Reconsidering the Agreement, a Game Changer

Three lawmakers with influence over defense spending policy — headed by Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee — issued a serious statement. They sharply criticized the plan to relocate Futenma Air Base to Camp Schwab (Henoko Bay) as “unrealistic.” They demanded that discussion be opened about integrating the base with Kadena Air Base.

In addition to local Okinawans’ fierce opposition to the bilateral agreement of “relocating … within the prefecture” — and negotiations with congressional leaders about the feasibility of the relocation — the situation is now about whether the agreement itself is valid.

Nevertheless, the two governments have emphasized that their position to “steadily implement the agreement” has not changed. There is no way that this stance can be accepted.

Pressure To Reduce Defense Spending in the U.S.

As it stands now, no progress can be hoped for and there is concern over establishing the dangerous Futenma Air Base. We are asking the two governments to reconsider their positions on the bilateral agreement and to not adhere to the current plan. Should they not consider alternatives like the Okinawa-backed plan of moving the base outside the prefecture or outside the country, along with the idea of combining the base with Kadena? Should we not look for a game changer?

Chairman Levin pointed out that “the U.S. cannot bear the cost of implementing the bilateral agreement due to the tight financial situation.”* This statement follows pressure to reduce national defense spending as the harsh U.S. economic situation continues.

Last year, the U.S. Congress reduced the relocation budget. This was because the plan for improving the infrastructure of Guam, for the Marines, has not progressed. On Japan’s side, the work of moving Futenma has been difficult and it is virtually impossible to complete on time according to the current plan — which has as its goal moving 8,000 Marines to Guam by 2014.

Starting Negotiations If the Burden Decreases

Based on these circumstances, the lawmakers’ statement specifically outlined that “we should explore the possibility of integration with Kadena. We should also consider dispersing a part of the Air Force to Guam and the main island of Japan.”*

The proposed merger with Kadena has come up many times. However, even now there is local opposition to the noise pollution — which will only increase if the merger takes place. On the U.S. side, there are problems with operational logistics such as air traffic control. The Marine Corps helicopter units and Air Force fixed-wing aircraft units would share the base, and there is opposition to this.

The purpose of this latest plan is to transfer part of Kadena’s operations. Nakai Masahairo, governor of Okinawa Prefecture, has stated “I have doubts about the possibility of integration,” and further said “If the noise pollution is reduced then negotiations can begin again.”

Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has said — with regard to straying from the Futenma relocation plan — that “at the very least it must be moved outside the prefecture.” In the end, Japan’s Democratic administration is responsible for the current plan — a plan that was created by the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. Kan’s administration has its hands full with the earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but this does not mean that it can ignore the impending Futenma question. We want the government to be aware of its responsibility and respond appropriately.

*Editor’s note: This quote could not be verified.