Training Forced Through at Naha Military Port: Conditions for Use of Military Bases Must Be Toughened

The U.S. Marine Corps is conducting military exercises at Naha Military Port using Osprey transport aircraft and large-sized helicopters. The prefectural and municipal governments requested that these exercises be called off, only for their pleas to be ignored and the exercises forced through.

Last year, the flights of U.S. military aircraft for transport purposes provoked a rash of criticism. This time, the flights are for training purposes. Operations that overstep the bounds of what is acceptable are increasing. The Japan-U.S. Joint Committee Agreement (known as the 5-15 memo), which sets down the conditions under which the U.S. military is allowed to use its bases in Okinawa, must be reconsidered. A wholesale revision of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement must be undertaken.

In the first place, we demand that these military exercises be stopped immediately. Naha Mayor Mikiko Shiroma, noting that the military port is in close proximity to the busy civilian Naha Airport, criticized the exercises, saying they “threaten the safety of Okinawans, not to mention tourists, etc., and are completely unacceptable.” National Route 58, a major road, also runs by the port. The mayor’s demand is only natural.

In November 2021, Osprey transport aircraft flew into Naha Military Port from Futenma Air Station. The stated intent of these flights was to prepare the Ospreys for transport by ship back to America for repairs. This shows that the U.S. military does not hesitate to fly potentially dangerous aircraft, in need of service, into a base surrounded by civilian land.

The 5-15 memo states that Naha Military Port is to be used as a harbor and fuel depot. The prefectural government has used this as a basis to protest the November 2021 Osprey flights, which it claims were not within the permitted uses of that facility.

In response, the Regional Defense Bureau legitimized the flights, saying that the memo established only the primary uses of the facility, and “did not preclude the landing of aircraft.” It has taken the same approach this time, with bureau chief Isao Ono approving U.S. action, stating that “it would be difficult to request that these exercises be called off.”

If the 5-15 memo is to be taken as only establishing the bases’ principle uses, the Japanese government must disclose the concrete details of whatever other agreements has been made with the Americans regarding base usage that impact Okinawans. Normally, it would not be acceptable for the conditions for use of the bases to be intentionally reinterpreted each time it is convenient for the U.S. military to do so.

In the first place, the 5-15 memo is an agreement between the Americans and Japanese that was made at the time of the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese rule, without any input from Okinawans themselves. At the time, it was not even publicly disclosed. It does not reflect the demands of Okinawans.

As 50 years have passed since its drafting, it can be presumed that there are parts of this agreement that are not compatible with U.S. military operations today. Indeed, there are probably parts of it that have in actuality become a mere formality, as the U.S. has continued to conduct operations at its own convenience. If this is the case, the time has come for the conditions for use of the bases to be reconsidered, with the aim of forcing strict adherence to any agreement.

There is also the problem of the Status of Forces Agreement, which permits unlimited movement by U.S. forces between American bases in Japan. This agreement, which grants the U.S. a superior status with privileges such as free use of Japanese airspace, must be revised. It has become clear that the agreement, which exempts the U.S. military from all Japanese legislation, also causes problems from the perspective of infectious disease control.

It must be said that the Status of Forces Agreement, as it presently stands, puts the lives of Japanese citizens at risk. The government must abandon its subordinate posture to America and push for a wholesale revision of the agreement.

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