GUAM Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo last week said a recent letter sent by U.S. Senator Jim Webb to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta regarding the realignment of U.S. forces in Okinawa “gives false hope that the issue of realigning U.S. forces in Japan can be revisited.”
In addition, Bordallo said the letter is “unhelpful to Japan Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s efforts in trying to obtain consensus on these issues in Japan.”
In his letter, Webb urged Panetta to “re-examine carefully” alternatives to resolve the 15-year dispute surrounding U.S. military bases in Okinawa, stating the dispute is “the most serious defense and foreign policy issue facing our foremost ally in the Pacific.”Last Friday, Panetta left for the Asia-Pacific region to attend meetings in Tokyo with Japanese government officials.
Webb wrote that the U.S. alliance with Japan “has long served as an absolutely crucial element in guaranteeing the stability of East Asia ... but despite well-intentioned efforts on both sides, there are credible concerns that the provisions of the 2006 agreement between our two national governments are not capable of a timely, cost-effective, politically agreeable and strategically viable implementation.”
Webb further wrote that the U.S.’ failure to resolve “the issue of American bases on Okinawa has resulted in a volatile political debate in Japan, the implications of which should not be underestimated by American leaders. It is in our national interest that this matter be resolved both quickly and smartly, for the well-being of our alliance and the stability of the region.”
Webb mentioned in his letter that five months ago, he, along with Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, sent recommendations to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
“With regard to basing in Okinawa, we recommended that the Department examine the feasibility of moving U.S. Marine Corps aviation assets assigned at Futenma into Kadena Air Base, while dispersing a percentage of Air Force assets now at Kadena to other locations in the Pacific region, including Andersen Air Force Base in Guam,” wrote Webb.
Webb said his recommendations were based on many years “of careful consideration dating to my time in the Pacific as a military planner during the 1970s,” in addition to two visits to Okinawa and Guam during the past 20 months.
“I have also made three visits to Tokyo during that period, and have hosted numerous meetings with Japanese officials here in Washington. I believe this alternative for Futenma is the most workable, cost-effective and least intrusive approach to resolving the most serious defense and foreign policy issue facing our foremost ally in the Pacific region.”
Webb stated he was aware that resolving the Okinawa basing issue would require stiff political debate with different interest groups in the U.S. and in Japan. Webb wrote he was also aware that any change in the American basing structure threatens institutional "turf" areas within the U.S. military.
Webb added, “At the same time, Senator Levin and I were told repeatedly by officials at the highest level of DOD and the uniformed military that there are deep concerns regarding the affordability and workability of the 2006 Roadmap Agreement for basing on Okinawa and Guam, even though our two national governments seem unable to admit this publicly. Thus, my sole purpose in raising this matter with you is to encourage the formulation of a reasonable and timely solution that will guarantee a credible U.S. presence in this vital part of the world, well into the future. I would suggest that you seriously re-examine carefully the proposals that Senators Levin, McCain and I put forward last May.
I would also suggest that you look at the possibility of our military contingency plans including the option of sharing non-American aviation facilities on Okinawa, which were specifically called for in the 2006 Roadmap Agreement.”Webb further wrote, “As you know, the Senate has expressed strong interest in these matters, as reflected in legislative provisions in both the Senate versions of the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act and the Fiscal Year 2012 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. I hope you will keep this in mind during your discussions with government officials in Japan.”