The movement to reduce the burden U.S. military bases place on Okinawa is facing a crisis. Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps Gen. David H. Berger suggested that, in a global review of the U.S. military posture (the Global Posture Review), the proposed reorganization of the U.S. military in Japan, including the relocation of Marines based in Okinawa to Guam, could be reconsidered.
The U.S. military is planning to station mid-range ballistic missiles along the first island chain, which includes Okinawa. There is a possibility that this plan is predicated on scaling up the American military presence in Japan.
We fear that this review may result in the further integration of American and Japanese forces and lead to the entrenchment of the U.S. bases in Okinawa. It is absolutely impermissible to force the people of Okinawa to suffer an even greater burden than that already inflicted by the daily harm of living near the bases and the ever present danger that Okinawa will get drawn into a war. The prefectural government should resist the plans of the U.S. military and swiftly move to implement more effective measures to reduce the burden on Okinawa.
The reorganization of the U.S. military in Japan includes the relocation of 9,000 Okinawa-based Marines to Guam and other U.S. military bases in the Asia-Pacific region. At the time that the reorganization was agreed to in 2012, concerns that U.S. military bases in Okinawa were vulnerable to Chinese missile attacks were coupled with a movement to cut the national defense budget. The strategy adopted was to avoid unnecessarily provoking the Chinese, strengthen cooperation with allies and project authority from afar.
However, in response to changes in the security environment, America launched the Global Posture Review. The focus of the U.S. military has shifted from the Middle East, where it is drawing its forces down, to China and Russia.
In response to China’s military buildup, including the development of short and mid-range missile capability and naval expansion, America adopted the policy of encircling the country. This basic policy position has carried over from the Donald Trump administration to the Joe Biden administration.
The trigger for this strategic about-face was the scrapping of the Russian-American Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in August 2019. Following its abandonment, America soon began the development of short and mid-range missiles that had theretofore been prohibited by the treaty. Plans have surfaced to deploy these new missiles in the Ryukyus, Taiwan and the Philippines, which compromise the first island chain.
The United States Indo-Pacific Command has submitted a budget request for the development of a missile network, and Congress is already considering the matter. Perhaps in response to the American plans, from the end of last year, the Japanese government decided to begin development on an improved version of the Type 12 Surface-to-Ship missile with an increased flight range and new missiles that can attack from areas outside the range of enemy fire. The effort to integrate American and Japanese forces and increase the capabilities of their bases has progressed at a brisk pace.
The prefectural government must exercise the highest level of vigilance with regard to these plans, and take measures such as ordering its Washington office to gather and analyze whatever information it can about them. This is a matter of utmost importance; if what is proposed is implemented, Okinawa is liable to become the front line in a nuclear war.
The prefectural government has requested that the Japanese government develop a new plan for the retrocession of the U.S. military bases, with the aim of reducing the military presence in Okinawa. There is a risk, however, that the threat posed by China will be used as a pretext to scrap these demands.
Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki has petitioned the Japanese government to reduce the proportion of U.S. military facilities in Okinawa below 50% of the total within Japan in concurrence with the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s return to Japanese rule. However, there is no indication as to precisely which facilities might be returned. Before the reconsideration of the U.S. military reorganization becomes a reality, the prefectural government should firmly reject the deployment of new-type missiles in Okinawa, propose clear plans for reducing the burden on the prefecture, and take a firm initiative to get these demands implemented.