Okinawa and Obama’s Base-Based Addiction

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been going back and forth on the Okinawa base issue. As a candidate he pledged to close the Futenma air base and not relocate any of its personnel within Okinawa prefecture. But then, after Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan won the elections last year, the U.S. pressure campaign began. And Hatoyama moved further and further toward Washington in a vain effort to curry favor with the Obama administration.

In the latest episode, Hatoyama visited Okinawa last week to try to sell the island on his new idea: a modified base relocation plan that would put the replacement facility on a pier jutting into the waters off Henoko in the northern part of the island and also establish a new facility on Tokunoshima island (which is technically not part of Okinawa prefecture even though it has traditionally been part of larger Okinawan culture). Hatoyama’s proposal doesn’t please anyone. No one on Tokunoshima, which the United States occupied until 1953, wants a base. The people of Henoko – and Okinawa in general – reject the pier compromise, which would pose the same environmental risks to the marine ecosystem as the original plan. And the United States will probably not be thrilled about giving up on the full-blown Henoko base outlined in the 2006 agreement with Japan.

Nearly 100,000 Okinawans protested the original base plan back on April 25. They are planning to form a human chain around the Futenma base on May 16. Organizers expect 30,000 people to form the 13-kilometer chain. Latest polls show that 90 percent of Okinawans oppose relocation of Futenma within the prefecture.

So, what’s the likely outcome? The United States, which has pledged not to go forward with basing without local consent, will not get a new base any time soon. Hatoyama may well lose his position. And the Okinawans will have to put up with the dangerous Futenma base in the meantime.

Of course, the Obama administration could just decide that, with the Cold War over for 20 years, it can close one of its 90 military facilities in Japan. But alas, it seems that like most of his recent predecessors in the office, Obama has an incorrigible addiction to bases…