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Robert D. Eldridge speaks to the American Chamber of Commerce on Okinawa Friday. An expert on the U.S.-Japan security alliance, he says the interim report on realigning U.S. troops in Japan is a “fiasco.”
Robert D. Eldridge speaks to the American Chamber of Commerce on Okinawa Friday. An expert on the U.S.-Japan security alliance, he says the interim report on realigning U.S. troops in Japan is a “fiasco.” (David Allen / S&S)

GINOWAN, Okinawa — An American professor who has studied the U.S.-Japan security alliance says the bilateral plan to realign U.S. troops in Japan — especially on Okinawa — is a “fiasco.”

Speaking at a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Okinawa on Friday, Robert D. Eldridge said the report of the Security Consultative Committee on realignment, released in Washington last weekend, has “the real potential to politically, militarily and strategically weaken the alliance.”

“In the race to complete the interim report come hell or high water, policy-makers appear to be moving ahead with a poorly set-out set of recommendations whose premises are mistaken, methodology faulty and thus its conclusions flawed,” said Eldridge, an associate professor at the School of International Public Policy at Osaka University.

Eldridge recently completed a year’s sabbatical with headquarters of Marine Corps Forces Pacific in Hawaii and has spent the past 10 years studying the history of the security alliance, with emphasis on how it affects Okinawa.

He said Okinawa “has been a cancer eating away at the alliance since the return of the prefecture to Japan in 1972”and that various plans to close Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and move operations to a new base in northern Okinawa — first suggested in 1996 — “ended up causing the cancer to spread.”

There is too much local opposition to the new plan to build a heliport on Camp Schwab for it to succeed, he added.

U.S. Forces Japan officials did not attend Eldridge’s speech and declined to comment, as did the Pentagon.

“We don’t make comment about people’s opinion,” said Army Lt. Col. Brian Maka, a Pentagon spokesman.

Despite Japanese opposition to the report on realignment, released Oct. 29, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Fukushiro Nukaga, Japan’s new Defense Agency chief, said last week all that’s left to be done is to iron out the details for the final report, due this spring.

Eldridge said he believes the plan to move the III Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters to Guam will weaken the alliance’s rapid response capability.

About 7,000 Marines are to move with the headquarters, costing the Japanese government an estimated $3 billion to $3.5 billion.

Eldridge said he supports a plan proposed by an Okinawan businessman in 1994, and backed by the Chamber of Commerce, to build a huge military base on reclaimed land on a dead coral reef off Okinawa’s Yokatsu Peninsula, the site of the White Beach Naval Facility. The base could be used jointly by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and would replace the Naha Military Port, Camp Kinser, MCAS Futenma, Camp Courtney and the JASDF air base at Naha and several other Japan self-defense force bases.

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