Time for decisive action

Another week, a couple more Marines arrested in Okinawa, more anger from the local and national officials.

On Sunday, a Marine was arrested for drunk driving. Then, on Monday, Shawn Cody Jake , a twenty-one-year-old Marine corporal was arrested for breaking into a home in Nago, where he was found sleeping. Sankei, dropping any pretense of objectivity, asks in its headline on these incidents, “Where are the morals?”

These incidents have occurred, of course, while anger in Okinawa at Staff Sergeant Tyrone Hadnott’s alleged rape of a fourteen-year-old girl continues to burn. In fact, on Monday, Okinawa’s lieutenant governor met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura, appealing to the government to strengthen “preventive measures.” Nishimiya Shinichi, head of MOFA’s North American Bureau, also called for tighter preventive measures by appealing to Joseph Donovan, deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy to Japan. Prime Minister Fukuda, meanwhile, stated his desire to get at the “root cause” of the incidents. Who exactly is in charge of preventing crime by US forces?

Mr. Machimura is acting as the point man on this issue. In a press conference Monday, he condemned the acts of Marines in the strongest possible terms. He insisted that the US government needs some serious soul-searching, and he will tell Secretary of State Rice himself if he has the chance to meet with her when she visits Japan later this month.

In the same press conference, however, Mr. Machimura expressed his hopes that the environmental impact study on the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) scheduled to begin during February will proceed as planned, thus revealing the difficulty involved.

How long before members of the Diet — members of the LDP, even — began asking questions about why Japan should be paying for US Marines to leave Guam, asking why the US doesn’t pay itself seeing as how US forces have behaved? At what point will one crime be one crime too many? At what point will Okinawans resigned to the continuing presence of the US Military, probably a majority at this point, become overtly and angrily opposed? Is the answer to the problem stricter controls on the movement of US forces?

The US response to this string of incidents has been inadequate at best. Yes, responsible officials in Japan have apologized, repeatedly. But Washington has been silent. This is not a local issue; treating it as such does not make it so. The alliance may be coming to another crossroads, and Washington has been silent.

It is probably a mistake to expect the Bush administration, whose world view in its final year does not extend too far east of Suez, to take the lead in addressing the Okinawa problem, which means that this problem, like so many others, will have to wait another year before being addressed by Washington.

But it must be addressed, and if the history of the alliance is any guide, it will require the commitment from the new president, if only to set the tone and direction for talks. The next administration, regardless of who is elected president in November, should offer Tokyo a chance to renegotiate the 2006 roadmap on realignment and furthermore offer to free Japan of its commitment to pay $6.9 billion towards the construction of facilities and infrastructure in preparation for the arrival of the III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). Doing so is in the interests of both governments.

From the US perspective, eliminating the Japanese portion of the project removes a major series of obstacles from the process of transforming Guam. Japanese financial contribution is one of two prerequisites for the relocation to proceed, the other being the construction of the FRF. Arguably the latter prerequisite is front-loaded, and requires Tokyo to work with the Okinawan prefectural government — tricky, but ultimately susceptible to financial carrots. The former, however, is a potential minefield. Even before last fall’s scandal regarding the fuel provided to the US Navy in the Indian Ocean, some Diet members were concerned about how Japan’s money would be spent; after the scandal, and after these latest crimes by Marines, the Diet will likely be even more vigilant about how the Japanese contribution is spent in Guam. The upshot is that the risks related to Japan’s financial contribution are back-loaded and could delay the project well past 2014 should Tokyo demand rigorous audits of construction projects. In light of the debate of the road construction fund, that admittedly sounds a bit hilarious, but it is a real concern for Washington, especially if the DPJ, which is especially skeptical of the 2006 agreement, takes power between now and 2014.

Not having to pay for construction on Guam would, of course, be a boon for Japan, given the Japanese government’s enormous fiscal burden. Tokyo’s growing fiscal responsibilities are concentrated mainly in public goods — social security, health care — but the government will probably have to pump in economic development funds to make up for the absence of US forces if and when they leave Okinawa. Would it not be a meaningful gesture if the US, recognizing Japan’s fiscal conditions, freed Japan from having to spend $6.9 billion to build houses in Guam?

This will not happen without US leadership. The next president will have to acknowledge the problems with the current agreement and take positive steps to fix it. The US will not be acting for sentimental reasons, as regrettable as the crimes in Okinawa are. It must take decisive action because doing so is in the best interests of the US and the alliance. The US has admitted that the III MEF is better off in Guam, on US territory. Removing the Marines from Guam will lessen the risks of a criminal incident sparking a national backlash that could undermine the long-term prospects for US naval and air bases that play an important regional role. It will make the alliance less about defending Japan and more about stabilizing the region.

Both governments have accepted the principles behind the relocation. Is Washington prepared to do its part?

5 thoughts on “Time for decisive action

  1. Anonymous

    The only necessary actions are for the U.S. Marines to take care that additional incidents do not occur, and if they do, to take action so that justice is served.The knee-jerk reaction of the Okinawan community in the face of the benevolent U.S. Pacific forces serves no purpose. We have seen this before. The United States holds the cards, and the Japanese government would be silly to make this into an issue. The Japanese have much more to lose than the U.S. in undermining the Security alliance. Again, as I have said before, the Japanese citizens of Okinawa should remember how the U.S. has been looking out for them for nearly 65 years now. And for that matter, today\’s Japanese economic prosperity was built on the back of the Marines and U.S. benevolence in the Pacific. A rape here and a rape there will not change that. (By the way, thank you, Tobias, for calling it an \’alleged rape.\’) Why is it Guantanamo Bay terrorists are \”alleged criminals\” and deserve every obscure protection according to our liberal friends but a U.S. Marine in Okinawa is guilty until proven innocent?(It is an obvious bias, but the conversation would grow too long if I dwell on it. )Basically, I would suggest this issue should be ignored by the U.S., and we should wait out the Okinawans until they become reasonable again. The U.S. need make no concession based on the alleged actions of a few soldiers.Japan needs to remember the magnanimity of the victors in World War II. That is all.There is no legitimate link between bad behavior and our presence in Okinawa unless that behavior becomes a major irritant.A rape once every 7 years, I\’m afraid, does not pass the test… and is only a pawn for crass anti-Americanism.Andrew Oplas


  2. The U.S. Military rightfully attracts much attention when things like this happen, especially in Japan.However, this aslo looks like just another form of the so-called fear of foreigner crime in Japan that is completely overblown.I would not be surprised if the crime rate among U.S. soldiers in Japan is lower than the national crime rate for Japanese citizens.It seams to me to be fear mongering by Japanese of non-Japanese crime.


  3. Anonymous

    Tornados28, you are wrong. The issue is not the crime as such. The issue is that the alleged perpetrators are beyond the reach of the Japanese justice system, and the US military justice system is completely inadequate.Anonymous: \”The only necessary actions are for the U.S. Marines to take care that additional incidents do not occur, and if they do, to take action so that justice is served.\” This is true; however, the US Marines have not yet shown any indication that they are interested in preventing additional incidents, or taking action so that justice is served. \”No, seriously, this time we\’ll make our soldiers stop committing crimes. Really! I know we\’ve never followed through on that before, but for reals this time. You can trust us.\” This is the message. Would you believe it? Okinawans know that the US military is not going to bring its own criminal element to justice — especially not now that Bush\’s war has stretched it so far that back in the US gang members are being recruited to make up the numbers. Okinawans also know that the US military is not going to give the Japanese authorities sufficient access to serve justice either.Under these circumstances, if you want US marines to stop committing crimes in Okinawa, trying to get them out of Okinawa altogether is the only sensible course of action left. What else do you expect the Okinawans to do? And re the \”protection\” — if Enemy X started a real, no-kidding war with Japan tomorrow, explicity excluding the US from their declaration of war; with the US military in the shape it is and US public opinion of Bush\’s war at the level it is, do you really think that the US would spring to Japan\’s defense? Call me a cynic, but I find the idea very, very hard to believe.


  4. Anonymous

    When I was growing up in the 70s/ early 80s, Zushi was a sleepy little town (12km from Yokosuka) whose population would swell in summer with beachgoers. I used to work at a record shop during school breaks. Approx. 3m x 4m, one entrance, tight squeeze behind the counter. One day, a foreigner in a not-so-hard-to-figure-out outfit walked in. Whiff of alcohol. Impressive stereo on his shoulder. The sheer fear a 6ft-plus 100kg-plus drunk foreign male can impose on a 5ft 45kg female teenager in such confined space is indescribable. Popcorns come in neat compact bags, microwave for few minutes and voila! perfect every time. Abhorrence come in slick and slime. Cooked slowly over the years and continue to simmer, bitterly bubbling. A classmate telling how her grandparents perished in Hiroshima Pikadon leaving behind just carbon shade of where they were standing; learning of blue-eyed, fatherless, long-limbed babies born to countless Okinawa women during 27 years US occupation; witnessing desperate public outcry and protest over building US Navy officers\’ residence block in Ikego, Zushi; my private English tutor exclaiming \’We\’re here to protect you!!\’, bad move. She was an American wife of a US Navy officer and I don\’t know if she could read Japanese language but by then numerous misdemeanours of your boys were being reported on local newspapers. She merely completed my equation – US troops come to Japan = R(ape) and R(obbery) = all in the name of \’winner takes it all\’. Fast forward. I leave school, start work. It\’s 21st century and soon you kindly send nuke-propelled George Washington to our doorstep. You shouldn\’t have. Bottom line is, I refuse to be killed by a drink driving US soldier in my land. And I refuse to be raped by a US soldier for the sake of \’being protected\’. So before I draw my last breath I shall whisper in your ears, \’I will kick your ass.\’ I will not tolerate being referred to by anyone as a \’once every 7 years\’ stat and I wish every \’a rape here and a rape there\’ attitude will be met by same fate. I am Japanese. Am I ashamed? Not in a million years. PS. Having said all that, couple of your lads went beyond their call of duty. They gave up their days off, loaded burger patties and buns and drove all the way to feed the evacuees after a major earthquake. Truly grateful. Their humanity hadn\’t gone unnoticed.


  5. David

    anonymous: It would be interesting to see how the US could avoid being involved in a war in Japan when they already have troops here. How could they defend themselves without defending Japan. How could Country X attack Japan without attacking US forces? This scenario has been brought up by some of the right-wing commentators in Japan recently, but none have explained exactly how it would work. Could you?


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