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A closer look at U.S. Futenma basefs erelocationf issue

How was it started?

The U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station is located in the center of Ginowan City, one of the largest cities in Okinawa with a population of 92,000. It occupies 25 percent of the cityfs land and has a 2,800-meter runway that is used by about 70 helicopters as well as mid-air refueling aircraft stationed there and aircraft coming from other U.S. bases. It is estimated that there are more than 45,000 take offs and landings at the base annually.

Located in a densely populated area, the Futenma Base is considered to be the most dangerous base in the world in regard to civilian safety and fails to meet the minimum U.S. safety standards for military bases. In the U.S., a gclear zoneh is established around bases where people cannot have residences. However in Ginowan City, there are 18 public facilities including elementary schools, day-care centers, and hospitals, and 3,600 residents live very close to the base. The amount of land taken up by the base already prevents city development.

Residents suffer everyday from the roars caused by aircraft flying over their houses from early morning till middle of the night as well as being threatened with the possibility of accidents.

In August 2004, a CH-53 helicopter stationed at the Futenma Base crashed on the main building of the Okinawa International University in Ginowan City. The walls of the building were charred and a part of a 10-meter rotor tore into and blew away parked motorbikes. Accidents repeatedly occur even after this major accident. The overuse of old helicopters on the base has been revealed as a factor in the high rate of accidents.

Triggered by the 1996 gang rape of a local school girl by three U.S. marines, anger erupted among residents calling for an Okinawa without military bases. Feeling a sense of crisis in the Japan-U.S. Security structure, the two governments in April 1996 announced the return of the Futenma Base site. However, in December of the same year the Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) agreed that a construction of a new U.S. base in Okinawa will be a condition of return. This was the beginning of the ongoing Futenma base controversy.

Residents lands were forcibly taken

At the last stage of the Pacific War, the land battle took place in Okinawa. The fierce U.S. bombardment was described as a gstorm of iron.h The U.S. forces began constructing military bases in Okinawa right after it landed there in April 1945.

In mainland Japan, the Japanese Armyfs bases were taken over by the U.S. military. But in Okinawa, U.S. bases were constructed on residential lands forcibly taken by U.S. forces. They were built while residents were put in what can be described as concentration camps after the war. During the 1950s, the U.S. forces used gbayonets and bulldozersh to seize residentsf lands by force to expand their bases. 91 percent of the Futenma base site was stolen from residents.

Since Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972, only 18 percent of the land used as U.S. bases in Okinawa has been returned, while 60 percent of such land in mainland Japan has been returned. Crimes and accidents caused by U.S. servicemen have continuously occurred.

The Japanese government has used a gcarrot and stickh tactics to limit residentsf frustration. In exchange for subsidies, public works, and land rents it has provided for local municipalities hosting U.S. bases, the government has allowed the U.S. forces to continuously use bases in Okinawa by adversely revising the special measures law to enable the Japanese government to lease peoplefs land to U.S. bases without landownersf consent.

What is the real aim of the base construction?

The major aim of the 1996 Japan-U.S. agreement on constructing a new U.S. base in Okinawa as replacement for the Futenma Air Station was gto maintain the same functions and capabilities as the Futenma base has (former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro).h Within this context, the Japanese government at that time said that gU.S. bases in Okinawa are necessary,h although it had explained to Okinawans gin order to reduce Okinawa peoplefs burdens, the Futenma base will be relocated.h

When the Japanese and U.S. governments signed an agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan in May 2006, the Japanese government gave a similar explanation that the relocation plan is to greduce the local peoplefs burden, while maintaining deterrence.h

Rather than gmaintainingh the same level of base functions and capabilities as the Futenma Air station as the Japanese government explained earlier in regard to the Futenma base, what the U.S. government was aiming for was a state-of-the-art military base capable of housing the MV-22 Osprey vertical take-off and landing aircraft by using Japanese peoplefs tax money.

The plan drafted by the U.S. Defense Department in August 1997 to construct an on-sea base clearly stated, gDeployment of MV-22 Ospreys should be taken into consideration when setting standards for the runway of a new base.h In addition, although the SACO agreement gave no specific location for a new base construction site, the plan specified Camp Schwab as a helicopter base site located in the sea off the Henoko district in Nago City.

In protest against this plan, Nago residents voted in a referendum held in December 1997 regarding the pros and cons of the base construction plan. As a result, 54% of Nago residents voted against the construction. If the Japanese and U.S. governments had accepted the referendum result at that time, the issue of the Futenma Air base would have been resolved.

The then Okinawa Governor Inamine Keiichi supported by the Liberal Democratic and Komei parties in 1998 expressed his acceptance of a new U.S. base construction in the sea off Henoko and Nago residents increased their tenacious struggles in protest against the governorfs decision.

The Japanese and U.S. governments agreed on greturning the Futenma Air base within 5-7 years in exchange for a new base construction planh in the SACO agreement 13 years ago, but Okinawanfs struggles have prevented the Japanese government from beginning the construction work and has driven the agreement into collapse.

What is the problem with the base construction in Henoko?

Although excluded from the 1996 SACO agreement, the idea to construct a new U.S. military base was continued in another agreement in May 2006, the so-called gJapan-U.S. Roadmap for Realignment Implementationh of the U.S. Forces in Japan. This is the basis of the ongoing plan.

According to the SACO agreement, the idea was to reclaim shallow waters on the coral reef off U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago City and construct a 2000-meter runway. The present plan, however, opts to reclaim the shoreline areas of the camp and construct two 1600-meter runways in a V-shape. The intent is to strengthen the integration of U.S. Marines combat forces with ground forces at both Camp Schwab and the neighboring camp of Hansen. This plan may influence some changes to another ongoing plan that is to construct U.S. military helipads in the Takae district of Higashi Village in Okinawa in exchange for the return of a large part of the U.S. Marines exercise fields in northern Okinawa to Japan.

Sometime after 2012, the U.S. Marines seek to replace their aging fleet of conventional CH-46 helicopters with state-of-the-art MV-22 Osprey aircraft as the main aircraft of the new base, but this aircraft emits a huge amount of noise and frequently crashes.

If constructed, the new base will destroy the worldsf rare species of dugong and the unique natural environment off the shore of the Henoko district. There exists a large seaweed bed in which there are marine plants the Ministry of Environment designates as endangered species and which also provides feeding grounds for internationally-protected dugongs. Destruction of the seaweed bed will inevitably cause irreparable harm to these rare mammals.

The base construction in the Henoko district is regarded as the centerpiece of the 2006 agreement in conjunction with the other plan to construct a new U.S. sortie stronghold in Guam. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Japan in October and demanded that Japanfs new government go ahead with the plan to construct a new base in Nago City in compliance with the Roadmap because he wanted to make sure Japan does so before the U.S. Congress approves a defense authorization bill for the next fiscal year, including costs needed for the construction of a base in Guam.

The ongoing U.S. military realignment project was set out by the already-failed Bush administration based on its preemptive attack strategy. For this project that the previous U.S. government drew up to strengthen its military bases in Okinawa and Guam, Japan is going to generously contribute about three trillion yen in peoplefs tax money.

Why canft the DPJ stand up for Okinawa?

Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio (DPJ) during his campaign for the recent general election called for transferring the Futenma Air Station to somewhereoutside Okinawa or even outside Japan. As prime minister he got a coalition government to agree on the need to review the planned realignment of the U.S. forces and the U.S. bases in Japan. The 2006 agreement on the U.S. military realignment had been reached between the former government of the Liberal Democratic and Komei parties and the previous U.S. administration. Thus, it is reasonable to review this agreement because both governments have changed.

However, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates high-handedly demanded that the realignment plan under the LDP-Komei government be implemented, saying that unless a new base is built, there should be neither return of land nor reduction of servicemen. After being pressed by Gates, Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya changed his mind and made up his own plan to integrate Futenma base with Kadena base, and Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi also changed his mind to accept the plan as the U.S. government wants.

In the plenary sessions of the House of Representatives on October 29 and of the House of Councilors on October 30, Prime Minister Hatoyama simply repeated the need for examining the ongoing developments in the U.S. military realignment, failing even to refer to a greviewh.

The cause behind the DPJ turnabout is the partyfs foreign and security policy of regarding the Japan-U.S. alliance as pivotal to Japanfs foreign relations and the partyfs support of the argument that Japan needs the gdeterrence of the U.S. forces in Japan including those in Okinawah (P.M. Hatoyama), which is similar to the position of the LDP-Komei government.

On the other hand, DPJ Dietmembers elected from Okinawa and DPJ Okinawa assembly members stand with Okinawans against a new base in Okinawa. The DPJ thus finds itself in a double bind of being unable to straightly expressing support for the new base construction like the LDP-Komei government due to dissention within its ranks.

A number of countries in Europe and Asia succeeded in removing or reducing U.S. military bases while maintaining good relations with the United States. Unless the DPJ government shows resolute position on the base question, the United States will get the impression that the present government will easily give in to threats as their predecessors. It will close the possibility of creating a path to changing the Japanese foreign policy of submission to the United States.

Japan should demand that U.S. return Futenma base site without condition

Okinawans rejected the plan to construct a new U.S. base in a referendum held in December 1997 in Nago City.

In every opinion poll on this issue since then, 70-80 percent of the respondents have expressed opposition to the new U.S. base construction plan.

In July 2008, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly also expressed its opposition to the base in a resolution.

All this shows that the task now is for the Japanese government to begin discussing the issue with the United States on the premise that grejection of the new base construction is non-negotiable.h

Even before that, the government must order the immediate closure of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station because it is in violation of U.S. safety standards.

If the Japanese government is willing to review the gtransformation and realignmenth of the U.S. forces in Japan, it should address the fundamental question: Is a U.S. military presence in Okinawa necessary?

The government should look at the fact that 75 percent of U.S. bases and 58 percent of U.S. troops in Okinawa are forward-based Marines.

The number of U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa sharply increased during the Vietnam War. Today, they are constantly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Their presence in Okinawa has nothing to do with Japanfs security needs.

The Japanese government has so far used the so-called gsympathy budgeth to fund the construction of everything that the U.S. forces need, including housing units for U.S. troops and hangars for fighter jets. It has promised to waste even more tax money to pay for all the costs for the construction of a new base in the Henoko district of Nago.

Why is the United States unwilling to give up on its military bases in Japan? It is because Japan is so generous as to pay the greater part of the costs for the U.S. military. It expends more than 10,000 dollars per U.S. troop every year.

Under the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States, Japan has no obligation to pay for the U.S. military presence under the name of the gsympathy budgeth. This being the fact, the Japanese government should abolish the gsympathy budgeth immediately.

When Japan and the United States reached agreement in 1996 on the return of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station site to Japan and relocating it, many relocation plans were on the table, including one calling for integrating the functions of the Futenma base with the U.S. Kadena Air Force Base. All these plans were proven to be unfeasible or rejected by local residents.

The return of the Futenma base site without condition is the only viable alternative.

If the Hatoyama government wants to establish relations with the United States on equal footing, it should take the wishes of Okinawans to its negotiations with the United States and demand that the Futenma base be returned without condition.

Events related to U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station

April 1945

The U.S. Army constructs runways at Futenma to establish a forward base of operations in preparation for a ground war on mainland Japan.

January 1960

Japan and the U.S. revise their bilateral security treaty.

May 1960

The Futenma base comes under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Marine Corps. It was previously under the U.S. Air Force.

May 1972

With the administrative rights over Okinawa returned to Japan, Okinawa becomes another prefecture in Japan.

September 1995

U.S. Marines repeatedly gang rape a school girl in Okinawa.

October 1995

A prefectural rally held in protest against the gang rape by U.S. military personnel.

April 1996

Japan and the U.S. reach agreement on returning the Futenma Air Station site to Japan.

December 1996

An offshore base plan surfaces as an alternative to the Futenma base as part of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) agreement.

December 1997

In a referendum in Nago, a majority rejects the new base construction plan.

November 1999

Okinawa Governor Inamine Keiichi announces a plan to relocate the Futenma base off the coast of Nago City.

December 1999

The Japanese government approves a plan to relocate the Futenma Air Station.

December 2001

The Nago mayor agrees to the construction of a new U.S. base off the Henoko district of Nago City.

August 2004

A U.S. military helicopter from the Futenma base crashes at the Okinawa International University campus near the base.

May 2006

Defense and foreign ministers from Japan and the U.S. reach an agreement to construct a new base with v-shaped runways in the coastal area of U.S. Camp Schwab.

August 2007

The Defense Ministry submits a preparatory report on need to conduct environmental impact assessment in preparation for the new base construction to appease environmentalists.

February 2009

Japan and the U.S. conclude an agreement on relocating a part of the U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa on condition that a new base will be constructed in the Henoko district of Nago.

- Akahata, November 1, 2009

 

 


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