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Published:January 25th, 2010 21:12 EST
Time for Plan B on Okinawa Base Issue?

Time for Plan B on Okinawa Base Issue?

By Geoff Dean

 Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said it. I wish it had been current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or better still, President Obama.

 "I am pessimistic there will be a positive decision on moving to Henoko (Nago). For the US, my advice to everyone who deals with Japan is that we`d better have a Plan B." And he said this even before the Nago mayoral election saw the replacement of incumbent Yoshikazu Shimabukuro with a relatively unknown opponent, Susumu Inamine, who focused his campaign on opposing the move of Futenma Marine Corps Air Base to Nago.

 In Okinawa now, all Diet members, the majority of the prefectural assembly and all mayors including that of Nago, oppose the plan to move Futenma base to Henoko beach off Nago. They demand that the base be moved out of Okinawa completely. Only Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, citing possible economic benefits to Nago, has supported the move, and he has been forced to backpedal, saying that this is "200 %" a federal government decision and out of his jurisdiction. (He, himself,  faces a tough reelection battle in November, likely to be dominated by the issue.)

 Prime Minister Hatoyama has insisted that the election results will not affect his plans to start with a "clean slate" in seeking the best solution but fellow Democratic party bigwig, Diet member Hideo Hiraoka, said that moving the base to Nago has "almost disappeared" as an option. Coalition junior partners, the Social Democratic Party, have increased their insistence that the base must be relocated out of Japan completely. The leader of another minor party, the People`s New Party (snazzy name, eh?) said that the government should quickly "compile a new proposal in consideration of this popular will."

 This shouldn`t be a problem for the PM, as he supported Nago mayor-elect Inamine in the election and has called for changing and/or cancelling the relocation to Nago himself on various occasions. The problem? There is no Plan B.

 Most people agree that keeping the base in the center of Ginowan city with military flights buzzing the downtown night and day is not a real option. If Nago is taken out of the equation, another is consolidation with Kadena Air Base. The US Military has already declared this unfeasible and this would leave the base in Okinawa anyway.

 Other options have been floated, such as moving everything to remote islands like Shimoji or Ie, further down the Okinawa chain. Still, the remoteness would make it very difficlt and costly to arrange and undoubtedly increase the time that Futenma must remaim as it currently is. Moving everything to Guam has already been pooh-poohed by the US powers that be. The Kansai International Airport as military base has also been ridiculed as impractical and probably unconstitutional.

 Where to go? My own personal plan B is to move Futenma to Camp Fuji in central Japan, near, not surprisingly, Mt. Fuji. After all, there is a major Japanese self-defense force base across the street from Camp Fuji which could be converted fairly quickly to a greatly enlarged base. There also is a public campgrounds which could presumably be added to the plan, making a massive base in one of the least crowded areas of Japan`s main Honshu island. The "burden" could be reduced on Okinawa and the US Military could have more centralized functioning. At some point, Kadena Air Base, Iwakuni, Atsugi, and some of the other more controversial bases could also be "incorporated" here.

 Is this a realisitic Plan B? I don`t know as I am no military expert. It is just the rantings of an amateur who wants the US and Japan to reach accomodation. And it is more that the Hatoyama government and Obama Administration have come up with to this point.