Decreasing the Base Burden in Okinawa: Is Relocation the Reply?

The creator, an professional in worldwide relations, requires a brand new strategy to discount of the bottom burden in Okinawa, taking into consideration modifications in US army technique within the area.

Over the previous 25 years or so, it has change into nearly inconceivable to carry a peaceful, productive dialogue on the subject of the US army bases in Okinawa. The primary purpose is the controversy over relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan. Because the standoff has dragged on, the rhetoric has grown more and more heated, hostile, and ideologically polarized. Within the following, I try to refocus the talk on the unique rationale for the plan, specifically, mitigating the hazard to and burden on the native residents.


Proposals for the return of MCAS Futenma have been on the desk since 1995, when the beating and rape of an Okinawan lady by three American servicemen triggered a wave of protests and requires revision of the 1960 Standing of Forces Settlement (SOFA). In 1996, hoping to stem the tide of anti-base feeling in Okinawa, the Japanese and US authorities reached an settlement to shut the bottom and return the land to Japan inside seven years, on the situation that appropriate alternative services be constructed elsewhere. Close to the top of 1999, the federal government of Nago, within the northeast of Okinawa Island, gave its conditional approval for a plan to construct the Futenma alternative services offshore from town’s Henoko district. Nevertheless, the relocation plan adopted by the Japanese and US governments in 2006 (below the US-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation) ignored the situations the native authorities had set. In 2009, when the Democratic Celebration of Japan took over from the Liberal Democratic Celebration, Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio got here out firmly in opposition to the 2006 plan and pledged to maneuver the Futenma services “exterior the prefecture in any case.” However the next 12 months, he backtracked and reverted to the 2006 plan.

Amid modifications in management on the nationwide and prefectural ranges and the rising regional safety challenges posed by North Korea and China, Washington and Tokyo have altered the phrases of the relocation settlement time and again, and these unilateral modifications have fueled distrust and hostility among the many Okinawans. As this anti-base, anti-Tokyo sentiment has mounted, the choices for negotiating an answer have dwindled.

Furthermore, the escalating political and verbal warfare between the Okinawan and nationwide authorities has helped remodel the difficulty right into a extremely charged conflict of ideologies and identities. Supporters of the federal government’s place have accused Okinawans of blocking relocation out of mercenary motives or of being pawns in China’s regional technique. On the opposite facet, we hear expenses of longstanding discrimination in opposition to the Okinawans. Such polarization has made compromise all of the harder.

Somewhat than add gasoline to this fireplace, I wish to reframe the talk by going again to the fundamentals of the issue—the concrete influence of MCAS Futenma (and different bases) on security and high quality of life within the surrounding neighborhood. Specializing in the difficulty of noise air pollution, I wish to problem a few of the fundamental assumptions driving the Futenma debate.

Noise Air pollution and Relocation

In Might 2021, I participated in a webinar held by the East-West Heart in Washington on the subject of Decreasing the Burden of Army Bases on Okinawa. Due to the time distinction, it was already 11:00 pm in Ginowan when it got here time for me to ship my presentation, an evidence of sure suggestions submitted to Okinawa Governor Tamaki Denny by the Bankoku Shinryō Council on US Army Base Points, of which I used to be a member. Even at the moment of evening, my discuss was repeatedly interrupted by the clamor of American helicopters from close by Futenma flying over my house. Whereas discussing the issues surrounding the present SOFA, I identified that this sort of noise air pollution was a relentless within the lives of Okinawans.

Paul Vosti, then director for Japan coverage within the Workplace of the US Secretary of Protection, blamed the frustration of residents over noise air pollution on the sluggish tempo of efforts to return Futenma and different bases within the closely populated southern and central sections of Okinawa Island. Nevertheless, he insisted that progress was being made within the building of the Henoko alternative facility and the relocation of coaching actions to different elements of Japan and recommended that most of the SOFA points would disappear as plans for joint bases (shared with the Japan Self-Protection Forces) moved ahead.

The essential drawback with this response is that it assumes that the noise concern might be resolved by shifting bases like MCAS Futenma to much less closely populated areas. This may need been true again in 1996, when Futenma was valued as a base for the deployment, refueling, and upkeep of reinforcement air squadrons that is likely to be despatched from the US to the area within the occasion of a North Korean contingency. However the base’s function has modified dramatically since then.

These days MV-22 Osprey transport craft, stationed at MCAS Futenma since 2012, conduct routine coaching workout routines throughout the size and breadth of Okinawa Island. Coaching usually includes a collection of takeoffs and landings at any of 69 touchdown websites established inside Okinawa Prefecture. For instance, from Futenma in central Okinawa, the Ospreys may proceed base by base towards the Northern Coaching Space, stopping at Camp Hansen, Camp Schwab (website of the deliberate relocation), Kin Blue Seashore Coaching Space, and Iejima Auxiliary Airfield. They routinely fly over the southern cities of Naha and Urasoe earlier than returning to Futenma. Even when MCAS Futenma have been relocated to the Camp Schwab space, its plane would proceed to fly over central and southern Okinawa each day.

Okinawa and the New Working Idea

Furthermore, since 2017, the Marine Corps has been shifting its strategic emphasis to dispersed operations by small models, decreasing its reliance on giant army bases. Beneath the Expeditionary Superior Base Operations (EABO) idea, developed in response to China’s rising missile functionality, small, extremely cellular models can be used to ascertain momentary bases for missiles and plane on strategically situated distant islands in an effort to dam the enemy’s naval advance and safe sea lanes. To implement the idea, the Marines are constructing coaching bases throughout Okinawa, in addition to different elements of Japan, and are increasing and intensifying their coaching workout routines.

In a parallel transfer, the US Air Drive has adopted the Agile Fight Employment (ACE) idea, which requires a community of smaller, extra extensively distributed ahead working areas. ACE coaching workout routines carried out at Futenma by USAF models from Kadena Air Base have contributed to a rise within the frequency of plane landings and takeoffs at MCAS Futenma. Low-altitude flights by MC-130 particular operations plane over the Kerama Islands and Cape Hedo (the northernmost level of Okinawa Island) have triggered alarm among the many residents.

Briefly, modifications within the Asia-Pacific safety atmosphere have triggered a shift within the US army technique, with the outcome that coaching is happening throughout Okinawa Prefecture, no matter the placement of main bases. Within the circumstances, relocation of an air base from one a part of the prefecture to a different appears unlikely to unravel the noise drawback.

Respect the Choices of the Japan-US Joint Committee

Nevertheless, there’s something the Japanese authorities can do proper now to mitigate the hazard and noise: demand that the US army adjust to the agreements reached by the Japan-US Joint Committee.

The present SOFA, which dates to 1960, makes no provision for the conduct of coaching workout routines exterior of US bases. The army justifies its air workout routines by characterizing them as “motion between services and areas in use by the US armed forces,” which is assured to US army autos and personnel below article 5 of SOFA.

The Japan-US Joint Committee, a high-level consultative organ established below SOFA, has reached settlement on noise-abatement insurance policies for the Yokota, Atsugi, Futenma, and Kadena bases, together with limits on late-night and early-morning takeoffs and landings and low-altitude flights. Nevertheless, these agreements do not more than require the bases’ finest efforts. Certainly, they clearly state that the restrictions could be lifted as deemed mandatory by the US Forces Japan.

The Futenma noise abatement measures agreed on in 1996 state that “airfield site visitors sample configuration, together with entry and exit routes, needs to be designed to keep away from over flight of densely populated areas, together with colleges and hospitals, as a lot as attainable.” The army’s disregard of that settlement was vividly demonstrated in 2004, when a CH-53 helicopter crashed into the primary constructing of Okinawa Worldwide College and burst into flames. In 2007, the Japanese and US governments reaffirmed the precept of avoiding flights over colleges, however this, too, was ignored. In 2017, elements from a Futenma helicopter fell from the sky and landed on the grounds of an area elementary college.

The College of the Ryūkyūs, the place I educate, is situated about three kilometers from the air base, and my lectures are invariably interrupted by the roar of plane flying overhead. On one event, a coaching flight handed instantly over the constructing the place highschool seniors have been taking the English listening element of the nationwide college entrance examination. For the reason that COVID-19 pandemic hit, furthermore, classroom home windows have to be left open to offer air flow. Consequently, I’ve no alternative however to cease the category whereas we look forward to a dozen or so army plane to go over.

What’s to be executed?

For the reason that Nineties, the federal government of Okinawa has been calling for renegotiation of SOFA to deal with Okinawans’ grievances, arguing that the Joint Committee’s efforts to “enhance the operation” of SOFA are ineffective. However the Japanese authorities has proven no signal of relenting. In both case, an settlement have to be revered whether it is to make a distinction. Latest historical past means that the Joint Committee agreements can have an effect if the Japanese authorities is severe about imposing them. For a few years native Japanese authorities have been unable to detain and query US army personnel charged with committing crimes off base till a proper indictment had been returned. Nevertheless, after two successive agreements by the Japan-US Joint Committee, that has modified.

Even when the Japanese authorities is unwilling to undertake renegotiation of SOFA, it may possibly absolutely strain the Individuals to abide by the noise-abatement agreements adopted by the Joint Committee. It is a sensible step we will take towards addressing the core security and quality-of-life points posed by the US bases in Okinawa.

(Initially revealed in Japanese. Banner picture: A squadron of controversial MV-22 Osprey plane stationed at US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa. © Reuters.)

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