I’ve believed, like many people here, that if only Prime Minister firmed up and took the heat for sticking with the 2006 agreement to move the U.S. Marine helicopters on Futenma Base to a base to be built offshore of Camp Schwab on the coral seas of the remotest part of Nago City, everyone except the pacifist SDP would fall into line, the bulk of the Marine forces at Futenma could be relocated to Guam, and Futenma would revert to Japan to be used for non-military purposes. After all, the DPJ manifesto and the subsequent DPJ-SDP-PNP policy pact had only carried a vague reference to revisiting the U.S. troop realignment, and even the reprisal in the policy pact—hammered out on the DPJ side by Katsuya Okada—had been a grudging concession to the SDP. The DPJ would—did—have more than enough on the domestic agenda without U.S. relations becoming an unwelcome distraction. The projected landfill might be something of an eyesore, but few people would notice, as Henoko, the part of Nago where Camp Schwab now resides, is one of the most sparsely populated areas in all of Okinawa. More significantly, the helicopter base would bring welcome Tokyo money. Perhaps that is why Nago has elected three pro-base mayors—albeit professing great reluctance and a powerful sense of public duty—in a row. Thus, I had believed Foreign Minister Okada’s most recent brainstorm to relocate the helicopters to Kadena Air Base to be no more than a strawman, to be knocked down by the U.S. side—which the Obama administration promptly proceeded to do at all levels from the Defense Secretary on down—and by the Okinawans themselves—which the good assemblymen of the Kadena township immediately proceeded to do, in a unanimous vote that rejected the idea and, for good measure, called for easing the burden on their own shoulders.
So there the matter would end, and the DPJ administration would have to bow to the inevitable. But what do I know? For Okada has continued to pursue the Kadena option as his “personal proposal,” and at least one news report claims that a senior member of the ruling coalition (phrasing that indicates that the person is not a member of the Hatoyama administration) has sounded out the locals with a scrap-and-build plan to move 28 out of the 48 U.S. F-15s stationed on Kadena Base. I am sure that the Obama administration will be very surprised, and not in a nice way, if the Hatoyama administration ever puts this on the negotiating table. I cannot believe that the Hatoyama would put placating the DPJ (and its own most radical, ex-Socialist elements) ahead of Japan and the United States’ individual and joint security concerns, but, as Okada himself admits, there’s no way of moving the helicopters to Kadena if it increases the net burden. Besides, the U.S. side has made it clear that air traffic control requirements preclude the location of the helicopter fleet conjointly with conventional aircraft on the existing space in Kadena.
So is Okada, and by extension Hatoyama, continuing to play the Kadena card as a show of exhausting all possible avenues? Perhaps. But in the meantime, the locals are getting restless. The good assemblymen of Nago have become irritated at the dithering and are threatening to rescind their offer to host the helicopters. An even more ominous turn in local politics, has the DPJ reportedly deciding to back an anti-helicopter base candidate against the pro-base incumbent in the January mayoral election. This, to me, effectively precludes the possibility of the Hatoyama administration giving the nod to Nago as the site within the year—for good, if the DPJ-backed anti-base candidate wins,
What will the fallout of the birth of an anti-base administration in Nago be like? In the near future, nothing—on the ground at least. The relocation of the U.S. troops from Futenma grinds to a stop, and everything is frozen in situ. But frustration and mistrust will build up among everyone involved—the people of Futenma, the Obama administration, the U.S. military, the Japanese national security establishment—with longer-term, negative consequences all around.