Issues involving U.S. military bases in Japan

by Kohei Okata and Tsuyoshi Urushihara, Staff Writers

DPJ member Hideo Hiraoka (Yamaguchi's 2nd constituency): Urging the government to examine the transfer of U.S. aircraft to Iwakuni

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has consistently maintained the stance, since prior to the Lower House election, that it will examine the plan for the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan made by the previous Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) administration and alter it as needed.

With regard to the new location for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Futenma, the hope of the ruling parties to ease the burden of Okinawa Prefecture, which shoulders 75 percent of U.S. military bases in Japan, is not misplaced. However, the fact that Cabinet ministers issued a range of statements within the first four months of the new Hatoyama administration and left the impression that the government did not hold sufficient discussion on the matter was ill-advised.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has indicated that he will reach a decision on the issue by May and is now pursuing a variety of possibilities. I believe, though, that a different conclusion could be drawn by discussing the issue from a broader perspective, taking into account overall Japan-U.S. relations, and not by dealing with the matter as a separate problem. The "harmful effect" on relations between the two nations being advanced by some in the mass media seems an assertion of those who are reluctant to pursue a different course.

Concerning the relocation of carrier-based aircraft to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, it has turned out that the situation involving Iwakuni has proven problematic in several respects. These concerns, for which alternatives have not been proposed, stem from infringements to the noise influence standard established by the Ministry of Defense and U.S. forces in Japan as well as unease over the safety of the flight routes. With the Futenma issue attracting so much attention, the government has not been keen to take up the problems of Iwakuni, too. But I would continue to urge the government to also grapple with Iwakuni.

I fear, too, that the purchase of the former development project site in the Mt. Atago area in the city of Iwakuni was simply made in line with the path set by bureaucrats before the change of administration. The Ministry of Defense, however, has not described the site as a housing area for U.S. forces and explained to me that it "will make a decision in full consideration of local opinions." I would like to take a leading role in resolving this issue so the outcome serves the welfare of the local citizens and the development of the city.

LDP member Masahiko Komura (Yamaguchi's 1st constituency): Asserting the "profound impact" on Japan-U.S. relations

Under the Japan-U.S. security framework, Japan provides the United States with military bases and the United States pledges to protect Japan in the event of a crisis. The Hatoyama administration has not perceived the relocation of the Futenma Air Station as a security issue, including its link to deterrence.

Japan has been able to maintain peace for 64 years, which is rare in the world. The deterrence offered by U.S. forces has functioned well to date. However, while deterrence is difficult to discern, the burdens caused by the bases are easy to see. Simply complaining about burdens is typical of populism. Though Prime Minister Hatoyama has said that he would stop arguing for "security without U.S. forces in Japan," his original notions have not changed. Saying that "we will not provide the military bases, but you should still protect us" is almost the same as asking for some bread at a bakery without paying for it. Only if Japan provides the military bases can we stand on an equal footing with the United States.

The plan that has already been made includes measures that would surely reduce the burden to Okinawa. Though some complain that the LDP was unable to implement such measures for the past 13 years, this was due to the time it required for negotiations. Within a few more years, these measures could be carried out. Wrecking such accumulated efforts made to date would be terrible.

The issue of the U.S. military bases has a profound impact on Japan-U.S. relations. The deterrence provided by the United States will be enhanced if other nations think the bond between our two countries is based on a firm foundation of trust. But if these other nations sense that the trust has been undermined, the effect of the deterrence will be weakened. I have serious concerns about that.

I don't think that the burden of the Iwakuni Air Station will increase as a side effect of the Futenma issue. The new administration has not raised questions in regard to the Iwakuni issue and the United States naturally believes that the relocation of the carrier-based aircraft to Iwakuni will be implemented. I feel it was wrong to hold a referendum asking the local residents to pass judgment on this issue. The responsibility for security issues lies with the national government. Though a mayoral election will be held in the city of Nago in the near future, the Japanese prime minister, who should make such decisions himself, must not show the sort of attitude which suggests that the decision can be made locally.


Realignment of U.S. forces in Japan
The realignment of U.S. forces in Japan is part of the global realignment of U.S. forces. The Japanese and U.S. governments have successively made several agreements on the realignment issue since 1996. The agreements include the relocation of the Futenma Air Station in the city of Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the shores of Camp Schwab in the city of Nago, the transfer of about 8,000 U.S. marines in Okinawa to Guam, and the relocation of the carrier-based aircraft in the Atsugi Naval Air Station in Kanagawa Prefecture to the Iwakuni Station in the city of Iwakuni. The coalition agreement of the DPJ, the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party state that these parties "intend to review the issue." Prime Minister Hatoyama has indicated that he will come to a conclusion on the issue by May.

(Originally published on January 19, 2010)