pacific forum History of Pacific Forum

Issues and Insights Vol. 15, No. 3 – The US-Japan Alliance in Transformation

Executive Summary

This report explores ways to strengthen the US-Japan alliance, with a particular emphasis on the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) recommendation to relocate the USMC Futenma Airfield to a sea-based facility, also known as the FRF (Futenma Relocation Facility).

At the macro-level, the US-Japan alliance is on path and it is evolving. Ronald Reagan‟s 1988 national security strategy noted that, “Solidarity with our allies multiplies the strength of all. It permits a sharing of responsibilities.”1 Today, ties with Japan remain the cornerstone of peace and security in the Asia Pacific; it is further affirmed through the “rebalance” to Asia, which endeavors to strengthen ties with all US allies and partners in the region – through economic integration, diplomatic understanding, and strategic postures. As the alliance evolves, the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) is stepping into a more equal partnership with the US as it shoulders more defense responsibility, and as Tokyo transitions back to being a normal nation.

At the micro-level, the picture is not so rosy. Pessimistic views dominate the conversation on the FRF and Futenma. But as of August 2014, Okinawa Gov. Nakaima issued the landfill permit needed to proceed with the FRF construction off the coast of Camp Schwab; progress is underway at Henoko Bay. While the alliance is on track, challenges remain. Problems are simmering at the micro-level, namely the broader difficulties surrounding the Futenma Airfield and the FRF that need active management from the Department of Defense (DOD), Japan‟s Ministry of Defense (MOD), and the Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG).

On managing the US-Japan alliance, this report recommends the following:

  • Replicate Futenma‟s original runway length at Henoko;
  • US-Japan joint research and development project on a mega-float for military use, with special attention to energy self-sustainability, communication system, electric motors, and the mega-float ability to quickly detach;
  • Tokyo and Okinawa establish preventive measures in Nago City so that the FRF will not experience similar environmental lawsuits and operational challenges as Futenma in Ginowin City;
  • Platforms that increase healthy interactions and understanding between Okinawa residents and US soldiers should be considered. The goal is to dilute racism toward any culture by working together on a regular basis. Moreover, support organizations are needed for single Okinawan mothers with mixed-race children on the island; prejudice against these children must be addressed;
  • Reevaluation is needed within the US military regarding recruitment, training, and culture sensitivity;
  • Fulfill the 2013 Okinawa Consolidation accord; and
  • Foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific needs more authority; its future effectiveness will depend largely on political stability in the US Congress.

Additionally, this report also recognizes its limitations. These are:

  • Further analysis is needed to determine how electricity generated from the mega-float can contribute to existing energy supply in Okinawa; if it can, then whether Okinawa can build infrastructure to support its capacity to export electricity. (See addendum for possible collaborating organizations on this Okinawa energy initiative);
  • Cost-benefit analysis should be conducted on economic and energy impact of building an undersea cable that first connects all Okinawa islands (first phase), then connects to Taiwan or mainland Japan (second phase). The second phase should yield long-term monetary returns that insure that investors get their investments back plus profits;
  • Studies are needed on the impact of quality of life in Okinawa if stronger zoning laws and regulations are enacted and enforced, and costs associated with environmental cleanup at Futenma should be part of the relocation budget.