Congress looks to freeze funding for Pacific realignment
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 13, 2011
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Congress is poised to freeze funding for a multi-billion-dollar realignment of U.S. military forces in Japan and Guam under a defense budget bill hammered out Monday.
A House-Senate conference committee agreed to block realignment spending in the 2012 Pentagon budget until the military provides better planning and shows a fuller picture of costs.
The bill would slice about $150 million from the defense budget and reflects Senate efforts over the past nine months to pump the brakes on the planned shift of 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam.
The defense authorization bill must pass a final vote in Congress before going to President Barack Obama for signature. The White House has criticized the funding freeze as an unnecessary restriction on the realignment agreement with Japan. Obama already has threatened to veto the entire bill on another issue – the military detention of Americans accused of terrorism.
Under the bill issued Monday, Congress would withhold any funding until the Department of Defense finishes a master plan for the historic shift of forces complete with cost estimates and until the commandant of the Marine Corps submits an ideal force layout in the Asia-Pacific region.
The full cost of the plan to move Marine forces off Okinawa and build up Guam into a military hub in the Pacific has never been fully determined by the DOD but could cost the U.S. and Japan nearly $24 billion over the coming decade, according to an analysis this year by the Government Accountability Office.
The two countries agreed to the shift in 2006 after years of outcry from Okinawa over the large military presence here. But Tokyo – and now the new administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda – has made little progress on the plan due to deep opposition from Okinawa over the decision to keep air operations now located at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on the island.
Noda has promised to finish up an environmental assessment this year, which is a crucial first step toward relocating the controversial air station farther north on Okinawa, but his defense chief is under pressure from Diet to step down following incendiary comments made by a subordinate defense bureau chief last month that compared the Futenma move to rape.
Meanwhile, Guam has been cautiously pressing for the federal government to move forward with the buildup and has been hoping to get funding to upgrade civilian infrastructure to support a massive increase in its military population, which now includes Andersen Air Base and Naval Base Guam.
Military plans for the island include the relocation of Marines, training ranges on nearby Tinian, transient berthing for aircraft carriers, and an Air Force reconnaissance and strike center.
Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo issued a statement saying she strongly opposes a funding freeze on the Guam buildup over the coming year.
“The bill delays the inevitable investments that are necessary on Guam to support realignment of forces, and it sends the wrong message to Japan at a critical time in the process for the Prime Minister to achieve progress in Okinawa,” Bordallo said.