Japan-US Agreement

Onaga Takeshi, who opposed relocating the U.S. Marine Corp Air Station Futenma airbase in Okinawa, has died suddenly.* An election for prefectural governor will occur in September. It seems to be a one-on-one fight between Saki Atsushi, the former mayor of Ginowan, who is backed by the Abe administration, and Tamaki Denny, who has taken a stance against the relocation. The suitability of the relocation appears to be biggest issue at hand.

However, the issues that Onaga raised were not limited to whether or not it would be right for the base to relocate. Regardless of the prefectural governor election, I would like to focus on the status of the Japan-U.S. arrangement.

“The Japan-U.S. agreement is beyond Japan’s constitution.” While he was alive, Onaga used such expressions to point out the problems in the agreement. The agreement that established the legal position of the U.S. forces in Japan was based on the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, implemented in 1960. Generally, the U.S. military has not adopted Japan’s civic laws. Although improvements to the usage of aircraft and supplementary arrangements have been made in response to incidents caused by military personnel, there has been no reform.

In Okinawa, where 70 percent of the U.S. military’s exclusive facilities are located, incidents involving the U.S. military keep occurring. Every time this happens, the agreement becomes a barrier, and even though places like Okinawa make demands, the U.S. does not present enough information or provide measures to prevent reoccurrences.

The problem with the Japan-U.S. agreement is easy to understand when compared to other countries. Okinawa dispatched personnel to Germany and Italy to investigate, and both countries applied domestic law to the U.S. military when accepting their stationing there. It could be said that Japan’s situation is much different, in that it had to do things like establish a committee that it requires municipalities to participate in for the purpose of dealing with complaints by local residents concerning the use of the military facilities.

Awareness of the problem is part of the process being shared among the mainland governments. For the first time, the National Association of Governors has put together a proposal requesting drastic revision of the Japan-U.S. agreement, and submitted it to the government this month. In addition to providing prompt, prior information concerning the training routes and times of U.S. aircraft, the association is also requesting that the agreement be drastically revised, and domestic laws, such as aviation and environmental laws, be applied to the U.S. military.

The reason for the governors’ sense of impending crisis is that, due to the Japan-U.S. agreement, mainland practices and opportunities for U.S. aircraft to fly over the mainland have increased. In June of this year, a U.S. military transport aircraft, the Osprey, made an emergency landing in Amami, in the Kagoshima prefecture. On its way from the U.S. base at Yokota (Tokyo) to the Iwakuni base (Yamaguchi prefecture), there was an issue while heading toward Okinawa. It seems that, in addition to Okinawa, there are plans to deploy about 10 Ospreys from the Yokota base over the next several years starting in October, and flights over the entire country of Japan will become routine.

Okayama prefecture, which does not have a U.S. military exclusive facility, is also relevant. At the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force training field (Tsuyama, Nagi), the first solo drill by the U.S. Marine Corps is scheduled for October.

I would like for the government to seriously respond to the proposal by the National Association of Governors and enact reform. In Germany and Italy, after U.S. military accidents, the public rose up, and that is how their agreement reform began. Primarily, I would like for citizens to realize that this is not Okinawa’s problem alone.

*Editor’s note: Takeshi Onaga was a Japanese politician and the seventh governor of Okinawa Prefecture who was opposed to the American military presence in Okinawa. He died on Aug. 8, 2018.