The U.S. must hasten construction efforts that will allow for the relocation of American forces in Okinawa, and in doing so preserve the U.S.-Japan Alliance that has been strained by an increasingly caustic political situation. That’s one of four key findings in “U.S. Bases in Okinawa: What Must Be Done, and Quickly,” a new report co-authored by Sasakawa USA Chairman Admiral Dennis Blair and Fellow James Kendall.
Although a process is underway that would relocate facilities and forces stationed in Okinawa to new bases being built on Hawaii and Guam, implementation has been “glacially slow,” Blair and Kendall argue in the report.
Meanwhile, the political climate continues to deteriorate with the backdrop of increasingly strident protests against the U.S. presence in Okinawa and the election of an anti-base governor and Diet members.
“The political opposition to a continued major U.S. presence on Okinawa is gaining strength, and dramatic action is needed to turn the situation around,” the report states. It details four main steps that must be taken quickly:
1. The U.S. must construct its relocation facilities in Hawaii and Guam concurrently, rather than consecutively, in order to move up the transfer from the current date of 2031 to no later than 2025.
2. The Japanese and Okinawan governments must develop “quick wins” in the form of land returns that demonstrate the benefits of finding new uses for existing facilities.
3. Shared use of facilities on Okinawa between American and Japanese forces must be deepened, thereby increasing cooperation in potential joint operations and also improving civil-military relations.
4. The currently planned relocation of Marine Corps forces to Australia must be re-examined, with alternative locations considered closer to potential crisis points in East Asia.
“The tandem solutions offered by the Futenma Replacement Facility and Okinawa Consolidation Plan are well thought-out and offer the only realistic solutions to the challenges of alleviating an overbearing U.S. presence on Okinawa and providing security for U.S. and allied interests in the Asia-Pacific,” the report states. “In addition, with the exception of the Australia moves, the relocation of Marine forces from Okinawa will improve readiness by providing better training opportunities, with little penalty paid in terms of reaction time to potential crisis locations in East Asia.”
Admiral Dennis C. Blair is the Chairman of the Board and CEO at Sasakawa USA and a renowned expert on Asia Pacific policy and issues. He also serves as a member of the Energy Security Leadership Council and the Aspen Homeland Security Council; and he is on the boards of Freedom House, the National Bureau of Asian Research and the National Committee on US-China Relations. He additionally has served as Director of National Intelligence and Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command. Read Blair’s Chairman’s Message column here or view more of his commentary and analysis here.
James Kendall is the Fellow for Common Challenges at Sasakawa USA, specializing in topics including Asia-Pacific affairs; U.S. and Japanese foreign and defense policies; maritime security; U.S. basing in the Pacific; and U.S.-Japan cybersecurity policy. He can be reached via email at . Read more of his research and analysis here.