American forces in Japan
Another lost year
Some unspoken truths about Japan’s security relationship with America
May 26th 2011 | TOKYO | from the print edition
LESS than a month after a new government took office in Japan in September 2009, American officials talked their Japanese counterparts through a longstanding frustration: stalled plans to build a new airbase for American marines on the southern island of Okinawa. According to confidential minutes of the meeting sent to Washington, DC by the American embassy in Tokyo, leaked by WikiLeaks, Kurt Campbell, an assistant secretary of state, said a new airstrip was necessary because of China’s growing military strength. But that could not be discussed publicly, “for obvious reasons”.
A few months later Mr Campbell went further, according to another cable. Because of potential threats from North Korea, China and elsewhere, America and Japan faced “the most challenging security environment” in 50 years. However, he said the messages to the public often glossed over that reality. Presumably that too was to avoid offending China, even though it would have helped Okinawans to understand why the new facility is deemed so important.
Exactly a year ago both allies agreed to push ahead with the plan to shut down the Futenma airbase in a dangerously overcrowded part of Okinawa and rebuild it in a less populated area, by the beach at Henoko (see map). They also aimed to move thousands of marines and their families to the American territory of Guam, mostly paid for by Japan. Five days later Yukio Hatoyama, Japan’s then prime minister, resigned, in part because of his broken promise to the people of Okinawa to move the base off the island altogether.
Today the two sides are no closer to implementing the plan than they were on the day it was signed. Okinawans still fiercely oppose it, despite collusion by American and Japanese officials and politicians to put as rosy a spin on the details as possible.
For instance, the WikiLeaks cables show that the number of marines and their dependents slated for removal to Guam has been inflated in order to soften opposition. Last year’s agreement mentions the removal of about 8,000 marines and 9,000 dependents. But an American embassy cable in 2009 says that when the plan was formulated in 2006, “both the 8,000 and 9,000 numbers were deliberately maximised to optimise political value in Japan.” Okinawa officials suspect that the number of Guam-bound marines may be as few as 3,000—if they go at all.
When it came to power in 2009, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which had opposed the relocation plan in opposition, came under intense pressure from Washington to push ahead with it. American officials urged the new government not to discuss alternatives in public, warning of a strong American reaction if it did, according to WikiLeaks. Yet this month three senators including Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and John McCain, the committee’s ranking Republican, went public with their own alternative, describing the current Futenma relocation plan as “unrealistic, unworkable and unaffordable”. In Japan their views have caused a stir.
当计划在2009年实行时，当时的执政党为反对迁移基地计划的日本民主党，该党感受到华盛顿方面对推行这一计划的巨大压力。根据维基解密，美国官员催促日本政府不要公开讨论备选方案，并且警告日本如果公开讨论那么美国就会“大动作”。 然而本月，三名参议员包括参议员军事委员会主席卡尔??列文（Carl Levin）和委员会的资深共和党约翰??麦凯恩（John McCain）公开了他们的备选方案，这个方案把普天间迁移计划描述为“不现实、没作用并且负担不起”的计划。在日本，他们的观点引起了轰动。
The senators argue that instead of building a costly new facility, the marines should be moved to a huge existing base in Okinawa called Kadena, and that part of the American air force currently at Kadena should be relocated to Guam. Okinawans living near Kadena stridently oppose the marines, but the senators say the idea could free up land and reduce noise levels around Kadena. Moreover, the senators say, with the huge costs of the March earthquake and tsunami, Japan can hardly afford to add to its fiscal burden. The third senator, Jim Webb, adds that Robert Gates, America’s outgoing defence secretary, is “very open to our suggestions”.
参议员认为，与其修建开销巨大的新基地，不如让海军搬到在冲绳嘉手纳（Kadena）已经修建好的巨大军事基地，而在这个基地的部分美国空军可以撤离到关岛。居住在嘉手纳附近的冲绳岛居民反对海军的到来，但是参议员说这个提议能腾出土地并且减少嘉手纳附近的噪音等级。此外，参议员说由于三月地震和海啸的巨大开销，日本很难承受的起撤离计划的财政负担。第三位参议员吉姆??韦伯（Jim Webb）补充道：“美国即将离任的国防部长罗伯特??盖茨（Robert Gates）非常同意我们的建议。”
All the same, this week Japanese and American officials, including Mr Campbell, reaffirmed their commitment to the relocation plan, as if the senators’ idea was off the table. Yet no one thinks the original deadline of 2014 for moving the base will be met. Indeed, given the opposition in Okinawa, perhaps Futenma’s replacement at Henoko will never be built. In which case, Kadena may prove the only option. It seems as foolhardy not to discuss the option as it is to maintain such an awkward silence over China’s rise.