Independent review supports Pacific realignment plans
Stars and Stripes
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — An independent review submitted to Congress and made public Friday supports plans to relocate U.S. military forces in the Pacific over criticism from some lawmakers that the realignment is unaffordable and unrealistic.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank, recommended the U.S. continue to follow an April agreement with Japan to relocate the Futenma air station farther north on Okinawa and transfer 9,000 Marines to Guam and elsewhere in the Pacific.
The Senate pushed to freeze all realignment spending until the CSIS review of the Department of Defense plans was completed. Some lawmakers saw it as a way to force the military to consider alternate plans for deploying forces at the Futenma base and on Guam, projects with shifting price tags that have racked up years of delays due to public opposition in Japan.
“We are pleased that the CSIS study supports the department’s strategy for the Asia-Pacific, our approach to U.S. defense posture in the region, and the importance of having forces forward to engage with allies and partners,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in written comments sent to Congress and released to Stars and Stripes by DOD spokeswoman Maj. Catherine Wilkinson.
The think tank, DOD and some members of Congress had declined to release the review. Over 100 pages of the review were released to the media Friday by Guam’s representative in Congress.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., along with powerful colleagues in the Senate Committee on Armed Services, spearheaded the congressional call for review of the realignment. His office was not immediately available for comment Friday.
The U.S. and Japan announced a new agreement on the Pacific realignment in April that the allies said would cost $8.6 billion and shift about 9,000 Marines off Okinawa while redeploying about 5,000 to Guam. The remainder would likely be divided between Hawaii and a new joint base in Darwin, Australia.
“These plans are at the center of a logjam between DOD, which would like to implement them, and the Congress, which is reluctant to authorize funding absent better details about cost and long-term master plans,” the CSIS review found.
To break the logjam, the think tank suggested DOD create specific milestone goals for the Pacific realignment and Congress approve funding incrementally as each goal is achieved. It also said the department should provide an annual update to lawmakers on its progress.
But few changes ought to be made to the realignment plans, the review found.
It said the U.S. should stick to its troubled effort to close Futenma and move the Marine Corps flight operations to the Camp Schwab base on the coast of northern Okinawa. Despite facing strong political head winds, the move to Schwab remains the most viable option and progress on the move may still be possible, the review found.
All other options for relocating Futenma have significant drawbacks, including suggestions by members of Congress that the military move the air station a few miles up the road to Kadena Air Base, the think tank said.
“Integrating Marine functions at Futenma into operations at Kadena Air Base also faces stiff and almost uniform local and national opposition due to concerns about noise and safety,” the review said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. should begin construction work on Guam by prioritizing critical upgrades such as pipelines and roads that will be necessary even if the U.S. ultimately decides to redeploy fewer than the 5,000 Marines now envisioned, the think tank said.