Japan Pushes Back on US Bases
Has the US Empire of Bases Reached Its High-Water Mark?
Thu Mar. 4, 2010 11:20 AM PSTThis story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.
For a country with a pacifist constitution, Japan is bristling with weaponry. Indeed, that Asian land has long functioned as a huge aircraft carrier and naval base for US military power. We couldn't have fought the Korean and Vietnam Wars without the nearly 90 military bases scattered around the islands of our major Pacific ally. Even today, Japan remains the anchor of what's left of America's Cold War containment policy when it comes to China and North Korea. From the Yokota and Kadena air bases, the United States can dispatch troops and bombers across Asia, while the Yokosuka base near Tokyo is the largest American naval installation outside the United States.
You'd think that, with so many Japanese bases, the United States wouldn't make a big fuss about closing one of them. Think again. The current battle over the Marine Corps air base at Futenma on Okinawa—an island prefecture almost 1,000 miles south of Tokyo that hosts about three dozen US bases and 75% of American forces in Japan—is just revving up. In fact, Washington seems ready to stake its reputation and its relationship with a new Japanese government on the fate of that base alone, which reveals much about US anxieties in the age of Obama.
What makes this so strange, on the surface, is that Futenma is an obsolete base. Under an agreement the Bush administration reached with the previous Japanese government, the US was already planning to move most of the Marines now at Futenma to the island of Guam. Nonetheless, the Obama administration is insisting, over the protests of Okinawans and the objections of Tokyo, on completing that agreement by building a new partial replacement base in a less heavily populated part of Okinawa.
The current row between Tokyo and Washington is no mere "Pacific squall," as Newsweek dismissively described it. After six decades of saying yes to everything the United States has demanded, Japan finally seems on the verge of saying no to something that matters greatly to Washington, and the relationship that Dwight D. Eisenhower once called an "indestructible alliance" is displaying ever more hairline fractures. Worse yet, from the Pentagon's perspective, Japan's resistance might prove infectious—one major reason why the United States is putting its alliance on the line over the closing of a single antiquated military base and the building of another of dubious strategic value.