Editorial: Proposal to transfer Marines to Iwakuni

Saying no is reasonable

Is this what they mean when they talk about “a bolt from the blue”? The United States has sounded out the Japanese government on a proposal to move some of the Marines stationed in Okinawa to the Iwakuni Air Station.

This proposal arose in conjunction with a review of the plan to transfer troops to Guam. Apparently, the intention of the U.S. is to reduce the number of Marines to be transferred from Okinawa to 4,700 from 8,000 and to station nearly half of the rest, around 1,500 Marines, in Iwakuni.

But these troops are supposed to go overseas, and this will not lead to a lessening of the burden on Okinawa. Just shifting them around and having them remain in Japan is itself a dubious proposition.

And under the realignment of U.S. forces, the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni will accept carrier-based aircraft from the naval air base in Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture. From the standpoint of the local community, any greater burden on Iwakuni would be completely unacceptable.

The details of the U.S. proposal to Iwakuni are not clear. It has also been reported that the troops in question are air support troops who have nothing to do with the pending issue of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Futenma.

Why Iwakuni? There’s no doubt that it’s entirely for the convenience of the U.S. side.

The construction of facilities at the base in Guam, to which the troops were originally supposed to be transferred, is way behind schedule, and the budget has been cut by the U.S. Congress. That provided a reason for spreading the Marine outposts around on the basis of a new national defense strategy aimed at China.

Perhaps Iwakuni’s name came up while a plan was being worked out to cut the number of personnel to be transferred to Guam and spread the rest around the Asia-Pacific region.

With the Obama administration’s cuts to defense spending, the U.S. military is in straitened circumstances, but the U.S. does not have to pay costs for troops stationed in Japan. Besides, the Iwakuni base has been expanded offshore, and the United States is highly likely to build military housing on Mt. Atago. These points may have seemed attractive to the U.S.

But considering the situation in Iwakuni, it must be said that in fact the proposal is unreasonable.

Neither Yamaguchi Prefecture nor the City of Iwakuni has expressed opposition to the realignment of U.S. forces itself. Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda, who was reelected to another term last month, has pledged to cooperate with the transfer of the carrier-based aircraft, but he has stated firmly that the city “can not assume any greater burden.”

What will happen if another 1,500 troops are transferred to Iwakuni? It’s natural for the community to adopt a tough stance. Sekinari Nii, governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture, has stated that he distrusts the central government, and he even suggested putting the sale of Mt. Atago on ice.

If this proposal is pushed through it may have repercussions on the transfer of the carrier-borne aircraft, and Iwakuni may become a “second Henoko.” The government seems to share that concern.

The matter of the realignment of the U.S. military has been pursued behind closed doors, and decision-making methods that go over the heads of local leaders have been employed repeatedly. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda stated yesterday that no talks are going on between the U.S. and Japan, but there is no hiding the fact that Japan was sounded out about this matter.

First of all, we’d like this matter to be explained fully. Then the government must clearly state to the U.S. that the proposal is not realistic and get them to promise once again to transfer all 8,000 troops overseas. That is only reasonable.

It’s not just Iwakuni. The Futenma issue has been separated from the transfer of troops to Guam. There is growing concern that things will become stuck the way they are.

If it’s going to change this much, the framework of the U.S. military realignment itself, which has been considered a “package,” should be reconsidered from square one.

(Originally published on February 8, 2012)