The central government last week finalized a basic plan for the largest-ever realignment of U.S. forces stationed in Japan — more than three years after Japan and the United States started consultations on the plan. It includes relocation of the heliport functions of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in urban Ginowan in the central part of Okinawa Island. It calls for swift implementation of realignment projects and the completion of all of them by the end of 2014.
But there is no guarantee of smooth implementation. The central government is likely to have a hard time gaining the support of local governments affected by the plan, as indicated by Okinawa Prefecture’s opposition to Tokyo’s decision.
The alignment plan is not just about moving U.S. military facilities to other places, such as relocating some 8,000 U.S. Marines and 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam. It is also designed to strengthen the U.S. capability to deal with military contingencies far away from Japan and to further integrate the capabilities of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces with U.S. strategy and functions.
The Diet should press the government to fully explain the extent to which Japan is willing to cooperate with the U.S. on military strategy and whether Japan is ready to impose any limits on such cooperation.
The government apparently made efforts to adopt the plan in time for a June 29 summit meeting between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and U.S. President George W. Bush. The government has no plan to submit any bills to the current Diet session (which will end June 18) to implement realignment, including one authorizing the expenditure of 710 billion yen to transfer the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force to Guam.
One of the purposes of realignment is to reduce the burden on local citizens and municipalities in Okinawa, where 75 percent of the area allocated to U.S. military facilities in Japan is concentrated. The plan is expected to reduce this level to 70 percent. But Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine has expressed strong opposition to the government decision. His opposition concerns the May 1 Japan-U.S. agreement on the relocation of Futenma’s heliport functions. It calls for building two 1,800-meter runways in a V shape on part of the U.S. Marines’ Camp Schwab at Cape Henoko in the city of Nago, northern Okinawa, and on reclaimed land in adjacent waters.
“It’s extremely regrettable that the Cabinet decision was made without enough prior consultations among the central government, Okinawa Prefecture and local governments,” Mr. Inamine said in a statement. The Okinawa Prefectural Government thus refuses to join a consultative body to be set up between the central and local governments.
On May 11, the Okinawa governor and the central government agreed to deal with the Futenma relocation issue “on the basis” of the May 1 Japan-U.S. agreement. But, politically, the governor cannot easily betray the Okinawan people’s ultimate wish — that the Futenma functions be located outside the island prefecture. He sticks to his call for building a temporary heliport inside Camp Schwab as an emergency measure until a permanent relocation site for Futenma’s functions is decided on. Perhaps because of the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s position, the central government’s plan does not mention a specific place where the Futenma functions will be moved.
To gain the cooperation of local governments concerned, the plan says regional development and other measures will be implemented in areas that end up shouldering additional burdens. Even so, the central government may yet face opposition from local governments concerned, including those of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, where 57 U.S. carrier-based aircraft and 1,600 U.S. military personnel will be relocated, and Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, where UEx, a new command known as “Unit of Employment X,” will move from Washington State.
The government plan lacks specifics, including the amount of money it is ready to use for regional development. Nor does it include the total cost needed to implement all of the realignment plan. The plan concerns something more than money and negotiations between the central and local governments. The May 1 Japan-U.S. agreement mentions “enhancing the alliance’s capability to respond to diverse challenges in the evolving regional and global security environment.”
The Diet and the public need to approach the realignment plan with full realization that it may completely change the character of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, whose primary purpose is to maintain peace in Japan and the Far East.
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