Rethink U.S. military base plans for Japan
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda prior to their talks at Noda's office in Tokyo on October 25, 2011. Panetta arrived in Japan on October 24 for a three-day visit. (Getty Images)
November 4th, 2011
06:45 PM ET

Rethink U.S. military base plans for Japan

Editor's Note: Mike Mochizuki is Associate Dean, Professor, and Sigur Chair at George Washington University specializing in U.S.-Japan relations; Michael O'Hanlon is senior fellow at Brookings and author of The Wounded Giant: America's Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mike Mochizuki and Michael O'Hanlon.

By Mike Mochizuki and Michael O'Hanlon – Special to CNN

On his inaugural trip to Asia as secretary of defense, Leon Panetta offered reassuring words throughout the region that America’s presence in the Western Pacific will not decline as a result of the ongoing military budget reduction process in the United States.

The current U.S. strength of almost 30,000 soldiers in South Korea, closer to 40,000 in Japan, and several thousand more sailors and Marines typically aboard ships patrolling the area’s huge waters will remain as is, according to the Pentagon’s new leader. At a time when “sequestration” threatens to cut up to one trillion dollars from the Pentagon’s previous ten-year spending plan, such words of resolve and continuity are understandable, and mostly right on.

But they are not completely correct. Mr. Panetta should seek to honor their spirit rather than their letter in the crucial months ahead.

Troop numbers should not be confused with capability or commitment. American officials make a mistake by unnecessarily constraining their options when making such statements. Sustaining, and indeed increasing, American capability should be the leitmotif guiding future defense policy decisions. In some cases that may mean more numbers, and in other cases less.

The specific area where current American basing arrangements should in fact be thoroughly revisited is in regards to the presence of nearly 20,000 U.S. Marines on Okinawa. In fact, due to ongoing war efforts in Afghanistan, the actual number of Marines in this Japanese island prefecture has been typically much less than that figure - which American officials should seize on as an opportunity to downsize without in fact downsizing.

Keeping 5,000 to 10,000 Marines on Okinawa while relocating the rest makes the most strategic sense. Right now, Japanese and American officials in Tokyo and Washington agree; and they have a plan to relocate about 8,000 of the Marines to Guam in the coming years. But a better approach would be to bring those Marines home to California where the inevitable downsizing of the broader U.S. Marine Corps will create space for them at existing bases.

American capabilities in East Asia - the crucial matter - can then be sustained (if not actually enhanced) if Japan and the United States purchase extra equipment for those Marines and place it on maritime prepositioning vessels in Japanese waters where it can be quickly put to sea in the event of conflict and sailed to where forces are needed. Equipment could then be quickly unloaded and the Marines in California could fly over to meet needs even faster than they could currently reach regional hotspots in a place like Korea or Southeast Asia.

The Guam relocation plan is a complex relocation of Marine assets. Not only would almost half the Marines move to American territory about 1,000 miles away, but the remaining Okinawa Marines would use a brand new airfield. The existing site at Futenma Marine Air Station in southern Okinawa, which has over the years become even more surrounded by Japanese urban dwellers than has LaGuardia in New York or National Airport in DC, would close and be replaced by V-shaped airfield constructed on the shore of Henoko Bay near Nago City.

There are however two major problems with the existing plan. First, Okinawan politics will not tolerate it. Not only did voters in Nago City elect in January 2010 a mayor who is adamantly against this new airfield, but also every head of Okinawa’s cities, towns and villages are also opposed. Okinawan Governor Hirokazu Nakaima was re-elected in November 2010 on a platform opposing the current relocation plan; and he is almost certain to reject the upcoming application for a landfill, which is necessary to build the new airfield.

If the Japanese government were to force the construction of proposed Henoko facility, this is likely to provoke a physical clash with anti-base activists and erode the willingness of Okinawans to host more important U.S. bases on Okinawa, such as Kadena Air Force Base.

Second, and just as importantly in the era of American budgetary austerity, the Guam/Henoko plan is way too expensive. Lots of costly construction would be needed to make it happen - about $15 billion for each of the two countries. Keeping U.S. forces at existing bases in Japan is in fact a bargain, since Japan pays most of their local costs and since having Navy and Air Force capabilities in particular in forward-deployed locations is a big net positive for the United States.

They can operate in the region from existing facilities on Okinawa and Japan’s main islands, with aircraft within combat radius of North Korea and the Taiwan Straits and ships within a couple days’ sail of each place. But moving Marines to different places in the region costs big money - money that Washington in particular does not now have.

A better policy would bring much if not most of the Marine combat capability back to America, where the added forces could partly counter what appear to be pending cuts of up to 30,000 in total Marine Corps uniformed strength in the years ahead. If Tokyo and Washington shared in the costs, equipment for the relocating Marines and ships to hold it in Japanese ports until needed could be purchased for around $5 billion, far less than the costs of the new construction projects.

The incorrect perception that the United States was weakening its commitment to the Western Pacific with such a move could be countered in several ways. First, more attack submarines could be located on Guam, as could more unmanned aerial vehicles and various other assets. Second, the capabilities of the maritime prepositioned ships could be widely advertised. Third, America’s potential access to Japanese military and civilian facilities on Okinawa and other Japanese prefectures, already legally permitted, could be beefed up with pre-stationing of more supplies and with a gradual hardening of fuel depots and the like in such places. Fourth, U.S. Marine units could fly from California to Japan on a regular basis to participate in exercises - and many of them could be conducted jointly with Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Other steps are surely possible as well.

It is time that Tokyo and Washington break out of the Okinawa Marine Corps policy swamp, where they have been enmeshed and entrapped far too long. And there is a better way that can save each side around $10 billion in the process. That would make for a meaningful dent in the coming budget reduction process, and make for good strategy and good alliance politics as well.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mike Mochizuki and Michael O'Hanlon.


soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Onesmallvoice

    If those people living in that country whose name starts with a J are so adamant about having foreign troops on their soil, why don't they just ask neighboring China to deploy some there, replacing those from the U.S.? Since the above mentioned country is under no current threat from anybody, they really don't need any foreign troops there at all!!!

    November 4, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Reply
    • Tron

      釣魚島問題專家、香港中文大學亞太研究所研究員鄭海麟從釣魚台列嶼的歷史地位切入,直指釣島隸屬中國毫無疑義。他指出,中日兩國大量歷史文獻表明,最早發現、命名和使用釣魚台列嶼的是中國人,而不是琉球人或日本人。釣魚島列嶼並不屬於「舊琉球王朝的勢力所及範圍」,該列嶼在明朝便被納入中國海防及行政管制區域。

      一九五一年的《舊金山(三藩市)合約》根本沒有涉及釣魚台列嶼的主權問題。一九五二年美國託管當局將釣魚島列嶼劃入琉球列島地理境界的經緯度內,是極不適當和不合國際法的。因此,日本聲稱擁有該列嶼主權在國際法上不能成立。

      中國大陸學者近年來對釣魚島議題的研究下了很大工夫。清華大學當代國際關係研究院副院長劉江永教授指出,事實證明日本早在甲午戰爭前十年已知釣魚台列嶼屬於中國。

      日外務省當年編撰的《日本外交文書》第十八卷和第二十三卷中,對明治政府竊取釣魚島的決策過程有非常詳實的記載。換言之,釣魚台列嶼是日本乘甲午戰爭之機,未等簽署馬關條約而從中國竊取的。如今,日方稱其與馬關條約,即甲午戰爭無關,根本站不住腳。

      二戰後釣島問題懸而未決與美國介入密不可分。劉江永指出,一九七一年美國擅自決定將釣島的行政管轄權交給日本政府,遭到全球華人的強烈反對,掀起保釣浪潮,迫使美國迄今迄未承認日本擁有釣島的主權,而希望中日雙方和平協商解決。然而,二零一零年以來美國政府多次明確表示,釣魚島適用於美日安保條約第五條,「這是造成日本政府在釣魚島問題上有恃無恐採取強硬做法的重要外部因素」。

      事實上,東京法院曾經判定釣魚島屬於台北州。台灣光復前一年,台灣與琉球為釣魚島發生歸屬權之爭,當時該法院將釣魚台列嶼判決為台北州所有,更加證明釣魚島主權屬台灣。

      此外,中國大陸學者、上海社會科學研究院法學研究所副研究員、海洋法研究中心主任金永明,上海國際問題研究院學術委員會副主任、上海市日本學會會長吳寄南等,也發表論文,探索釣島的國際地位,力證釣魚島主權屬中華民族。

      台灣師範大學東亞系助理教授林賢參則從戰略意涵分析釣魚島問題的本質。他說,中國大陸追求成為「海洋強國」,企圖掌控西太平洋海域之制海權,會壓縮日本防衛之戰略縱深;政治大學亞太研究所副研究員李瓊莉,也提出國際經驗的比較。

      政大外交系教授趙國材說,釣魚台列嶼問題迄今無解,指出釣島問題不論從歷史地位或法律地位探討皆無意義,因為國際政治乃強權政治,關於釣島主權誰屬是老大哥美國說了算。

      趙國材又表示,台灣願意依聯合國憲章及國際法和平解決國際爭端的規範,從主權、戰略位置、海洋權益與維護資源等面向,以確保釣魚台列嶼領土主權完整,與日本談判,並保護台灣漁民權益。唯日方無意願與台灣談判主權問題,只願和台灣談判漁權,想透過台灣獲得漁權用來騙取釣魚台列嶼的主權。但保釣出身的總統馬英九並未上當,既要漁權也要主權。

      台灣有人主張拉攏美國介入東海爭端,使日本、中國大陸、台灣、美國形成四方機制,能更有效解決釣魚台列嶼主權問題,並提升台灣之國際地位。趙國材認為,這種做法可能會引狼入室,不見得對台灣有利,因為美日在外交上皆承認北京,與台灣沒有邦交,且釣魚台列嶼附近之海域處於防衛美國本土的第一島鏈上,可能牽動東北亞安全情勢和美日的戰略布局,美國在釣魚台列嶼問題上一向表態中立,骨子裏其實偏袒日本。

      台灣政治大學國際法學研究中心研究員邵漢儀首次全部全文公開日方釣島的新史料,掀起高潮。邵的父親邵玉銘當年留美時亦曾參與保釣運動,如今父子兩代同台參與釣魚島會議,傳為佳話。

      日本外務省於一九七一年提出的《我國關於尖閣諸島領有權的基本見解》聲稱﹕「自一八八五年以來,日本政府通過沖繩縣當局等途徑再三在尖閣諸島進行實地調查,慎重確認尖閣諸島不僅為無人島,而且沒有受清朝統治的痕跡。在此基礎上,於一八九五年一月二十一日,在內閣會議上決定在島上建立標樁,以正式列入我國領土之內。」

      為了調查日方說法的真相,邵漢儀曾親往日本查閱相關原件,包括仍未公開的明治時期史料。他從日本外務省外交史料館、防衛省防衛研究所圖書館,以及國立公文書館尋得近四十件原件,首次全部公開。他歷時兩年餘發現明治政府從未派員至釣魚島進行實地調查,所謂「再三」調查純屬捏造。

      韓國外國語大學教授黃載皓認為,今年三月中國發表國防白皮書,確立戰略目標是國家現代化、力主防禦性國防、與他國建立軍事互信,他懷疑中日會爆發大戰,也不認為日本會放棄二戰後的現代化貿然掀起戰端。不過,另一位韓國學者國家安保戰略研究院研究員朴炳光指出,韓日兩國近年提出擴大交流合作關係的「新時代」理念,但對於韓國,獨島攸關經濟及軍事戰略國家利益,不可能讓步。

      November 20, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  2. Ray

    Mr. O'hanlon and Mochizuka, Question. What about the broader implications of less theater security cooperation which equals Engagement. A Nss 2010 major priority? Moving Marines and sailors to Cali does little to solve that problem. People forget that Okinawa is a staging area within the Pacific that mitigates the "Tyranny of Distance". Flying to Korea, Thailand,PI etc is time consuming and not resposive when needed. It's a bad idea leaving Okinawa

    November 4, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Reply
  3. PMcDonald

    This entire article is an exercise in sophistry. The US is losing $1trn from its defense budget. It will be weakened across the globe, especially in East Asia, where China and Russia are growing in might. This article tries to argue that the US will be stronger in the Eastern Pacific when it is clearly not true. Why do people waste their time constructing false arguments?

    November 4, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Reply
  4. Mark Murata

    If anyone wants to know why this Okinawa things is such a big deal, read this...

    http://chroniclesoftheendofhistory.blogspot.com/2010/06/best-course-available.html

    November 5, 2011 at 1:05 am | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    In Immanuel Kant's philosophical sketch, "standing armies shall in time totally be abolished. For they incessantly menace other states by their readiness to appear at all times prepared for war; they incite them to compete with each other in the number of armed men, and there is no limit to this". Permanent military bases abroad as well!

    November 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Reply
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