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Prime Minister Hatoyama’s Pursuit of Equity

by Sheila A. Smith
May 18, 2010

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Toru Hanai

There is an abundance of criticism of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama over his handling of the Futenma issue. There seems to be a lot of smug derision and throwing up of hands these days, and the theatrics in the Japanese Diet are getting more and more intense. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be stopping in Tokyo on the 21st of this month, and will undoubtedly witness an intensifying political fray in the parliament as government critics amp up their pre-Upper House electoral campaign.

But Secretary Clinton should take a step back from the intensity of this moment, and the frustrations that attend the bilateral effort to figure out a way forward on Okinawa. The Prime Minister seems to be going at things back to front, but the underlying effort at finding equity in a situation that has long been inequitable ought to be better understood. This is not just a policy debate, it is an issue that reaches deeply into the core understandings over who has benefitted and who has not in Japan’s postwar social compact.

Throughout the recent hullaballoo over new “options” the Japanese media has relentlessly focused on Hatoyama and his inexperienced Kantei team. Japan’s bureaucrats who have worked this issue for decades are frustrated, as are ours.

Even the Japanese public is distressed. The DPJ came into office arguing for greater transparency and accountability, but on this issue those tasked with political management have been deeply disappointed. The Cabinet Secretary as well as the Prime Minister seem to shift gears without discernible reason, seeming disingenuous rather than purposeful, and frustrating other members of the Cabinet.

But when it comes to Okinawa, it is not Prime Minister Hatoyama’s goals that are in question. He wants to disperse the operations carried out by U.S. forces in and around Okinawa, reduce the impact of noisy helicopters and fighter jets on the Okinawan people, and finally address one of the core vulnerabilities of the U.S.-Japan alliance–the concentration of U.S. military forces in one economically weak region of Japan. His government has worked up some new options–different options from the LDP government before his–that will at least partially address Okinawa’s complaints.

What bothers most observers arethe Prime Minister’s  methods. He seems to have antagonized just about everyone involved. Visitor after visitor has left the PM’s office disgruntled, and this includes a wide array of reputed specialists on the Okinawa base issue, and more publicly, the local political leaders of prefectures and townships that seem to be on his list of possible relocation sites for the U.S. Marine helicopters parked at Futenma. Everyone seems to be saying “no, thanks” to the idea of helping the Prime Minister find options beyond the tiny island prefecture that currently hosts 75% – yes, 75% – of the 45,000 or so U.S. military personnel in Japan.

Last Thursday morning, however, the Prime Minister finally had a visitor who left his office saying “yes” to his request for help. Wataru Aso, Governor of Fukuoka Prefecture and current head of the Japan National Governor’s Association, agreed to call a special meeting  of Japan’s governors to discuss the need for mainland cooperation in hosting more U.S. forces. On May 27th, Japan’s governors will gather to talk to Prime Minister Hatoyama, and I expect he will ask those who have Self Defense Force bases in their regions to consider offering up the option of training and temporary co-location to U.S. forces based in Okinawa.

Some governor’s have already spoken out. The conservative governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, has dismissed the idea as “nonsense.” But the governor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, suggested to his fellow governors in the Kansai region that they ought to step up to this national challenge.

The National Governor’s Association is not likely to produce a plan – but will introduce a conversation that really ought to have taken place decades ago.

If Prime Minister Hatoyama is really leading his country to this conversation, then he has my strong endorsement. The key nut to crack at the moment is not how far Marine Corps helicopters should be asked to fly – although I am hoping they can be as flexible in this discussion as they can be in conducting military operations – but whether or not the Japanese people have enough invested in their security relationship with the U.S. to find a solution that does not depend on the long suffering and disadvantaged Okinawans.

This is a question of equity – pure and simple. And if no one in Japan is willing to host the U.S. Marine Corps or U.S. Air Force aircraft, then we will know that we have a deeper challenge to our alliance cooperation than one individual Prime Minister, and a new inexperienced government.

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Angry Jap

    Dr.Sheila A. Smith says “This is a question of equity – pure and simple. And if no one in Japan is willing to host the U.S. Marine Corps or U.S. Air Force aircraft, then we will know that we have a deeper challenge to our alliance cooperation than one individual Prime Minister, and a new inexperienced government.”
    In response,BUSINESS LIBERALISM says “From a view point of purely military effectiveness, I think that all the bases of the US Marines in Okinawa should be moved to Guam, Tinian, and Saipan. Okinawa is too close to China and North Korea. Okinawa bases are easily neutralized by middle range missiles. Also, being surrounded by the people of anti-base sentiments, Okinawa bases can be vulnerable to foreign sabotage attacks. By moving to Guam, Tinian, and Saipan, the US Marines will acquire a more secured ground from which they can launch operations all over the world. Since the major purpose of the US Marines stationed in Okinawa is a training, there is no imperative necessity for them to keep staying in Okinawa.”
    I,as a Tokyoite sympathetic with Okinawa,am very impressed by these rational arguments that befit civilian control and true international democracy,pointing to the only one solution;to move all Marines to Mariana Islands quickly.But,frankly,I wonder whether these views are becoming dominant in the Obama administration itself or just hovering the fringes of Washington establishment.

  • Posted by BUSINESS LIBERALISM

    Dr. Sheila A. Smith pointed out in the last paragraph of her article that “And if no one in Japan is willing to host the U.S. Marine Corps or U.S. Air Force aircraft, then we will know that we have a deeper challenge to our alliance cooperation than one individual Prime Minister, and a new inexperienced government.”

    In my view, despite Prime Minister Hatoyama’s asking for help to the National Governor’s Association, no communities in the mainland Japan would accept the US Marines because the mainland Japanese people are more harsh than the Okinawa people in terms of the so-called NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome.

    Also, the LDP and the Japanese conservatives will try their best to hinder any prefecture from accepting the US Marines so that there would be no choice but the already agreed plan under the LDP government 4 years ago, which will put the continuing burden on the Okinawa people.

    As for Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto’s willingness to host the US Marines, a strong doubt and opposition has already been expressed from the governor of the neighboring prefecture, Toshizo Ido who is on the side of the conservatives and will do everything to block Governor Hashimoto’s plan.

    From a view point of purely military effectiveness, I think that all the bases of the US Marines in Okinawa should be moved to Guam, Tinian, and Saipan. Okinawa is too close to China and North Korea. Okinawa bases are easily neutralized by middle range missiles. Also, being surrounded by the people of anti-base sentiments, Okinawa bases can be vulnerable to foreign sabotage attacks. By moving to Guam, Tinian, and Saipan, the US Marines will acquire a more secured ground from which they can launch operations all over the world. Since the major purpose of the US Marines stationed in Okinawa is a training, there is no imperative necessity for them to keep staying in Okinawa.

    Under these circumstances, what I really want to see is that the US President, the State Department, and the Japanese government work together to exert civilian control over the military, in this case, over the US Marines.

    In other words, what I would like to see is that the President and the State Department strike a deal with the Japanese government under which the Futenma base and other US Marine bases in Okinawa would be moved to Guam, Tinian, and Saipan while Japan, in return, would accept requests from the United States for the sake of a more global-level alliance cooperation.

    The US government may request additional Japanese financial contribution to support Afghanistan and Pakistan. Or, they may request Japanese burden sharing in the coming grand-bargain with North Korea. Or, they may request a more active Japanese role in the Iran nuclear issue. Or, they may request more Japanese contribution to tackling global warming.

    Before the US and Japanese governments reach an agreement, the US government should sound China as to what kind of action they would take if the US Marine bases in Okinawa are to be moved to Guam, Tinian, and Saipan. China should answer that they would welcome the movement and that they would also contribute to more peaceful situations of East Asia by, for example, slowing the pace of military build-up in Shandong Peninsula.

    I have been thinking that US military forces need to concentrate upon operations in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa where mineral resources are abundant and that they should relatively reduce their presence in East Asia. East Asia is an engine of world economic growth. It should not be a theater of military confrontation.

    ——————————————–
    For your information, “BUSINESS LIBERALISM” is a different person from “Angry Jap” although his comment looks very similar to mine.

  • Posted by Mika Craney

    Once again, your article is very nice!

  • Posted by Orwell

    Pursuit of equity is misleading and unfounded. Over presence of American military itself is unbalanced and monstrous.
    Even after the cease of the Cold War, Americans piled up a series of new bases overseas. some are constructed for the benefit of Business-military complex. Okinawa is a typical accumulation. Equity exists in the closure of the Futenma air base. Japan should defend herself without relying on the foreign expedition force.
    Rather US and Japan should seek reliable relations based on the Democracy principles and mutual respect. Master and servant relations cannot survive.

  • Posted by Cleopatra Hallock

    nice blog, rss following now

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