The U.S. is over-burdened militarily and effectively bankrupt financially, but Washington is determined to preserve every base and deployment, no matter how archaic. Such as the many military facilities in Okinawa, which risks sinking under the plethora of American installations, runways, materiel, and personnel. No wonder the Okinawan people again voted against being conscripted as one of Washington’s most important military hubs.
The Ryukyu Islands once were independent, but in the late 19th century were seized by Imperial Japan. Okinawans suffered terribly in April 1945 from the so-called “Typhoon of Steel” during the American invasion. The U.S. held onto the territory afterwards, filling it with bases before finally returning Okinawa to Japan in 1972. Even now the Pentagon controls roughly one-fifth of the land, including several beautiful beaches.
Opposition to the overpowering American presence crystalized nearly two decades ago after the rape of a teenage girl by U.S. military personnel. Gov. Masahide Ota led the campaign to downsize America’s presence and large numbers of Okinawans turned out in protest. However, political activism eventually ebbed. The national government in Tokyo continued to pacify and pay off as many Okinawans as possible, while promoting various schemes to rearrange the local burden.
The bases remain because no one else in Japan wants to host American military forces. Thus, Tokyo politicians have every incentive to keep the U.S. presence concentrated (about three-quarters of base area and more than half of 47,000 military personnel) in the most distant, least influential, and poorest prefecture. After a decade of negotiation Tokyo and Washington agreed in 2006 to move some Marines to Guam and shift Futenma airbase to the less populated Henoko district of Nago city. Few Okinawans were satisfied.
Three years later the Democratic Party of Japan took power and promised to address Okinawans’ concerns. The party also advocated a more equal bilateral security partnership. But the Obama administration proved to be as intransigent as its predecessor, thwarting the efforts of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, whose party was divided. He eventually resigned.
Since then Tokyo has attempted to implement the relocation agreement, despite strong local opposition, with about 80 percent of Okinawans against the Henoko scheme. Last year Tokyo gained the support of Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima. However, a week ago Naha Mayor Takeshi Onaga defeated Nakaima on an anti-base platform, declaring: “The new military base will not be built.”
In fact, Onaga may only be able to slow the planned move. But he is looking for legal ways to revoke the landfill permit granted by his predecessor. Onaga announced that “I will do everything possible to prevent the construction of a new base in Henoko. Futenma needs to be moved out of the nation and out of the prefecture.”