Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Defense Secretary's Firm Stance On Okinawa Good For Guam Buildup

Defense Secretary's Firm Stance On Okinawa Good For Guam Buildup

Wednesday, 21 October 2009 10:40

Gates Lays It Straight: Defense Secretary Defends Security Alliance In Talks With Japan Foreign Minister

By Jeff Marchesseault

GUAM - When it comes to Guam's forthcoming $15 billion military buildup, the Department of Defense must balance its plans on island with the security of Asia, the Pacific, the Eastern Hemisphere and the world. Although Guam's civilian and economic needs are paramount for residents, there's a lot more at play when it comes to protecting the interests of our nation and the freedom of the world.

Staying On Message

Nevertheless, the 71 percent* of islanders who support Guam's buildup in the name of patriotism and opportunity can be grateful that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is standing by his word in Japan this week. He told reporters on the plane to Tokyo that he would tell Japan's top officials that America aims to uphold its end of the bargain on U.S. troop reconfiguration between Okinawa and Guam and on other bilateral defense issues and that he expects Japan to do the same. And that's just what he did yesterday while meeting with Japan Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. He reportedly plans to tow the Pentagon line again today in his meeting with new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

Buildup In The Balance

Gates realizes that much is at stake if the U.S. doesn't draw the line with Hatoyama's new left-of-center government. The Democratic Party of Japan and its liberal coalition have stuck to pre-election plans to begin reconsidering the value of certain aspects of the U.S.-Japan security alliance and to start crafting and implementing a uniquely Japanese foreign policy, without weakening Japan's strong economic and defense ties to the U.S.

Among the coalition's concerns are details of a 2006 accord in which Japan's previous, more-conservative government agreed with the United States that the Marine Corps' Futenma Air Staion would be shut down and relocated from the crowded Okinawa city of Ginowan and moved to remote Camp Schwab in a coastal, peninsular area of Okinawa.

Some leading Japanese officials still want the air base removed from Okinawa entirely. But Gates and other U.S. officials insist that no viable alternative exists and that once any such key, interdependent component of the accord is changed, the whole plan becomes null and void. And Gates surmises that Congress won't let the Guam buildup happen until they know Japan's new government supports keeping Futenma's replacement facility within some reasonable spot in Okinawa.

*Note: A recent Guam Chamber of Commerce survey showed that as much as 71 percent of Guam's population supports the military buildup.

Here is the State Department's official news report covering Secretary Gate's visit with Japan Foreign Minister Okada:

Gates: 'No Alternatives' To US-Japan Security Accord

By Al Pessin, Tokyo

Voice Of America / 20 October 2009 - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Japan's new leaders Tuesday the Obama administration is committed to implementing a wide-ranging defense agreement reached by the previous American and Japanese governments, which some in Japan's new ruling party would like to change. Secretary Gates says there are "no alternatives" to the complex agreement.

Like the Obama Administration, Japan's new government ran hard against its predecessor's policies and put many of them under review when it took office. Secretary Gates says he understands that, but he told Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada the United States is committed to moving forward with the existing security realignment.

"We in President Obama's administration understand what it is like to go through a transition period. And, as your government exercises its new responsibilities, I want you to know the United States stands with you and we are committed to advancing and implementing our agreed alliance transformation agenda," he said.

Earlier, on board his aircraft flying to Tokyo, Secretary Gates was more direct.

"We need to progress with the agreement that was negotiated. This has been a negotiation in the works for 15 years,"he stated. "All of the elements of it are interlocking. And, so it is important to continue with it. There really, as far as we're concerned, are no alternatives to the arrangement that was negotiated."

Secretary Gates says all possible alternatives were explored during the long negotiations and all are either "politically untenable or operationally unworkable." And although U.S. officials say small adjustments may be possible in the specific plan for an air base in northern Okinawa, Secretary Gates said he doubts the U.S. Congress would agree to significant changes in the agreement, particularly if they would cost the United States more money.

Among many changes to the configuration of U.S. forces in Japan, the agreement involves moving nearly half the 18,000 Marines now stationed on Okinawa to Guam; closing an air field in a populated area and building a new one on an existing U.S. base in the northern part of the island. American officials say the agreement benefits both sides, and any significant change could unravel the whole deal.

The newly ruling Democratic Party of Japan ran in part on a platform that advocated a more assertive policy toward the United States. One of its first acts was to announce it would end Japan's naval operation that refuels coalition supply ships heading to and from Afghanistan - a move seen by some in Japan as an expression of independence from U.S. policies.

But Secretary Gates - on the first visit to Tokyo by a senior U.S. official since the new Japanese government took office - says he will remind the new Japanese leaders that Afghanistan is a NATO and coalition effort and that Japan's refueling mission did more to help other countries than it did to help the United States directly.

"A number of countries benefit more from the refueling than the United States does. And, so I don't see the refueling as being a favor to the United States but rather a contribution that the Japanese have made that is commensurate with its standing as in the world as the second wealthiest country and one of the great powers," he said.

Still, Secretary Gates says he went to Japan with a "menu" of options for how the country can be helpful by, among other things, providing trainers for the Afghan security forces and donating money for development projects.

Here is the Defense Department's official news report covering Secretary Gate's visit with Japan Foreign Minister Okada:

Gates To Urge Japan To Stand By Existing Security Pacts

By Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

TOKYO, Oct. 20, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he looks forward to building on the strong U.S.-Japan security relationship during his meetings here with the new Japanese government, but that he plans to urge its leaders to leave intact security arrangements that have been years in the making.

Gates, the first U.S. Cabinet member to visit since the new Japanese Democratic Party government took office last month, told reporters he understands Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's interest in reviewing certain policies. "President [Barack] Obama's administration has done the same thing," he said.

But during his meeting today with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, and tomorrow's sessions with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, Gates said he would urge the new leaders to leave existing security agreements in place.

"We are committed to advancing and implementing our agreed alliance transformation agenda," Gates told Okada today at the Foreign Ministry.

At issue is Hatoyama's interest in re-examining the 2006 U.S.-Japan Roadmap for Realignment and Implementation, which outlines a major strategic repositioning of alliance forces.

The agreement includes plans to move thousands of U.S. forces from southern Okinawa, consolidate numerous bases, build a new runway to the north at Camp Schwab to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, and relocate 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam.

Ultimately, the plan would relocate U.S. servicemembers from the heavily populated southern part of Okinawa and reduce the Marine troops on Okinawa from 18,000 to 10,000, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell explained. The deadline for the plan to be implemented is 2014 -- "a very ambitious goal" that's achievable, he said, but only if it continues moving forward on schedule.

Gates told reporters during the flight here the security agreements can't be picked apart piece by piece.

"This has been a negotiation in the works for 15 years," he said. "All of the elements of it are interlocking, and so it is important to continue with it."

The agreement is highly complex, the result of extensive negotiations that resolved numerous strategic, military and political issues, a senior defense official traveling with Gates told reporters. "If one starts into minor adjustments, it's not a minor adjustment," he said. "It becomes a cascading series of other decisions that have to be made."

Gates said options being voiced to change agreed-upon plans - from changing the location of the proposed runway at Camp Schwab to cancelling its construction altogether and moving Futenma's operations to Kadena Air Base -- simply won't work.

"We've looked over the years at all these alternatives, and they are either politically untenable or operationally unworkable, so we need to proceed with the agreement as negotiated," Gates said. "There really ... are no alternatives to the arrangement that was negotiated."

Not going forward as previously agreed to would have a ripple effect, Gates said.

"It is hard for me to believe that the [U.S.] Congress would support going forward in Guam without real progress with respect to the Futenma replacement facility," he said.

Ultimately, Gates said he has "every confidence" that both the United States and Japan "will fulfill the commitments they have made in this agreement" as they work toward strengthening their bilateral relationship.

"I think there are some real opportunities going forward," he said, with "further cooperation and partnership with one of our strongest allies."

During his meeting today with Okada, Gates called the upcoming 50th anniversary of the treaty of mutual cooperation and security between the United States and Japan an appropriate time to recognize "all we have achieved together, and more importantly, all that we will accomplish together in the future."

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