Does the U.S. military intend to keep bending the rules that apply to its facilities in Japan?
Yet again, three Osprey aircraft belonging to the Futenma air station landed at the Naha Port Facility. Although the U.S. Marine Corps stated that the aircraft flew to Naha to be shipped, they were unable to give any details about when this would occur or where the aircraft would be going. They also gave no advance notice to the prefectural government or Naha city officials.
There have been a number of highly irregular incidents involving U.S. military aircraft at the Naha Port Facility recently.
Last November, an Osprey and a CH53 heavy lift helicopter from Futenma flew in to be loaded onto a large ship. In the same month, a replacement Osprey was unloaded and took off for Futenma.
Then, this February, Ospreys and other aircraft took off and landed during a non-combatant evacuation operation exercise. The prefectural government and Naha city officials urged the U.S. authorities to ban the take-off and landing of aircraft in the area, as this practice is contrary to the purpose of the base and has a substantial impact on the urban area surrounding the port because of the noise and other disruption.
The 5/15 Memo, which was drawn up between the U.S. and Japan to stipulate the terms of U.S. military facilities within the prefecture when Okinawa reverted back to Japanese control, states that the naval port’s main use is as “a port facility and depot.” In reality, though the U.S. military frequently travels between the prefecture and overseas, it has rarely operated aircraft near the port.
So why did this change? When approached, the U.S. military responded to our questions by insisting that the flights have been in accordance with the 5/15 Memo. Minister of Defense Kishi Nobuo added to this, saying that these practices are “in line with the facility’s primary aims.” These words, however, cannot be taken at face value.
If the U.S. and Japan are as dedicated as they say they are to reducing the burden of military bases on Okinawa, then, at the very least, they should obey the terms that have been established.
The 5/15 Memo was agreed on by a joint U.S. and Japanese committee composed of bureaucrats and military personnel without input from the citizens of the prefecture or the wider general public. Until the memo was made public in 1997, its contents were kept secret. The residents of the prefecture were, in effect, forced into an absurd situation without their knowledge.
In 1973, when the first live fire exercise occurred after the reversion over Prefectural Route 104, residents were told that the prefectural roads they used every day were in fact part of the facilities provided to the U.S. military, and that they could only continue to use them as long as they “did not interfere with the activities of the U.S. military.”
The basis for this direction was a document that no citizen even knew existed.
Even after the memo was made public, parachute drop training, which was not mentioned in the memo, took place at Kadena Air Base and the Tsukenjima Training Area, only for this practice to be labeled as “in line with the agreement” by the Japanese government.
The 5/15 Memo was supposed to place restrictions on the use of bases by the U.S. military, but has instead been used to endorse any actions taken by the U.S. military in opposition to the will of the local community.
The Naha Port Facility has been used less frequently by ships in recent years.
Some have suggested that the increased irregular use of aircraft at Naha Port Facility shows that U.S. military forces are seeking to set a precedent now before the base’s relocation to Urasoe so that they are able to maintain such freedoms.
In the 50 years since Okinawa’s reversion, it is not just Naha Port Facility that has experienced changes in U.S. military operations and its surrounding environment. For this reason, the 5/15 Memo needs to be completely overhauled.
Any terms should reflect the input of the prefectural government and local residents, who were ignored at the time the original document was written, and reduce the burden of military bases on Okinawa.