The Genesis of Henoko as “The Only Solution”
SNA (Seattle) — Whenever American and Japanese officials meet, they engage in a ritual. Their joint statements, invariably invoking a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and “rules-based maritime order,” always swear that their “ironclad alliance” is stronger than ever. Such remarks may be aimed at potential adversaries, or perhaps at reassuring one another. But when the two countries go on to reiterate their commitment to building a US Marine airbase at Henoko in Okinawa, declaring it to be “the only solution,” there is a very different purpose. It is propaganda, and the targets are in Japan.
The “only solution” claim is often embedded in a boilerplate: “the plan to construct the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) at Camp Schwab-Henokosaki area and adjacent waters is the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns and avoids the continued use of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma.”
This first appeared in an October 2013 joint statement from a “2+2” meeting of the top military and foreign policy officials of Japan and the United States. Along with regular appearances in subsequent joint statements, it, or variations thereof, was also twice deployed by US officials when meeting with the late Governor Takeshi Onaga. Even when power changes hands, new administrations follow much the same script as their predecessors.
It is also found in abbreviated form, as when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, upon Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki’s election last October, declared, “Our stance has not changed in that Henoko is the only solution.” Suga has been delivering this message since at least April 2013, just six months before it showed up in a joint statement.
“Only solution,” however, had an antecedent. A year earlier (April 2012), US and Japanese officials were saying that Henoko “remains the only viable solution that has been identified to date.”
If not for Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, the genesis of this “only viable solution” phrasing would likely remain a mystery. But among the diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks was one the US Embassy in Tokyo sent to Washington on October 15, 2009. Focusing on an upcoming visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the cable referred to the Henoko plan: “It will be important for the Secretary to deliver a clear, firm message, emphasizing that the current plan is the only viable option and further delays are unacceptable, according to Japan-US Defense Cooperation Division Director Serizawa.”
One month after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama took office, pledging to seek alternatives to that plan, bureaucrats like Kiyoshi Serizawa were already sabotaging his efforts.
In the event, Gates used his own words, declaring that the plan “may not be the perfect alternative for anyone, but it is the best alternative for everyone. It’s time to move on.” Serizawa’s “only viable option,” though, surfaced in slightly altered form two months later (December 2009). As Jiji Press reported, US officials told Hatoyama’s foreign and defense ministers “that the issue of the planned relocation of the US Marine Corps’ Futenma air station in Okinawa Prefecture should be solved promptly and that the existing plan is the only viable solution.” Here we have US officials reflecting Japanese bureaucrats’ language back at the Hatoyama government.
Thus, while Japan is in a subordinate, client state relationship to the United States, it took the lead on the rhetorical front. Both “only viable option” and “only solution” were apparently of Japanese coinage, and at least in the former case, adopted by Washington at the urging of Japanese officials. That the impetus came from the Japanese side is no surprise. For before the Marine Corps—which evidently considers Okinawa a prize it won in 1945—drew a line in the sand, US officials once showed a measure of flexibility. It is Tokyo that is most deeply committed to the Henoko plan, for reasons that, as former defense minister Gen Nakatani let slip, are political: it fears the blowback from forcing a base on mainland Japan more than on Okinawa. The political establishment, threatened by Hatoyama’s quest for alternatives, devised rhetoric denying their very existence.
Like “There Is No Alternative” (TINA), the 1980s-era slogan British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to promote neoliberalism, these pronouncements convey that the issue is closed and there can be no further debate. They acquire power through repetition, especially when news media fail to challenge such dubious assertions as that Futenma’s assets can be sited nowhere but Henoko.
By using shared expressions, the two governments present a united front. From the Wikileaks revelation noted above, we learn that Defense Policy Director General Nobushige Takamizawa told US officials that “the [Defense] Minister is keen to avoid any public evidence of tension over the FRF issue.” In its determination to stop Hatoyama in his tracks, Washington ultimately dispensed with such niceties, but the United States and Japan ordinarily try to create an aura of inevitability around the Henoko plan based on an absence of “daylight” between them.
The message sent to Okinawa is “resistance is futile,” serving the longstanding strategy of Liberal Democratic Party administrations (and when out of government, their surrogates in the bureaucracy) of trying to break Okinawa’s will.
They deliver a message to mainland Japanese as well. Sayo Saruta, director of the think tank New Diplomacy Initiative, speaks of a “Washington megaphone” employed by the Japanese government to influence domestic public opinion. First, Japan donates to think tanks in the United States, which echo its views on various issues. Japanese media then report those same views as the opinion of American experts on Japan. In a country hypersensitive to such people’s advice, this exerts considerable weight: “we feel the entire United States is telling us to enact collective self-defense or legislate the State Secrets Bill or to put the Trans-Pacific Partnership in place as soon as possible.”
For ten years, elements of the Japanese state have used “only solution” rhetoric to persuade and pressure others in Japan: in 2009, the Hatoyama administration; at other times, Okinawa governors and the Japanese public. Today, the Abe administration uses all the power at its disposal to defeat Okinawa, from backing base-friendly candidates to prosecuting protest leaders. And it continues a campaign to manipulate domestic public opinion for a political purpose—one to which the United States is lending its full support.
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