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Almost as a if it was a direct response to the previous article by Peter Ennis linked to by James Simpson, the Centre for Strategic International Studies “Japan Chair Platform” has published  a piece by Dr. Jeff Hornung called href="" >“Questioning the Senators’ Proposal on U.S. Force Realignment in Japan.” It is a curious piece to say the least. Responding to the three senators’ (Webb, McCain, and Levin) claim that the current Roadmap for Futenma Relocation is “unrealistic, unworkable and unaffordable,” the article essentially rests on the counterargument that “it is unclear how their [the senators] proposal is more realistic/workable/affordable [than the current plan].” The article’s final sentence is “Had the senators thought their proposal through, they would have seen that theirs is an alternative that is unrealistic, unworkable, and unaffordable [italics in the original].”

The first question that comes to mind that one would want to ask is in response to this kind of statement is  ”so you are admitting that the plan is indeed “unrealistic, unworkable, and unaffordable?” Fantastic – we now have two unrealistic, unworkable, and unaffordable plans. Surely the suggestion is not to go with the current unimplementable plan simply because it is the “official” one?

In reality, the point should be that because of current dynamics in American politics, the overall orientation of US forces overseas is going to need to be rethought by the government, because simply put, it is going to be forced upon them one way or another. I believe href="" >Peter Ennis is correct, or I hope he is, when he says that a new global force posture review will need to be undertaken. Surely a sensible option for the administration and foreign policy and military officials is to get out ahead of the running rather than be dragged along after by Congress. Ultimately, Dr. Hornung’s piece is most useful in demonstrating just exactly what the inherent practical problems are with evolving the Marine footprint on Okinawa. And this should be seen as an opportunity. As Ennis himself has commented many times before, the alliance is not in such bad health and could be in very good health if a broader, strategic rather than tactical and operational focus, is applied to the alliance, and security in East Asia in general.

But moving along, the article also contains this curious paragraph:

The current estimated cost for the Roadmap is $10 billion. Japan is paying over $6 billion of this. It is not up to the senators to decide what is affordable for Japan. It is brazen to think otherwise, especially when the United States borrows so heavily. Recovery from the March 11 disasters will be costly. Estimates reach as high as $300 billion, but this “enormous burden” does not mean Tokyo cannot afford realignment. For a $5 trillion economy, $300 billion of reconstruction is only 6 percent. While 6 percent is twice as large as the recovery after the 1995 Kobe earthquake, it is not unaffordable. Japan spends around 6 percent of its budget on public works. Because reconstruction will involve significant public works projects, a considerable amount of this money can be allocated from existing funds. Budgets throughout Tokyo will be tightened, but countries can multi-spend, even in the face of overwhelming difficulties. Tokyo’s continued support indicates it still believes the current agreement is affordable

I think there are two points here worthy of correction. One, I am reasonably sure the senators were referring to the cost for the US taxpayer, not the Japanese one. Two, more seriously, how is it less brazen to assume that because Japan already has a massive public debt and has to take on more debt because of triple disaster, that it is perfectly reasonable for a foreign government to expect it take on even more debt? Because, well, it is already in debt and getting more in debt, and thus debt must not be a problem, and hey, we have a pre-existing agreement? Because officials in the MOFA, MOD and PMO, not known for spending restraint in Japan, agreed to it and rushed the agreement through cabinet right before a new government came to power to intentionally make it difficult for them to revisit it? Because a Japanese politician, not particularly renown for political courage and clear headed thinking was cowed into (re)agreeing to the plan as he was driven out of the PMs office? Because the current PM, who is well known to not be particularly interested in foreign policy and strategic issues, learned a lesson from this and decided to not let the problem hurt his already severely weakened position? In all fairness, Dr. Hornung is likely correct that in some way or form Japan can afford this at a stretch, but I would like to point out that accusations of brazenness should be tempered somewhat.

The piece also laments the “unnecessary confusion” that both Hatoyama and the Senators have injected into the process, again resurrecting the extremely dubious idea that before Hatoyama and Messrs. McCain, Webb and Levin, everything was somehow fine. It states:

One official from the [Japanese] PMO [Prime Ministers Office] frankly stated that he was tired of academics and politicians becoming interested in Futenma and swooping in to offer alternatives, failing to realize their “alternatives” have already been examined, reexamined, and discarded.

And for extra points:

What is worrisome to Japanese officials is the fact that the senators hold powerful positions. Levin and McCain are the highest-ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Webb is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee for East Asia and the Pacific. Officials understand that implementation is stalled because Tokyo still has to convince Nakaima to sign off on the land reclamation. Yet, they are worried that the senators could use

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their positions to effectively hold funding for the plan hostage in Congress…[the] three senators have single-handedly made Japanese officials worry about the United States fulfilling its commitment, thereby giving them reduced incentive to spend the necessary political capital to push through any deal with Nakaima.

I’m sure many people are worried. And I am sure groups in the bureaucratic establishment of both countries do indeed find democratic oversight and conscientious debate very troublesome. As bureaucracies the world over, democratic or otherwise, are wont to do. But that is hardly the point. Nakaima is/was never going to sign, nor will his successor. The electoral dynamics would never allow it at the prefectural level, and a forced solution would be extraordinarily foolish at the national level. And they will not be able to “convince local groups of the reasons why Marines need to stay in Okinawa.”

The Roadmap is not a perfect option, but it is the best option to meet the operational needs of the Marines and reduce the U.S. footprint on Okinawa.

Ultimately this is the problem. We are dealing with two democratic countries, where government oversight of bureaucratic decisions, and popular oversight of government decisions are norms that, somewhat inconveniently it would seem, the natives have internalized. Is it not ultimately up to the Okinawans to decide what constitutes a reduced footprint on Okinawa? After all, this is not just about noise and accidents. There is a history of unwanted military dominance in Okinawa, and a perception of dual colonialism to consider, a SOFA that some believe is unfair, and contradictions abound that would not be tolerated if Okinawa was one of the mainland Japanese prefectures. It is just a shame that it had to be the US Senate that exercised political oversight on behalf of  Okinawan, as well as American citizens.


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Corey Wallace joined Japan Security Watch in 2011. He writes on Japan security-related topics, focusing on issues and stories that may not find their way into the English language media. He also hosts the blog Sigma1 where he writes on Japanese domestic politics and broader issues in international relations. Prior to taking up a PhD Corey was a participant on the JET program (2004-2007) and on returning to New Zealand he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology from 2007-2010 as a policy adviser. Corey lectures two courses at the University of Auckland. One is on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, which contains a significant focus on East Asia security issues. The other is a course on China's international relations. His primary academic interests before his current Japan focus were science and technology politics/policy, issues of ethnic identity, and Chinese modern history and politics. He carries over his interest in issues of identity and history into his PhD where he is looking at generationally situated concepts of national identity and their impact on foreign policy ideas in Japan.
Corey Wallace has 48 post(s) on New Pacific Institute