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?