Wednesday, December 09, 2009

NY Times: New Okinawa-Guam Transfer Plan By Next Week

NY Times: New Okinawa-Guam Transfer Plan By Next Week

Hatoyama Will Present Japan's Buildup Alternatives To Obama During Copenhagen Summit

What Effect The New Ideas Could Have On Guam's Buildup Is Anyone's Guess

Written by Jeff Marchesseault, Guam News Factor Staff Writer
Wednesday, 09 December 2009 22:00

GUAM - If all goes as hoped, President Obama could be reviewing a set of alternative proposals to the 2006 Okinawa-Guam transfer agreement by as early as next week, according to the New York Times:

[Japan Prime Minister Yukio] Hatoyama said he may seek a meeting with Mr. Obama during the climate change conference in Copenhagen to relay the proposals directly to him.

But there is little indication of what's inside the highly secretive package. And there's a lot of doubt about what impact it could possibly have on the current bilateral accord to reduce the civilian burden of hosting American forces in metropolitan Okinawa. But depending on how determined Japan is to nerve this endeavor, it could delay the $15 billion buildup on Guam, now scheduled for 2010-14.

As U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has stated publicly, there can be no military expansion on Guam without a solid plan to realign American forces within Okinawa. The two undertakings are not mutually exclusive, but inextricably interdependent and intertwined.

In the wake of Gates's and other U.S. Cabinet officials' stick to-the-plan adamance, the Government of Japan is naturally keeping its cards close to the vest and keeping its sights set on dealing only at the highest executive and military levels. On Wednesday, after meeting with Governor Camacho (and with no reported plans to brief the Legislature), Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa's remarks to local media during his fact-finding mission on Guam were brief, self-assured and corseted.

Asked whether he thought Guam to be a suitable place to relocate a U.S. air base from Okinawa ostensibly to relieve stress in a crowded part of that prefecture, Kitazawa managed to murmur in lighthearted agreement as he exited Adelup to climb in back of the consul-general's sedan. Then he and his entourage were whisked away to tour Big Navy and Andersen Air Force Base with officials from the Pentagon's Joint Guam Program Office.

Few facts have been made public on the Defense Minister's tour as his premier puts the finishing touches on a much-anticipated presentation to an American president.

A Protracted Moment Of Indecision

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has faced the withering confidence and muted wrath of U.S. officials since being elected to power a hundred days ago.

The U.S. and Japan have been at loggerheads over the newly minted Japan government's waffling, uncertainties and contradictions about America's cast-in-iron force realignment objectives in the Pacific. The 2006 agreement to remove a noisy, outmoded Marine Corps air station from the middle of Okinawa's Ginowan City and rebuild it to modern warfare standards in a remote, coastal area of the prefecture has been nearly 20 years in the making. It's taken that long to vet, negotiate and come to the verge of implementing.

The two-nation pact would also reduce the number of Marines in Okinawa by more than 8,000. And the troops would take along with them about 9,000 dependents, plus full-time civilian staff, an endless supply of accouterments, a bevvy of well-oiled war machines, a regimen of active training, and an appetite for all the lifestyle, quality housing, goods and services they can afford.

It Ain't Perfect, But It's Sure Good Enough To Go

In the eyes of the U.S. Government, the present accord isn't as bad for Japan as the Hatoyama Administration, its new coalition supporters, and many Okinawans have sometimes made it out to be. Sure, there will be environmental impacts to assess with the relocation of Futenma Air Station to coastal Nago at Camp Schwab in Okinawa. But the environment for thousands of Okinawans will improve immeasurably when Futenma closes and the Marine Corps' low-flying battle choppers can begin helipadding on reclaimed land in the Oura Bay, instead of in congested Ginowan City. And, rest assured, as a sovereign nation that makes its own laws, Japan can require as much environmental scrutiny as it deems necessary before the relocation proceeds as planned.

Furthermore, with the 2006 accord and a supporting followup agreement signed in February of this year (before Hatoyama's Democratic Party took power), the U.S. and Japan have effectively negotiated the reduction of the U.S. armed forces population in Okinawa by nearly 20,000 people within a five-year window. If that's not a load off Okinawa's chest, then any further reduction might beckon the question, "does Japan want American protection or not?"

Given these circumstances, it's understandable why exasperation levels in U.S. diplomatic and defense circles have risen. During his official visit to Tokyo last month, just before departing for China on his whirlwind tour of East Asia, Obama dropped a poignant reminder on Hatoyama's cabinet: the presence of U.S. forces in Japan is largely responsible for Japan's post-WWII economic miracle. His parting remarks could not have been better timed, nor more appropriate.

Tomodachi Mustn't Bite Uncle Sam's Hand

Bottom line? Japan must decide now whether it's willing to do what's necessary to sustain a protective U.S. military presence within its borders. In forging a more sovereign foreign policy under a newly dominant political party with fresh, progressive ideas, Japan must find a way to meet national objectives without overplaying its hand.

Insisting that the U.S. rethink the tactics that are the outward manifestation of a long-term strategy that includes the protection of Japan is like biting the hand that feeds them. If Japan fails to offer a viable alternative to the bilateral Okinawa-Guam transfer agreement, the consequences could be dire. And if the new Japan government continues to disagree with its national protector on the tenants of a nation-to-nation accord that has taken two decades to begin implementing, then it can't be much longer before the U.S. begins to think twice about what it stands to gain by continuing to defend so thoroughly a nation that harbors objectives outside the scope of America's defensive, commercial, humanitarian, democratic and peaceful interests in the Pacific.

Perhaps fittingly, it now appears Prime Minister Hatoyama is finding his footing in the race to calm the waters before the U.S. begins questioning the value of its longstanding security and trade partnership with Japan. He is pushing his Cabinet for worthwhile alternative solutions. If their solutions show the kind of intuition, insight and informed perspective that can help the alliance carry out the realignment without sacrificing the strategy objectives and the valuable resources already committed, then a new and improved transfer can proceed. If Japan's ideas prove untenable and out of touch, and Japan's new government remains implacable, then you can count on Guam buildup delays.

During his recent trip to Tokyo, Obama also expressed confidence in Japan's government to do the right thing. For the security of the region, let us hope his confidence is well placed.

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