to predict. Therefore Washington cannot agree to a time limit that could lead to changes in military postures and could be construed as a signal for future U.S. military withdrawal.

A 1998 report on the U.S. security strategy for the Asia-Pacific region clarified Washington’s position by saying, “U.S. bases in Japan and South Korea remain the critical components of the U.S. deterrent and rapid response strategy in Asia. U.S. military presence in the region also enables the United States to respond more rapidly and flexibly in other areas.”

U.S. bases hosted by Japan under the bilateral security treaty include installations at Yokota, Misawa, Atsugi, Yokosuka, Sasebo, Iwakuni and Zama on mainland Japan, as well as those in Okinawa. The U.S. has effectively used those bases as part of its strategic deterrent in many areas, including the former Soviet Union, China, the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean.

The Diet’s passage last year of a legislative package for implementing the guidelines for Japan-U.S. defense cooperation facilitated the deployment of U.S. forces. Washington has also received full benefits of the bilateral security treaty. The report on the U.S. security strategy for the Asia-Pacific region notes that Japanese peacetime host-nation support “remains the most generous of any of American allies around the world, averaging $5 billion each year.”

Japan has had only light armament, thanks to the protection afforded by the U.S. nuclear umbrella and conventional forces. The U.S. military presence has also prevented Japan’s militarization, dreaded by its Asian neighbors.

This year, the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is in its 40th year.

Since the end of the Cold War 10 years ago, the international situation has dramatically changed. Changes in the Asia-Pacific region in the next 10 years are difficult to predict since they involve the Korean Peninsula situation, China-Taiwan relations and four-way relations among Japan, the U.S., China and Russia.

A major question is how long the U.S. will maintain the present 100,000 troops for forward deployment. Japan will never be free from the burden of the U.S. military presence while tolerating it on the grounds that “the U.S. needs its bases.” I believe that Japan should establish independent security and diplomatic strategies from a global viewpoint and negotiate the reduction of U.S. military presence in the nation. As a nation offering the most generous host-nation support for U.S. military bases, Japan should be able to convince the U.S. on the issue.

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