USFJ: Realignment course still uncharted
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — While bilateral negotiations continue behind closed doors on plans to realign U.S. troops in Japan, all kinds of leaked proposals are making their way into the Japanese press.
Trouble is, U.S. and Japan officials say, the sources are always unnamed and the plans put forth as fact are only a few of the options being discussed.
Over the weekend, the Daily Yomiuri reported that a bilateral agreement has been reached on relocating the headquarters of the III Marine Expeditionary Force to Guam, shifting 3,000 to 5,000 Marines to the U.S. territory.
Meanwhile, the Asahi Shimbun reported that Japan, “under strong pressure from the United States,” has decided to “seriously study” a U.S. proposal to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a smaller base than originally planned to be built on reclaimed land and a reef in the waters of northeast Okinawa.
According to reports, the smaller base would have a runway of no more than 1,500-feet, instead of the original 2,500-foot runway, and would not be a joint-use facility.
A U.S. Forces Japan spokeswoman in Tokyo on Tuesday said nothing’s been written in concrete.
“We are not aware of any decisions made during the talks,” Marine Maj. Richelle Dowdell said. “However, we are always looking for ways to improve our force structure overseas.”
The United States remains committed, she said, to “improve our bilateral capabilities here and to accomplish our mission in the defense of Japan and maintaining regional stability.”
The Pentagon dismissed the rumors as baseless speculation, and said no official comments on the matter would be issued until negotiations are complete.
A Marine spokesman on Okinawa said no one at III MEF on Camp Courtney was aware of any proposals to move its headquarters to Guam.
A spokesman for the Status of Forces Agreement Division of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo said “various ideas have been studied.”
“However, we are not at the stage to say which idea or plan has been finalized,” he said. “The realignment has two goals, which are to maintain the deterrence power and to reduce the burden (of hosting U.S. troops) on the local communities. Taking various and every possible opportunity, we are exchanging opinions. We are not at a stage to mention anything specific.”
Masaaki Gabe, professor of International Relations at University of the Ryukyus, sees two reasons for the flurry of “leaks” reported in the Japanese press.
The first is to send up a trial balloon to judge the sense of the communities hosting the bases.
“Various ideas have surfaced, one after another,” he said. “And every one of them met opposition from a local community involved and, as a result, the idea was abandoned.”
He said such leaks are engineered by one side or the other to scrap options.
“If someone thinks the proposal is not desirable, he can leak it to media so that it would invite opposition from the local community and eventually the idea will be scrapped,” he said.
The three phases of the realignment talks are to redefine the strategic goals of the two countries, role-sharing between the U.S. and Japanese military forces and the closure and consolidation of individual military installations, he said.
“So far, there has been little mention of the second phase — role sharing,” Gabe said. “This means that there is, perhaps, a fundamental conflict between the governments on this issue.