Futenma poses a major challenge to President Obama’s administration, but has gotten fairly little exposure in the U.S. press. Although it is a word that is likely unfamiliar to most Americans stateside, the Japan Times mentions it continually.
Futenma is a U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa. Due to the base’s location in the middle of the city, to the noise pollution it creates and, in part, to the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three American marines, Futenma has been a controversial issue for the local population. On Oct. 26, 2005, the U.S. government and Japan – who had previously agreed that Futenma would be moved to a new location – agreed that Futenma would be moved to an existing Marine infantry base called Camp Schwab.
Japan’s government, however, is now controlled by the Democratic Party of Japan, a center-left party that defeated the conservative Liberal Democratic Party in the elections last August. Led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ tried to overturn the deal and move the Marines out of Japan to locations such as Guam. Both the U.S. military and administration officials rejected this offer, citing Okinawa’s strategic importance in ensuring East Asian security.
But Hatoyama’s indecisiveness on this issue has reignited the Futenma controversy, and locals in Okinawa protest the burden imposed by the American base almost daily. Obama’s silence on this matter only serves to solidify the perception among Japanese that the United States is not listening and does not intend to address Japanese concerns.
Granted, the Obama administration was dealt a tough hand on this one. There was little that could have been done in preparation for a controversy involving Futenma and a prime minister who seems more interested in appeasing his leftist partners than in showing a strong commitment to the U.S.-Japanese alliance. But the ball is now in Obama’s court to make the case to the Japanese people that a strong cooperative alliance is necessary between the United States and Japan.
He can start by taking a page out of former President George W. Bush’s book, and engage and develop a friendship with Hatoyama. Bush and Junichiro Koizumi had a very close relationship; they even went on a widely covered retreat to the home of one of Koizumi’s idols, Elvis, in Memphis, Tennessee. One of the fruits of their friendship was the contribution of Japanese Self Defense Forces to reconstruction in Iraq. If President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi could rock out to Elvis, Obama and Hatoyama ought to at least have a dialogue about why a continued American presence in Okinawa is important.
Obama must cite the threat to East Asian security that a nuclear-armed North Korea would pose, especially in the case of the death of the currently ailing dictator Kim-Jong Il. This should be no problem, as Obama and Hatoyama both have stated interests in nuclear nonproliferation.
Obama ought to also remind Hatoyama that the United States does all the heavy lifting in their alliance. Under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, the United States is obligated to defend Japan if it should come under attack, but Japan does not have the same obligation vis-à-vis the United States. The prospects of maintaining such a one-sided commitment would not be worthwhile if U.S. bases were no longer welcome in Japan.
Fortunately, the Japanese government has not yet reached the point of calling for a renegotiation or termination of the alliance. Obama must act quickly to nip this issue in the bud before it turns into a larger fiasco. Much has been sacrificed for the United States and Japan to enjoy decades of friendship. It would be a tragedy for wishful thinking on one side and inaction on the other to bring that friendship to ruin.
Reece Scott is a junior in the College. He is currently studying abroad in Nagoya, Japan.
Conscience of a Conservative, by Jeffrey Long, will not appear this week.
*To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact opinionthehoya.com. Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words.*”