Friday, December 18, 2009

Okinawa Air Base in Focus

Mike Mochizuki, Asia Policy Point board member and soon to be a dean at George Washington University and Brookings scholar Michael O'Hanlon get to the heart of the Futenma dispute in an op ed in Friday's (December 18th) Washington Times. What is Japan's commitment to its own security?

They write that there are military alternatives to Futenma and that:
Mr. Hatoyama is right not to feel streamrolled by the arguments of defense professionals and establishment figures that Futenma or its successor is militarily crucial to the future of the alliance. But his concerns about the burden that Okinawans have borne for hosting U.S. military forces and bases need to be placed in a larger perspective. Although many Western nations led by the United States are asking their soldiers to risk their lives on global military security operations, including the war in Afghanistan from which the Sept. 11, 2001, attackers against America originated, Japan is not doing so. 
Mr. Hatoyama is right to insist on a more equal partnership with the United States and a greater voice in the alliance, but this requires that Japan contribute much more to global security. 
So it comes down to this: Mr. Hatoyama, as the leader of a sovereign state, has every right to rethink his country's previous commitments, just as he already has in replacing Japan's Indian Ocean resupply operations for U.S. Navy ships there with a larger aid package for Afghanistan. But that latter policy suggests the way forward here, too: If Mr. Hatoyama is to walk away from a deal others in Japan and the United States have worked hard to create, he must do something real, and big and historic in timely fashion instead. 
Beyond funding any American military redeployment, Japan might send substantial numbers of peacekeeping troops to Sudan and Congo. These troops are allowed to use force to protect not only themselves but civilians. Some Japanese would argue such deployments would require constitutional changes, others would not. This would be an issue for Japanese to resolve in the coming months as they see fit. 
Moving toward a true alliance in this way could do much not only to ease the pain over an Okinawa base disagreement, but to transcend it and reinvigorate what former Ambassador Mike Mansfield called the world's most important bilateral relationship two decades ago. 
If Mansfield's words are to remain true today, we need to lift our sights above bickering over bases and put strategy and the world's real problems back at the center of our alliance. 

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