Throughout its nearly eight years in power, the Abe administration pressed forward with all its might to build a new US airbase at Henoko, Okinawa.
On June 15, Defense Minister Taro Kono announced a suspension of the deployment of the Aegis Ashore missile interception system—a suspension that ten days later became a cancellation. The progression from deciding to deploy Aegis Ashore, to cancelling it, to considering alternatives, reveals policy formation fraught with dysfunction.
For almost two-and-a-half decades, Japan and the United States have insisted that a new US Marine airbase at Henoko—a replacement for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma—is absolutely needed as a solid foundation for the US-Japan Alliance. Last year, however, it was officially revealed that the sea floor where the base is being constructed consists of mayonnaise-soft earth, and that any airstrip built there now could sink into oblivion.
Two helicopter crashes in Okinawa, thirteen years apart, have led to changes in the protocol for responding to such incidents. But as with the first set of changes, this year’s revision may still allow the US military to essentially do as it pleases.
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.
Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller upset many Okinawans last year when he falsified the history of the contentious Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa.
In mid-2018, Okinawa’s anti-base movement faces a crisis. The struggle to resist construction of a US military base in Nago City’s Henoko district has never been easy. It confronts two governments, Japan and the United States, that deploy all instruments of state power–police, propaganda, intervening in local elections—to get their way.
Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa, must close—on that much everyone agrees. But the insistence by the United States and the Japanese central government on building a replacement facility in another part of Okinawa is bitterly opposed by Okinawa’s people and prefectural government.