When U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta came to Japan recently, the first thing he did was to urge Tokyo to move ahead with the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from overcrowded Ginowan City to Henoko in the northern part of Okinawa Island, as had been expected.
It was an international agreement, he might say, so he could feel justified in pressing Tokyo to expedite its early implementation. But could he? On what legal and moral basis does he think that the United States can demand that Futenma’s function be moved to Henoko with the increased function and capability the marines have entertained since the 1960s?
He might say the Henoko relocation is legitimate because it is to be carried out in line with the bilateral agreement (2006 road map) and because it is morally motivated — as the relocation will eliminate a highly dangerous situation in the daily life of Ginowan citizens.
The argument may seem reasonable at first glance. One should never forget, though, that the air station was constructed during the Battle of Okinawa and, afterward, on illegally confiscated land. Private lands were encroached upon with impunity to construct the base while area residents were herded into camps. Five villages constituted Ginowan Village at the time, with a combined population of more than 12,000.
The encroachment of land as well as the construction of the base were carried out in clear violation of international law (Hague Convention Article 46) and, above all, moral principles.
The seemingly “taken-for-granted” rights of the U.S. to the current site of the base is like a fence’s putative rights to stolen goods. Certainly, the U.S. cannot demand Futenma’s replacement in exchange for such stolen goods.
Dealing stolen goods is severely punished by law in any country, Japan or the U.S. Thus the bilateral agreement is completely void in this sense.
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.
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