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Published:December 1st, 2009 12:00 EST

Futenma Dilemna Revisited

By Geoff Dean

 Although skillfully and adroitly avoided during President Obama recent visit to Japan, the Futenma Air Base relocation issue continues to create disharmony in the US-Japan relationship. It as created plenty of internal Japanese disharmony, as well.

 Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima has joined the cacophony with his announcement that Prime Minister Hatoyama has "assured" him that the impasse will be dealt with by the Japan-US working-level talks and that no decision has yet been reached. This comes amid reports that the Japanese government may have already acquiesced to US demands for a relocation within Okinawa, and not out of the islands or even the country, as many are requesting.

 Nakaima referred to the base as a "burden" and "danger" to the residents of Ginowan-city which must be moved as soon as possible. This may mean, he concedes, relocation within Okinawa but he adds that this may only be a temporary solution.

 The current plan to relocate to artificial land to be consturcted off Nago, Okinawa as an expanded part of Camp Schwab, has been criticized in some parts as a) damaging to the environment, b)failing to reduce the danger to Okinawan residents, and c)unlikely to solve noise pollution and military personnel crime issues.

 All the while, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada continues to push for a move to and consolidation with Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, despite opposition from Kadena residents and the US military. He has also insisted that the matter must be resolved by year-end while the Prime Minister has indicated that this will not be possible.

 Into the maelstrom of confusion, Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto ambled. He opined that Futenma Air Base could be moved to Kansai International Airport, the promised "hub airport" that has, in fact, turned into a big money loser for Japan. He said that in this way, the "burden" of Okinawa could be lightened. (It is interesting to note that Japanese politicians and commentators, depsite various views, all seem to see US military bases as burdens that must be borne). Hashimoto quickly added that this unexpected idea was his own and there was no prompting from the central government.

 Since everybody is putting in their two yens worth on this one, I propose moving Futenma Air Base to and combining it with Camp Fuji, a US military base, located, not all that surprisingly, near the base of Mt. Fuji. This area is much less densely populated than Okinawa. Furthermore, across the street from Camp Fuji, there is a major Japan Self-Defense Force Base. If this base were offered to the US, in exchange for departing Ginowan, it would surely be logistically much easier as the space and indeed the base are already there (needing some adaptions, of course).

 Finally, there are those who still insist on Futenma`s removal, and in some extreme cases, all American bases` removal from Japanese soil.

 Further fuel may be added to the fire with the imminent release of two secret documents, the Treaty of Revision, which governed the return of occupied Okinawa to Japan in 1972 and another secret treaty authorizing nuclear equipped ships to port in American bases in Japan, despite public Japanese government promises to the contrary. Both are expected to show further just how "unequal" the US-Japan relationship is and increase Japanese frustration with the US.

 Of course, ultimately, the US may go over all the Japanese opposition and force through the original agreement. Futenma may be relocated to Camp Schwab as scheduled, and there may even be no room for further discussions, as US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, somewhat bombastically proclaimed. But the US would do well to remember Subic Bay.

 Subic Bay was a US military installation in the Philipines, along with Clark Air Force Base and others. The Philipines chafed under what they felt were unfair "burdens" and unequal treaties imposed on them. Rightly or wrongly, they felt used and abused and ultimately kicked the US military out. The US warned of imminent danger to the Philipines and of a downgraded relationship with the US but ultimately it passed and today the Philipines is a partner, albeit a minor one, of the US. Surely, the US doesn`t want the same result in Japan. A little concession, here and there, on Futenma could be an antidote for "ani-base fever". Is Futenma really important enough to put a critical relationship at risk?