Five decades after the adoption of the (revised) US-Japan Security Treaty, and two decades after the end of the Cold War, Cold War assumptions still underpin the relationship between the world’s leading industrial democracies. A belated Japanese attempt to change and reform the relationship in 2009-2010 ended in failure and the collapse of the Hatoyama government. Whether the Kan government can do better, remains to be seen. The “Client state” relationship proves difficult to transcend.
Global and Regional Frame
Before addressing the Okinawa problem, let me make some general remarks on the frame within which the US-Japan relationship exists. I see the present moment as one of sharp disjuncture in East Asia between on the one hand the continuing Cold War security architecture of global bloc confrontation, nuclear weapon based and super-power centred, linking the countries of East and Southeast Asia in hub and spokes of containment or hostility towards the Soviet Union and China, and on the other hand the rapidly growing, China-centred, economic and ecological inter-dependence. China is the world’s number two economy and for both the US and Japan the major trading partner.1 China is also Japan’s best prospect for future economic growth, prosperity and stability. And at an even deeper level, in terms of ecology – the fate of Japan and China is inextricably intertwined. Climate change, global warming, species loss, resource depletion, desertification, collapse of the oceans affect both. For better or for worse, the two countries are in the same boat, and they must row together.
Japan – not alone but certainly critically, is caught in the contradiction between the economic base and the military and political superstructure. According to Karl Marx, there is only one way that, in the long term, such contradictions will be resolved. In these coming decades, short of some currently unforeseeable catastrophe, the US global weight will diminish and China (and not just China, but Asia as a whole) will resume the roughly half of global GDP it represented two centuries ago.2 The American century ends, the Chinese century begins (or rather another, since there have been many in the past.) The security structures are anachronistic and out of kilter with the burgeoning economic and ecological aspects of this conflicted world order.
65 years since its defeat in war, and just under 60 since it recovered its independence, Japan remains occupied by its former conqueror under the US-Japan Security treaty. Yokosuka is home port for the 7th Fleet and Sasebo a major secondary facility for the US Navy, Misawa in Hokkaido and Kadena in Okinawa are key assets for the USAF, as are Camps Kinser, Foster, Futenma, Schwab in Okinawa and Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture for the Marine Corps. Scattered throughout Japan are the housing, hospitals, hotels, golf courses (two in Tokyo alone) and other facilities that combine to make some believe that,
“As a strategic base, the Japanese islands buttress half of the globe, from Hawaii to the Cape of Good Hope. If the US were to lose Japan, it could no longer remain a superpower with a leadership position in the world.”3
Especially in the two decades since the end of the Cold War, the US has pressed Japan to make the relationship into a “mature” alliance by removing barriers to joining the US in war as in peace.
It is not just the continuation of US occupation and the incorporation of Japan in its global military strategy that is anomalous, but the fact that Japan insists on paying generously to subsidize it. The Japan whose constitution outlaws “the threat or use of force in international affairs” is allied to the one country above all others for whom war and the threat of war are key instruments of policy. It supports US wars in every possible way short of actually sending troops, offers it more extensive military facilities and funds it (and its wars) with more generous subsidies than any other country (at around $5 billion per year).
I have described this Japan as a Client State (Zokkoku). I define “Client State” as one that chooses dependence. Japan chooses to be occupied, is determined at all costs to avoid offence to the occupiers, to pay whatever price necessary to be sure that the occupation continues, and is meticulous in adopting and pursuing policies that will satisfy its occupier. As one Japanese scholar puts it, for the bureaucrats who guide the Japanese state,
“‘servitude’ is no longer just a necessary means but is happily embraced and borne. ‘Spontaneous freedom’ becomes indistinguishable from ‘spontaneous servitude’.”4
The problems of Japan and East Asia are rooted in this self-abnegation at the heart of the Japanese state. As little as three years ago, when my book was published, the term Zokkoku (the Japanese title) had a certain shock effect. I expected to be criticized for hyperbole for using it, but to my surprise it has steadily become uncontroversial, adopted even by prominent Japanese conservatives. How can it be, I ask myself, that such an ignominious status could so long be tolerated by a people for whom in the past nationalism has been so dear? The Japan once troubled by ultra-nationalism, now lapses into negative, or compensatory nationalism.
Clientilism is of course not unique to Japan, nor is it necessarily irrational. Dependence and subordination during the Cold War brought Japan considerable benefits, especially economic. But that era ended, and instead of gradually reducing the US military footprint in Japan and Okinawa as the “enemy” vanished, the US ramped it up. It pressed Japan’s Self Defence Forces to cease being “boy scouts” (as Donald Rumsfeld once contemptuously called them) and to become a “normal” army, and to step up its contribution to the “war on terror.” “Client State” status came to require heavier burdens and greater costs than during the Cold War, but it offered reduced benefits and enmeshed Japan more inextricably in the contradiction between its economic and ecological shared destiny with China and its security dependence on the US. The dilemma sharpens as US global power and influence decline.
Okinawa – Periphery and Centre
For the most part, the Zokkoku relationship remains comfortable enough for people in mainland Japan, because it impinges little on everyday life. But clientilism and the Japanese state’s prioritization of military ties to the US weigh heavily on the people of Okinawa, and resistance to that agenda is strongest there. Three-quarters of all US military facilities in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa: 29 separate facilities, taking up 20 percent of the land area of the main island. In mainland Japan, no new base has been built since the 1950s, but in Okinawa for the past 14 years the Government of Japan has been committed to building a new base for the Marine Corps. It is described as a “replacement” for the obsolescent and inconvenient Futenma that sits in the middle of Ginowan township, but it is far more than Futenma. What is planned is a vast, sophisticated military complex at Henoko, far more multi-functional than Futenma (and including a deep-sea port for docking nuclear submarines). This relatively remote northern Okinawa site has become the “hottest” land and sea district in all Japan.
Okinawa, as Ryukyu, was part of the East Asian, China centered, world long before it became part, first of the pre-modern and then of the modern Japanese state. Flourishing as an independent commercial and cultural centre in the 15th and 16th centuries, it was invaded and reduced to semi-independence in 1609 and then fully incorporated in modern Japan in 1879, following diplomatic blunders by a weakened China that allowed its claims to sovereignty to lapse.
After 1945, whether under direct US military rule to 1972, or nominal Japanese rule after it, Okinawa’s orientation to US warmaking did not change. It played a key role in the conduct of wars from Korea (1950-53), Vietnam (1961-75), Gulf (1990), to Afghanistan (2001-) and Iraq (2003 -). In the context of a 21st century shift from a US-centered East Asian and world order to what could become a China-centred one, the fact that the Okinawan islands stretch through the East China Sea, not far from the coast of mainland China and Taiwan, for around 1,000 kilometers, gives them a potentially huge military significance, especially in the hands of a military force hostile to or set on containing China.
The Hatoyama Attempted Revolt
During the prolonged one party state system in Japan between 1955 and 2009, a thoroughly ramified “Client State” system evolved in which priority to US interests was taken for granted, until 30 August 2009, when Hatoyama Yukio and the DPJ came to power in a dramatic shift, signaling the bankruptcy of the old regime and the search for a new order.
Hatoyama had a vision for Japan. Like Obama a little earlier, he tapped a national mood of desire for change, towards a Japan beyond client state-ism (Japanese: Zokkoku). He promised to renegotiate the relationship with the US on the basis of equality; to reject “market fundamentalism” and to re-orient Japan away from US-centred unipolarism towards a multipolar world in which Japan would be a central member of an East Asian community. That community would be built around a core value of “Yuai,” which he described as something that was “…a strong, combative concept that is a banner of revolution,”5 using the word “revolution” in a way no Japanese Prime Minister had ever used it before. He opened the Diet session in January 2010 with the words.
“I want to protect people’s lives.
That is my wish: to protect people’s lives
I want to protect the lives of those who are born; of those who grow up and mature…”
Such pronouncements disturbed Washington. Hatoyama was dismissed as a weirdo. What leader of government ever spoke of an “equal” relationship with the United States, something never contemplated and almost unimaginable; or of “protecting life?” But it was in particular Hatoyama’s attempt to renegotiate the agreements adopted by previous, conservative governments to build the new base at Henoko where he crossed a line.
Dismissing Hatoyama’s vision and ignoring his policies and projects, US President Obama refused even to meet him to discuss his agenda or his vision. The US Departments of State and Defense delivered ultimatum after ultimatum, telling him that they would not reopen negotiations, and that it would be a “blow to trust” between the two countries if the existing agreement (on Henoko) were not implemented.
When Hatoyama announced (December 2009) that he would postpone the crucial decision till May 2010, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morell declared that the US “did not accept” the Japanese decision; Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, said the Japanese public would have to understand the need to keep US forces in Okinawa.6 The Washington Post described Hatoyama as “the biggest loser [among world leaders]…, hapless, … increasingly loopy,” i.e., in effect, it was saying, Hatoyama was mad.
In short, the newly installed Hatoyama government faced orders from Washington to fulfill the pledge signed and railroaded through the Diet in the dying days of Aso Taro’s LDP government. The abuse and intimidation to which Hatoyama was subject is without precedent in the US relationship with any country, including Iran and North Korea, let alone its supposed closest of allies.
Torn between the pressures of Washington on the one hand and Okinawa on the other, hemmed in by faithless bureaucrats in Tokyo intent on subverting his agenda, Hatoyama’s political position crumbled. The national media blamed him for the deterioration in the country’s key relationship, insisting that he cease offending and irritating the US.7 In the 50th year of the Ampo relationship, it became clear that in a “mature” alliance a Japanese government could not survive loss of Washington’s confidence. Obama, having risen to power in his own country promising “change,” forbade it in Japan.
When Hatoyama in due course surrendered, he abandoned or betrayed the hopes of change raised by the DPJ before it took office. The distinguished Tokyo University political scientist, Shinohara Hajime, recently said that he regarded the 28 May agreement between Hatoyama and the US government as Japan’s (second defeat” (daini no haisen), i.e. tantamount to August 1945.8 Hatoyama also gave up other core elements of his vision. His “East Asian Community” mysteriously transmuted into something that would include the US (and would therefore be unacceptable to China), and the “China threat” moved closer to the centre of defense and security policy.
The Hatoyama government’s fall is best seen as a client state crisis: a failed attempt to move from dependency to equality. It demonstrated the abjectness of Japan’s submission and revealed in bold relief just what, in its mature, 21st century form, a client state was.
Kan Government, June 2010-
When Kan Naoto took the reins of government in early June, the national media defined his key task as being to heal the “wounds” that Hatoyama had caused to the alliance, restore Washington’s trust and confidence in Japan, and resolve the Okinawa problem by “persuading” Okinawa to accept the new base. Kan’s first act as Prime Minister was to telephone US President Obama to assure him he would do what was required. When in his introductory policy speech to the Diet he pledged the “steady deepening of the alliance relationship” that was what he meant.
Four months into the Kan government, however, nothing has been resolved. Under the Agreement that Hatoyama signed on 28 May, the details of the new base construction were to be settled by the end of August, but in August the deadline was extended to November. The two sides could not agree on what shape the runway at the new base would have (“V” or “I” shaped), where exactly it would be built, how it would be constructed, what would be the flight path for its aircraft, and whether Japan’s Self Defense Forces could share its use. Only in September did the US government make public its intention to deploy at the new base the MV22 Osprey VTOL aircraft, capable, with refueling, of a range of 3,700 kilometres or around five times that of the CH46 helicopters that currently operate from Futenma This had major implications for the levels of noise and risk that adjacent communities could expect to experience and it constituted yet another reason for reopening the environmental assessment process.
Okinawa – The Resistance
What governments in Tokyo and Washington could not accept is that there is no way to persuade, or perhaps even compel, a determinedly hostile Okinawa to submit. Time and again, from 1996 to today, Tokyo has declared its determination to substitute a Henoko base for the Futenma one, and time and again Okinawa has resisted and forced it to back down.9 The Okinawan people have resolved by every conceivable means – elections, resolutions (of local Assemblies including the Okinawan Prefectural Assembly and Nago City Assembly), mass “All-Okinawa” meetings, opinion surveys, statements by officials, and determined sit-in movements) that it not be built. This fierce, uncompromising, non-violent, popularly-supported Okinawan resistance has been one of the most remarkable features of recent Japanese history. If this Okinawan resistance had taken place in a country out of favour with the US and Japan it would have won global acclaim as a heroic expression of popular will, a beacon of courageous, democratic determination, but because the struggle is against two supposed pillars of the global democratic system, such recognition is denied it.
The International Year of Biodiversity
This year, 2010, has been declared by the United Nations to be the “International Year of Biodiversity.” This very month, October, the parties to COP 10, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, meet in Nagoya. It is incongruous that the government that hosts the Nagoya meeting should be committed to imposing a massive military base upon one of its (and the world’s) most precious concentrations of biodiversity.
The coastal areas of Henoko, Oura Bay (where the base would be constructed), are classified under the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s Guidelines for Environmental Protection as rank 1, warranting the highest level of protection. There the internationally protected dugong graze on sea grasses, turtles come to rest and lay their eggs, and multiple rare birds, fish, crustaceans, insects, and animals thrive.
A colony of blue coral was discovered only in 2007 (and in 2008 placed on the IUCN’s “Red,” or critically endangered, list); a 2009 World Wildlife Fund study found an astonishing 36 new species of crabs and shrimps;10 in July 2010 Tokyo marine science researchers found 182 different species of sea grasses and marine plants, four of which were probably new species;11 and just weeks ago, the Nature Conservation Society of Japan found 362 species of conchs in those same waters, 186 of them in one 50-centimeter-square area.12 This sea is a concentrated marine patch of Brazilian rain-forest.
The construction process (for the “V” version of the runway) would require 21 million cubic metres of fill, of which 17 million cubic metres would be sea sand. That means a staggering 3.4 million dump truck loads of sand, more than 12 times the current volume of sand extracted in a year from throughout Okinawa. That alone, before actual base construction could begin, would mean significant damage to Okinawa’s fragile land and sea environment.13
Along with the dugong, turtles and other creatures, for the US Marine Corps and their Japanese promoters the coral of Oura bay is simply a nuisance. When the first plans for militarizing the Bay were developed, in 1962, the Marine Corps began to deal with the coral by bombing it.14 Such a course is not open today, but the scale of militarization envisaged could be expected to have the same effect over the longer term.
It is true that an environmental impact study was conducted on Henoko between 2007 and 2009. But the Assessment Law (Asesuho) does not stipulate an impartial, scientific process and includes no provision for actually banning a project on environmental grounds. It merely requires the party proposing works to consider their impact and take appropriate steps to protect the environment.15 So the Japanese Defence Facilities Bureau (part of what was then the Defence Agency and is now the Ministry of Defence) reviewed its own project. It paid no attention to the likely impact of typhoons, because none happened while the survey was in process; it concluded that “dugong are not in the area” since it saw none, though it was likely that the dugong were not to be seen precisely because the disturbances caused by the investigation process had driven them away. The process was also flawed in that no information was provided to it on the kinds or number of aircraft that would be using the facility, or the materials that would be stored or used on it.
Okinawa Prefecture (its Environmental Impact Committee) found multiple faults in the Assessment’s Interim Report; Governor Nakaima recommended a multi-year study of the dugong, and Okinawa’s leading environmental law authority, former Okinawa University president Sakurai Kunitoshi, declared the process “unscientific” and fatally flawed.16 In the International Year of Biodiversity, it was bizarre, he noted, that the Government of Japan, even while hosting COP10, should go to such lengths, and spend such amounts of taxpayer money, to push through a thoroughly unscientific justification for the destruction of such a precious concentration of biodiversity.
Civic and international organizations protest the implausibility of the region’s largest military base being imposed on an environment whose extraordinary biodiversity is only slowly being understood, and court actions challenging the project on environmental grounds are underway in both the US and Japan17: It is as if the Grand Canyon were to be designated a military base, or in Australia, Kakadu.
The Henoko dispute compounds elements of local (Nago City), prefectural (Okinawan), national (Japan), regional (East Asian) and international (Japan-US) contradictions. It exposes the fabric of the Zokkoku state and the “alliance” that under-pins it and, as it continues, it threatens to widen into a movement to question the US base presence in Japan as a whole. As Kent Calder notes, the phenomenon of foreign military bases being hosted for any period of time in the territory of a sovereign state is extremely unusual; “castles built on sand” cannot long be stable.18 The Okinawan sand is now crumbling.
There is no precedent in the post-war relationship for the confrontation that occurred between the US and Japan in 2009-10. There is also no precedent in modern Japanese history for an entire prefecture to unite, as does Okinawa today, in saying “No” to the central state authorities. Okinawa is commonly thought of as a peripheral Japanese prefecture, but is central to Japanese, regional, and global affairs.
The legal justification for the bases, in mainland Japan as in Okinawa, is the 1960 “Japan-US Security Treaty.19 That treaty, however, entitles the US (under Article 6) to station troops in Japan for “the purpose of contributing to the security of Japan and the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East.” The Marines, however, are neither a defensive nor a Far Eastern force but an expeditionary “attack” force, dispatched repeatedly since 1990 for participation in the Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq Wars, and held in readiness to be launched as a ground force into enemy territory. As a senior official in the Japanese Department of Defense put it, the 3rd Marine Division is a “force for deployment at any time to particular regions beyond Japan …. not for the defense of particular regions.”20 Their presence, supposedly justified by the security treaty, might instead be in breach of it. The base project on which the two governments have been intent since 1996 is concerned not with a Futenma substitute, or even with the defense of Japan, but on supplying the US Marine Corps with a new, upgraded, multi-service facility to be used as a forward base capable of attacking foreign territories.
Furthermore, the hullabaloo in Japan surrounding the Henoko project rests on a serious misunderstanding (if not a deliberate deception on the part of the Japanese and US governments). The Pentagon from 2006 has been committed to transfer core Futenma Marine units to Guam, upgrading it into the military fortress and strategic staging post covering the whole of East Asia and the Western Pacific. That plan clearly undercuts the strategic importance of both existing and future planned marine deployments in Okinawa.
In the year of the “golden jubilee” anniversary of the US-Japan security relationship (1960), a more unequal, misrepresented and misunderstood bilateral relationship between two modern states would be difficult to imagine. Under republican and democrat administrations in the US, and LDP and DPJ governments in Japan, agreement follows agreement, postponement follows postponement, but nothing is resolved. As failure follows upon failure, that in turn feeds irritation on both sides. The Okinawan resistance constitutes a brick wall that the two governments can neither evade nor breach. In a dictatorship, the base project could still proceed, even if people had to be cleared away by tanks. That is how bases were built and expanded in the 1950s, the process that Okinawans remember bitterly as the terror of bayonets and bulldozers in the wake of the Battle that drove them from their land. But in 21st century Japan, at least so long as democratic institutions survive, it is surely beyond the capacity of any government to repeat that process.
To both sides, Okinawans are an inconvenience and a nuisance, to be persuaded or bought off with the appropriate package of carrots and sticks. Yet no defence of democracy or of a “free” world can rest on denial of freedom and democracy in a core territory. Serious attempt to resolve the “Okinawa problem” has to begin from setting aside the series of “Agreements” to militarize Oura Bay reached during the high tide of LDP client state rule and putting an end to the many vain attempts to impose upon Okinawa something its people had said in every conceivable forum that they will not accept. To begin to resolve the current “Okinawa problem” means to revisit the formula on which the post-war Japanese state has rested and to begin renegotiating its dependence on the United States, to return to the Hatoyama vision of 2009 that was treated with such contempt in Washington.
Okinawa’s history over especially the past 14 years constitutes a lesson to the rest of Japan, and indeed the world, in what it means for people to be citizens and therefore to exercise with confidence and determination the sovereignty vested in them under the constitution; to hold peace dear and be resolved never to forget or repeat the crimes of militarism; to be committed to non-threatening cooperation with neighbors; to revere nature and insist on policies of environmental sustainability. The most significant story of early 21st century Japan is being told here. Japan’s geographical periphery is its political core, pointing towards an alternative, non-client state, civil society-led, direction for the rest of the country.