Guam, Okinawa, and the fate of realignment

The Joint Guam Program Office, the US Department of Defense office responsible for drawing up plans for the expansion of US military facilities on Guam to accommodate the forthcoming influx of US military personnel, has a new website.

For a look at the scale of the on-base construction project — the project to which the Japanese government will contribute — the JGPO has a draft of its master plan (PDF) available that shows the extent of the task at hand.

Meanwhile, Japanese democracy may have dealt its latest blow to the realignment as the Okinawan voters delivered control of their prefectural assembly to the opposition.

The DPJ, which currently has no representative from Okinawa in either chamber of the Diet, increased its representation in the prefectural assembly from one to four in this election, and is looking for ways to enhance its electoral performance in Okinawa. Not surprisingly, it has staked out a position opposing the relocation of the US base at Futenma to Nago city, an integral step in the bilateral roadmap for realignment. As Hatoyama Yukio said Monday, “The emphasis of the DPJ and other opposition parties has been that the transfer should be not to Nago city but outside the prefecture…First we are groping for a transfer outside the prefecture, and after that we are aiming for transfer outside the country.”

With a DPJ or DPJ-led coalition government a distinct possibility in the near future, US authorities should steel themselves for the inevitable calls for revision of the realignment roadmap that would accompany the DPJ’s ascension to power. The DPJ’s “Okinawa Vision” is a bit dated; released in 2005, it does not appear to have been edited to acknowledge the promulgation of the 2006 roadmap. But the document shows a DPJ hostile to the idea of continuing US presence in Okinawa — and somehow I don’t think the “transfer to the mainland first, then transfer out of the country” model would be politically tenable (cf. Iwakuni). At the same time, the DPJ is willing to consider POMCUS, the prepositioning of material configured in unit sets, to enable Okinawa to provide surge capacity for the US Military in the event of a crisis in the region.

That said, as long as the DPJ contains a multiplicity of views on security policy and the alliance, its position on Okinawa will likely be tempered by the need to hold the party together.

But the reality remains: the more Japanese democracy evolves, the more the US-Japan alliance will come under public scrutiny, the more the public will seek to revise or abandon deals made by LDP governments in the absence of oversight. The US military and the US government can either resist the change, or they can accept it and embrace the need to make their case directly to the Japanese people — and accept that more radical change in the configuration of US forces in Japan may be necessary in the future.

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