News

Plan to Move Marines Off Okinawa Faces Challenges

FA-18 air fighters prepare to take off on the U.S. carrier George Washington in the Pacific near Minamidaito Island in Okinawa Prefecture, southern Japan, during a joint drill with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. (2010 File)
FA-18 air fighters prepare to take off on the U.S. carrier George Washington in the Pacific near Minamidaito Island in Okinawa Prefecture, southern Japan, during a joint drill with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. (2010 File)

Friday's announcement by the United States and Japan that 9,000 U.S. Marines will be transferred from a base on the Japanese island of Okinawa is being hailed as a major diplomatic accomplishment. But there are also concerns the actual transfer will be fraught with numerous complications.

The revised realignment plan, agreed to by Japan and the United States, is seen as both a compromise and a work still in progress.

It calls for moving nearly half of the 19,000 U.S. Marines off Okinawa. Up to 5,000 are to be re-deployed to the Pacific island of Guam and 4,000 moved to either Hawaii or rotated in and out of Australia.

No timelines were revealed.

Related story - US, Japan Reach Agreement to Move 9,000 Marines

Political analyst and adjunct senior fellow Richard Baker at the East West Center in Hawaii says the agreement comes after complex negotiations involving political, technical, financial and infrastructural issues.

"And I don't think it was inevitable that they would be able to make a meeting of the minds of that sort, so that is the good news," he said. "Now the bad news is that the public handling of this has got to be as sensitive as the negotiations were and as nuanced."

Still unresolved is what to do with a Marine air station in the middle of a congested community on Okinawa. Most analysts believe that a proposed move to a site farther north on the island is unlikely to occur because of strong opposition locally. But the new airfield plan has officially not been scrapped.

Many Okinawans prefer to see all the Marines permanently vacate the  islands.  That is also unlikely in an era when concerns about China's rise mean other Asia-Pacific nations want a reassuring presence of U.S. military forces in the immediate neighborhood.

The Obama administration has been telling its allies that the United States is making renewed and long-term military commitments to the region.

Baker, a retired veteran U.S. diplomat, acknowledges that repositioning troops from Okinawa to Guam and Hawaii may be viewed as a move in the wrong geographical direction.

"Critics will be tempted to say that this belies the intended pivot to Asia. I think that would be an unfair criticism given the realities of the negotiations and the realities of the very, very longstanding problem in Okinawa that this is designed to solve," he noted.

Japan is to partly fund the $8.6 billion cost of a buildup on the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

It will be the largest military presence on the island since the Vietnam War when U.S. Air Force B-52s made daily bombing runs from Guam.

Guam, with a population of about 180,000, already hosts more than 7,000 military personnel, primarily assigned to Andersen Air Force Base, and a facility on the western side of the island known as “Big Navy.”

"The key thing, I think, for most people in Guam, is just to make sure that our infrastructure is developed so we can handle the new capacity," stated Senator Judi Guthertz who chairs Guam's legislative committee on the military buildup. "And that everyone has a deep respect for each other here so that we're able to maintain the new identity and the unique tropicalness and beauty of the island. And I think our military partners are aware of that."

Originally there were plans to move twice the number of Marines -- 9,000 in all, to Guam.

That will somewhat ease concerns over the expensive infrastructure upgrades.

Lawmakers and the public in Guam still have many concerns and unanswered questions. Among them: the location for firing ranges and a port where visiting U.S. Navy aircraft carriers will berth.

The indigenous Chamorros have objected to any range site trespassing on ancient grounds while the initial anchorage site in Apra harbor has upset environmentalists and the tourism sector because dredging would destroy or damage more than 25 hectares of coral.

Guam Senator Guthertz supports the move of more Marines to the island but faces other questions from her constituents.

"Questions that remain are will the military be building housing to accommodate the Marines or will they be using housing available in the community? What kind of services will they need in the community from our private sector companies that are anxious and able to provide responses to their requests for proposals? So the economic benefits, I think, will occur but we're not sure in what shape or what form yet," he said.

Several powerful U.S. senators have been concerned about the plan's overall cost and its impact on America's regional military strategy.

The simultaneous announcement Friday in Tokyo and Washington addressed some of their concerns.

After the joint announcement the senators (Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and Jim Webb, both Democrats, along with former Republican presidential candidate John McCain) issued a statement saying they “still have many questions about the specific details” and its implications for force posture in the Asia-Pacific region.



This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Scott
April 28, 2012 7:43 PM
@ Miguel it's the Okinawans, not the Japanese, that want the Americans off the island. Big difference. Okinawa was an independent kingdom conquered by the Japanese. Many Okinawans along with Chinese and Koreans were conscripted into the Japanese army during WWII and suffered great losses.

by: Scott
April 28, 2012 7:42 PM
@ Henry can't sell the land; Japan already owns and pays for all US base land in Okinawa. But I share the sentiment that the bases should be closed. Futenma is very dangerous located in the middle of a major city.

by: Henry
April 28, 2012 4:38 PM
This is an odd piece to me. First off why did we have to negotiate with Japan? Are we afraid they might attack?! (sarcasm)

We should just bring all our troops home and sell what's left of the military base to Japan. China may rattle a saber or two, but they are not going to attack anyone. I believe their goal is economic dominance - not territory.

by: Miguel
April 27, 2012 8:05 AM
The reason we don't speak Japanese on the US mainland is partly because of the Marine presence in Okinawa - With the Chinese Movie industry reviving the Rape of Nanging in the minds of their people, and China aggressively claiming sovereignty over its neighboring seas - the Japanese are fools to run the Yanks off their soil. Japan may soon find itself alone to face a future Chinese claim that they too are part of greater China.

by: Mike
April 27, 2012 7:27 AM
Perhaps we have no need for these troops at all. I know that the troops are intended to be a trip-wire for Chinese actions but lets be real: there is absolutely nothing a few thousand troops on a remote island can do to influence the Chinese, unless the troops were actually stationed in disputed waters. Better to re-arm Japan itself, perhaps with nuclear-capable weapons. Then China would have to be more respectful.

by: Ken
April 27, 2012 5:05 AM
I think one thing the policy makers in DC fail to take into account is the will of the people in those regions. No surprise as its not done at home. They don't want us there, and our troops have not been warmly recieved.

The US and a few corrupt governments in the area are all that worry on China. Are we truely defenders of "peace and Freedom" or of keeping on top and forcing others to act as we deem?

Which is known as Tyranny.

by: Gerry Roy
April 27, 2012 4:57 AM
Bring ALL our troops home. The cost of keeping them overseas is overwhelming. They can perform their original obligation - keeping America safe - right here. If a foreign nation wants us to play policeman for them, let them pay for the service.

by: W74
April 27, 2012 4:29 AM
Why we need troops stationed on Islands is beyond me. This isn't 1942 and we're not fighting hard-scrabble battles to take marginal guano fields to use as stepping stones.

Japan is a big-boy country now and wants to build it's own military capability back up. Guam can suck it. And what do we need our troops in Australia for? The Aussies are bad-ass (talked to enough of the blokes downrange in Iraq) and far more disciplined than US troops are.

by: Steve
April 27, 2012 4:23 AM
Move the 19,000 U.S. Marines off Okinawa and put them on the US boarder with Mexico.

by: JG
April 27, 2012 4:18 AM
It is time to let Japan determine how they want to defend their country. It is not the job of any country to force how they will be protected. The Japanese are aware of the global threats as well as those next door. Let's pull back and use our manpower for other good.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs