• SHARE

An interim report for U.S. base relocation in Japan, prepared by the Japanese and U.S. governments last October, has met stiff opposition in various parts of the country affected by the relocation plans. As things stand now, prospects for a final agreement look uncertain at best.

The United States is moving toward global troop redeployment in order to deal with changes in the security environment following the end of the Cold War and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. The U.S. strategy of “military transformation” has two aims: maintaining the deterrent power of U.S. forces and reducing financial and other burdens on nations where American troops are stationed.

These two aims, however, are not necessarily compatible. The U.S. military probably wants to improve, not just maintain, its deterrent force, yet troop relocations will likely impose heavier burdens on host nations. The same thing can be said of the relocation plans presented in the interim report. It is likely that Japan will shoulder most, if not all, of the relocation costs.

The two governments are expected to complete a final report by the end of March. That looks extremely difficult at present. For one thing, a final report from the Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee on the consolidation of U.S. bases in Okinawa is up in the air. To avoid a similar stalemate, the Japanese government should review the relocation plans with due regard for the wishes of local governments involved.

Mr. Fukushiro Nukaga, director general of the Defense Agency, who took up the post in a Cabinet reshuffle soon after the release of the interim report, has visited local government chiefs to sound them out and try to get their approval. In all, he has met with the governors of eight prefectures, including Tokyo, and 38 mayors, town and village heads. Some districts have responded positively on the assumption that the central government will provide them financial aid in return for their agreement, but most have reacted negatively.

Local politicians are also up in arms. Prefectural assemblies as well as city, town and village assemblies have passed resolutions or “statements of opinion” against base relocations. The main reason for their opposition is that the plans were prepared without consulting local districts. Residents complain that their wishes have not been taken into account and that they might face new problems such as aircraft noise and accidents.

Central to the relocation plans is Futenma Air Station in Ginowan City, Okinawa. The interim report calls for moving the Marine Corps airfield to a coastal area of Camp Schwab in Nago City, northern Okinawa. No explanation is given to local governments throughout the report. Furthermore, Tokyo and Washington effectively ignored Okinawa’s request for a relocation outside the prefecture.

In this connection, the government is seeking special legislation to shift the authority to use the coastal area from the Okinawan governor to the state in order to facilitate legal procedures for the relocation. Such a highhanded measure will add fuel to the antibase sentiment of the Okinawan people.

A similar situation exists in other areas. For example, a plan to move the headquarters of the U.S. 1st Army Corps from the U.S. mainland to Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture has met strong objections from a council of local politicians and citizens. The group, which fears that the move will not only expand the camp but also lead to its becoming permanent, has adopted a resolution calling for the retraction of the plan. The proposed relocation, which is likely to involve air force and naval units as well, could incorporate bases in Japan more deeply into U.S. military strategy.

Other relocation plans, which also have come under fire, include transferring carrier-based aircraft unit at Atsugi Base (Kanagawa) to Iwakuni Base (Yamaguchi Prefecture), midair refueling aircraft at Iwakuni to Kanoya Base (Kagoshima Prefecture) of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, and some F-15 fighters at Kadena Base (Okinawa) to an SDF base elsewhere in Japan. As a way of reducing the burden on Okinawa, there is a separate plan to relocate the headquarters of the Marine Expeditionary Force to Guam. But the U.S. government reportedly wants Japan to pay part of the relocation cost — something that would be unprecedented.

On Dec. 22 the governors of 14 prefectures that host U.S. bases and facilities held a symposium in Tokyo and adopted a statement demanding that the government negotiate with the U.S. to reflect the wishes of local residents and groups in the final report. The U.S., however, is said to view the interim report as final for all practical purposes. That will be an unacceptable position for Japanese local governments and residents concerned.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW