Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Japan Steps Closer To Air Base Closure. Will Guam Absorb Even More Marines?

Election-Winning Dems Form Coalition With Pacifist Party.

Social Dems Want Marines Out Of Japan.

By Jeff Marchesseault

GUAM - Evidence is mounting that Japan's incoming government may demand the removal of more U.S. forces from Okinawa and seek further reductions across Japan. And the whole affair is being orchestrated, if not tolerated, by the soon-to-be-ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

Asia, America Ain't Going Anywhere

The crescendo for Department of Defense downsizing in the nation is raising questions about how forcefully the new Japan government will insist on more reductions and where the 'reduced' forces would go if it were even realistic for them to do so in the first place. With the rise of China's naval power, the constant threat of a nuclearized North Korea, and unrest in the Middle East, America can ill afford to scale back from Asia. Though some recently-elected members of Japan's parliament have suggested sending more Japan-based U.S. forces to Guam, that isn't an option at the moment.

Can Guam Really Squeeze In Any More Troops?

With limited ground space on Guam, where DOD has maintained Naval and Air Force installations since World War II and is now set to expand its footprint here during the 2010-2014 buildup of forces, it is unclear how plausible or tenable any added expansion would be. Is it any wonder that U.S.-Philippine relations have been reinvigorated lately by a Presidential-level visit at the White House, top-brass Navy visits to Manila, and U.S.-Philippine trade and investment pitches among Manila, Guam and major metropolitan corporate districts of the United States? It can't hurt to keep certain Asia allies on the friendliest terms within the region.

The Filipino Factor

And it can't be a bad thing to warm up our mutual interests with a nation like the Philippines, which, despite momentary hiccups, has for decades demonstrated its unrelenting commitment to its friendship with America through its fighting alongside U.S. forces during World War II, through its labor sector's rebuilding of post-war Guam, through its hosting of former U.S. military bases at Clark Air Base and Subic Bay, through its teaming with America against terrorist aggression, through its mutual business interests with the United States, and through its aggressive lobbying to provide low-cost, high-quality labor to man Guam's military buildup starting next year.

A Growing Wrinkle

Although 8,000 U.S. Marines and their 17,000 dependents have been set to transfer from Okinawa to Guam for several years, more and more newly empowered leaders in Japan are calling for further force reductions and eyeing Guam as a possible release valve for the transfer of even more American troops away from Japan.

This despite U.S. insistence that there will be no renegotiation of the bilaterally-agreed terms of force reduction in Japan. Years of negotiation between Japan's outgoing Liberal Democratic Party and the United States have rendered a compromise in which the Futenma Air Base in crowded Okinawan city of Ginowan would be relocated to remote, peninusular Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa and 8,000 Marines would go to Guam.

But just ten days after toppling the closely U.S.-allied conservative LDP that ruled Japan for 54 years in landslide elections -- and less than a week after five newly elected Japan Democrats called for the removal of all U.S. forces from Okinawa -- the Democratic Party is now joining forces with the pacifist Social Democrats in a three-party coalition.

Although the newly-coalitioned conservative People's New Party is more concerned with domestic issues, Social Democrats are insisting on further U.S. troop downsizing and increased scrutiny of the 'need' for so many American soldiers in Japan.

Today the Associated Press reports:

...the pacifist Social Democrats are less likely to fall in line. The Social Democrats want the airfield be relocated outside of Japan. Further, they want to re-examine the overall security alliance under which the 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed here.

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