Friday, January 08, 2010

Buildup/Breakdown #1 : US - Japan Relations

We've known for more than four years now that massive changes would be coming to Guam by 2014, because of certain decisions made by the United States (and Japan) to massively increase the size and scope of the American military presence on Guam. What is already known as "the tip of America's spear" will over the next five years will be sharpened even more, and will soon include a berth for aircraft carriers, a missile defense task force and close to 9,000 Marines and their dependents.

Although the military buildup has been a constant topic of discussion and debate since 2005 when it was first announced, there was always this sort of reserved, removed calm in most people's faces and minds. Either it wouldn't be as bad as some crazy activists were saying, or it would make the island's economic dreams come true by bringing in "billions" of dollars and probably billions of jobs too. Everyone "knew" it would be big, but it was only people like myself who were openly critical of it, who were talking about how it would not only be big but dangerous and damaging as well.

Since the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the military buildup last November, most of the things which I have been saying for four years, are now being said by most of the island. There is plenty of fear, resentment, anger and concern out there and from sectors of Guam's society which I never imagined it might come from.

The impetus for this first post titled "Buildup/Breakdown" is to chronicle the shifts that are taking place in Guam right how because of the buildup. Despite the claim by many that the buildup can't be stopped or is a done deal or that there's nothing we can do about it, there is more and more evidence that not only can it not happen, or can be stopped, but that it can be changed and stalled. The apparent largeness of something is often its most simple but still most effective defense. When something appears overwhelming and overpowering is can appear to be without end, without the possibility of an alternative or without any real loose threads which when pulled can unravel the entire thing.

In this post I'm going to paste some articles about the US-Japan relations component of the buildup, which is basically the force which holds the most power in making the buildup happen or not. When people ask me if the buildup could be stopped, I say of course it could. When people ask me if the buildup could be stalled or changed, I say the same, of course. But, then I follow up with the point that, Guam is in a pretty powerless place because most of the power in stopping or stalling it lies with Japan. The recent change in government in Japan could mean everything with regards to what happens over the next few years. Although right now all that has really changed is the rhetoric from the Japanese government, as time goes on and priorities and economies change who knows what snag the buildup might get caught on?


Standoff on Okinawa base
Washington, Japan agree U.S. facility must move, but can’t agree to where
Associated Press
January 3, 2010

GINOWAN, Japan — When the U.S. took over a Japanese airfield here in the closing days of World War II, it was surrounded by sugarcane fields and the smoldering battlegrounds of Okinawa. It is now the focus of a deepening dispute that is testing Japan’s security alliance with the United States and dividing its new government in Tokyo.

A large city has grown up around the base, and helicopters and cargo planes from the U.S. Marine Corps facility buzz so low over Futenma No. 2 Elementary School, whose playground fence borders the facility, that the windows rattle and teachers stop class until the aircraft are on the ground.

“It’s just too much,” said the school’s vice principal, Muneo Nakamura. “I understand the political role the U.S. bases in Japan play. But we have to live here.”

That Marine Corps Air Station Futenma must go is not the dispute. U.S. military officials agree the base must be moved. The problem is where.

The United States says that Futenma cannot be shut down until a replacement is elsewhere on Okinawa, an idea that most Okinawans oppose. They have the ear of a new left-leaning Japanese government that took office in September and is reassessing the U.S.-Japan alliance.

The standoff has clouded relations between Tokyo and Washington, delayed a plan to restructure America’s military presence in Asia and divided Japan’s political leadership. It comes as China’s rising military strength and North Korea’s nuclear program are changing the security landscape in Asia, underscoring the importance for the U.S. and Japan of keeping the issue from creating a major rift.

In Ginowan, the city of 92,000 where the base is located, patience is wearing thin.

The Futenma facility, home to about 2,000 Marines and one of the Marines’ largest facilities in the Pacific, is surrounded by urban sprawl.

The population density outside the base is roughly equivalent to downtown Tokyo. Intense training by helicopters and planes off a 9,186-foot runway has prompted residents to dub Futenma “the most dangerous base in the world.”

The base takes up roughly a quarter of the city’s land. Residents must drive around it, causing traffic jams, delays and frustration. Sewer and water lines have been detoured around its perimeter.

“This base violates so many regulations and safety rules that it would be illegal to operate it in the United States,” Yoichi Iha, the mayor of Ginowan, told The Associated Press. “The situation has just been left to fester for too long, and no one has been willing to accept responsibility to do anything.”

He also accused the Marines of regularly ignoring agreements on when and where they can fly. The city is installing a $20 million radar system next year to keep tabs on them. A Japanese court ruled last year the noise levels are unacceptable, and ordered the Japanese government to compensate residents. An appeal is ongoing.

Lt. Col. Douglas Powell, a spokesman for the Okinawa Marines, said no flights are conducted after 11 p.m. and the airstrip is closed on Sundays.

“Night training flights are limited to the minimum required to fulfill assigned missions and maintain aircrew proficiency,” he said. “Flight patterns can vary due to weather conditions such as wind velocity and wind direction. Marine Corps pilots make every effort to minimize overflight of civilian population centers, but, first and foremost, must ensure safe flight operations.”

Progress on the Futenma issue has generally only occurred after major incidents have sent Okinawans into the streets in protest.

Following a public uproar over the rape of a local schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor, Tokyo and Washington agreed in 1996 to close the base. The deal bogged down in the details, including finding an alternative site both sides could agree on.

After a helicopter from Futenma crashed on the Okinawa International University campus near the base in August 2004, another agreement was announced in 2006. The university was closed at the time and no one was killed on the ground.

That “strategic roadmap” included moving the facility farther north to a less crowded area and reducing the U.S. presence in Okinawa by transfering 8,000 Marines from Futenma and other bases to Guam, a tiny U.S. territory in the Pacific.

It would be the most sweeping realignment of the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan since the Vietnam War.

But the decision to replace the Futenma base with another on the outskirts of Nago, another Okinawan city, sparked intense protests.

The new base would likely require bulldozing beaches near an existing Marine facility, Camp Schwab.

“We are not going to let them destroy our ocean to build another military base,” said Hiroshi Aratomi, the co-leader of a group that has held a daily sit-in for the past five years. “We will be glad to see Futenma go, but not at the price of simply substituting it with another base in our backyard.”

The protests by Nago residents have effectively thwarted efforts to finally settle on a site and have the sympathy of Okinawans in general, who would prefer that no replacement facility be built on their island at all.

The United States insists the base must stay somewhere on Okinawa so that the Marine units remain cohesive.

Japan’s new government is listening to the protesters, at least for the moment .

In large part, that reflects domestic politics. Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, has threatened to pull her party out of the ruling coalition if the base remains on Okinawa.

Her threat is seen as a major factor behind Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s reluctance to make a decision on the issue.


Has the Obama Administration Been Too Tough on Japan?
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
The Washington Post

JAPAN'S VENTURE into two-party democracy has not looked pretty so far -- especially for those watching from Washington. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has pursued an erratic course in both domestic and foreign policy since his Democratic Party took office in September. Most notably, he triggered a dispute with the Obama administration over U.S. military bases in Japan and then violated both public and private promises to resolve it by the end of 2009. Having campaigned against the corruption of 50 years of rule by the Liberal Democratic Party, Mr. Hatoyama also has been dogged by his own fundraising scandal. Polls show his approval rating has fallen from more than 70 percent to less than 50 percent in just three months.

Like the Japanese public, the Obama administration has not concealed its exasperation. The president and other senior officials visiting the country have repeatedly called for an "expedited" resolution to the base dispute. After the prime minister broke his own deadline just before Christmas and announced that he would postpone the matter for another few months, the Japanese ambassador to Washington was summoned for an unusual démarche by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Pentagon says there is good reason for the impatience. Under a 2006 agreement, 8,000 U.S. Marines now based on the Japanese island of Okinawa are to be relocated to Guam, beginning this year. But that move depends on implementation of a bilateral deal to close a helicopter base that now lies in a heavily populated area, and to build new facilities in another area near the island's coast. If Japan does not move forward on the base agreement, U.S. officials have warned, the troop redeployment may be derailed.

Yet the administration must guard against allowing a diplomatic irritation to escalate into a major crisis with the most important U.S. ally in Asia. Though he has catered to Okinawans who oppose the U.S. military presence, and to nationalists calling for a more equal U.S.-Japanese security relationship, Mr. Hatoyama so far appears committed to the alliance. That's not the case with one of two small parties in his coalition -- which is pressing for the removal of all U.S. troops from Japan. Then there is the Democratic Party's founder and chief power broker, Ichiro Ozawa, who recently visited Beijing with an entourage of 500, and who favors a deepening of Japanese ties to China.

The chances are that if Mr. Hatoyama heads too far in that direction, he will face a rebellion from his own party, not to mention Japanese voters. So the Obama administration would be wise to avoid harsh rhetoric and give the prime minister some space. The reality is that the government cannot go forward with the new basing agreement before an upper-house election, expected late this summer, without endangering its own existence. Japan's nascent two-party system is a democratic achievement, not a diplomatic nuisance; give it a little time to find its course.

1 comment:

Desiree Taimanglo Ventura said...

Thanks for this post Miget. I think there are many like you who feel they have been saying it a while and no one was listening. The difference between you guys and so many others (including me) is that you are part of the small group that was actually DOING SOMETHING for all those years. The "crazy activists" you mentioned have paved a very important road for people like me who were complaining about it, but never really getting out there to do something. I know that I was always too busy tip toeing around what people would think. I still am half the time.

I heard a few in my family voice the same opinion and they were frustrated. I started think about how big a sign it was that we needed to find ways to communicate these shared ideas. I asked my relatives why they felt they were "the only one"; and they said because "no one was doing anything." They asked me why I didn't do anything and my lame excuse was that I thought they didn't want me to do anything. I realized how ridiculous it was! I asked them if they ever reached out to those who were on island trying to garner support and they all had some sort of rationale for why they hadn't connected. "My job, I'm in the military, etc."

For years, my family has explained this was bad for the island to me; and I spoke openly about it in the states, but when I came home, I found they were not as vocal as they were with me. I felt like they changed their minds. I thought I needed to shut up. I remember you once saying that our families are growing with us; and I truly feel that happening. I'm seeing what a huge, disorienting process it can be.

But I think that all of you who have been speaking out have done a wonderful job of inspiring and encouraging people. I know that when I returned and felt my family preferred silence, I was ready to comply. But the more I talked to Vicky, the more I realized that I wanted to stay involved. The more I stayed involved and started talking to my family about it, the more they began to consider the possibility of open discussion.

You guys have done very much to educate, inspire and reach out to people. I'm definitely glad for all the efforts of those who have done so much to pave the way toward the seemingly sudden shared opinion. If not for Vicky and Julian especially, I might have continued on like other residents: complaining in the privacy of my home, but zipping it or pretending I wasn't concerned in public.

I hope that you all continue to share what you know and educate those around you (even when it seems like no one is listening). Sometimes, we just pretend we're not listening when we really are. =o)

- D.


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