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Debate: Closing US military base in Okinawa

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Should the US close (or move) its base in Okinawa? Should Japan call for this?

The US military presence in Japan and on Okinawa began at the end of World War II. Although the US occupation in Japan ended in 1952, US administration continued on Okinawa until 1972. In 1951, when the San Francisco Peace Treaty was officially recognized, Okinawa legally became a possession of the United States. In 1972, control of Okinawa was reverted to Japan The US-Japan security relationship is defined by a number of documents, including the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, which commits both countries to meet common dangers, and a Status of Forces Agreement that governs the legal status of US forces and their dependents stationed in Japan.

Since the end of World War II, US forces have mounted major operations from Japan when needed. Among the most important of these operations was the initial defense of South Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War, when Eighth US Army units left occupation duties in Japan to help defend South Korea. The United States again used its bases in Japan and on Okinawa to fight the Vietnam War.The Korea Conflict of 1950 emphasized the need for maintaining a naval presence in Okinawa.

Discontent among the people of Okinawa regarding the US military presence and its impacts has been rising for years.In December 1996, after 12 months of study and consultations, the governments in Tokyo and Washington and their representatives on the Special Action Committee on Okinawa produced their final report concerning the return of US military base properties on the island. The United States agreed to return to Japanese control about 21 percent of the land on Okinawa used for US military bases, adjust training and operational procedures, implement noise abatement procedures, and change Status of Forces Agreement procedures.

The United States and Japan agreed in 2006 to move Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to another part of the island in five years. But the new Japanese administration wants that plan put on hold. In 2006, Japan and the United States agreed to close Futenma and move its facilities to another Marine base with a heliport built on reclaimed land offshore. That agreement also called for 8,000 marines to be moved off Okinawa, to the US territory of Guam. The plan came after 15 years of negotiations but Japan's new government now wants to reconsider it. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan won a historic election in August, in part by calling for a review of that 2006 agreement. Four DPJ members from Okinawa won parliamentary seats with promises of reducing the US troop presence on the island.

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Pro

Yes,the US Military Base in Okinawa should be closed as the US Marines are a tremendous burden in Okinawa, particularly the infantry and the training needs of the infantry in Okinawa can't really be met on the island, given the sensitivities there. Okinawa accounts for less than one percent of Japan's land, but hosts about two-thirds of the 47,000 American forces in the country. In recent years, Okinawans have grown increasingly angry about the military presence, because of land disputes and highly publicized violent crimes committed by a few U.S. troops.


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Con

No, US should not close its military base in Okinawa as Okinawa's proximity to potential regional trouble spots promotes the early arrival of US military forces due to shorter transit times and reduces potential problems that could arise due to late arrival. The early US explorers labeled Okinawa as the "Keystone of the Pacific" since Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila, and Tokyo all lie within a 1,500 km radius of the islands. Okinawa is equidistant from several parts of the Pacific, whether it's Tokyo, Seoul, Taiwan or the Philippines. The forward deployment on Okinawa significantly shortens transit times, thereby promoting early arrival in potential regional trouble spots such as the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan straits, a significant benefit in the initial stages of a conflict. For example, it takes 2 hours to fly to the Korean peninsula from Okinawa, as compared with about 5 hours from Guam, 11 hours from Hawaii, and 16 hours from the continental United States. Similarly, it takes about 1 1/2 days to make the trip from Okinawa by ship to South Korea, as compared with about 5 days from Guam, 12 days from Hawaii, and 17 days from the continental United States.

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Pro

The Japanese prime minister Hatoyama took office last September promising to reduce the military burden on the southern island, which hosts more than half the 47,000 US troops stationed in Japan. Hatoyama's Democratic party won in a landslide last August, ending 50 years of almost unbroken rule by the conservative Liberal Democrats who by and large submitted unquestioningly to Washington's will. His ideas about giving Japan a more independent voice in the world, of loosening the American harness, were actually quite modest and mostly unlikely to be implemented.If Hatoyama has to survive as a Prime Minister it becomes imperative for him to honor his promises and relocate the Us Military base.

Last month about 100,000 people protested against locating the base anywhere on Okinawa, while leaders from smaller islands in the region have also voiced opposition to hosting US marines.Simmering resentment towards the US presence on Okinawa exploded into anger in 1995 after three servicemen abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl, a crime that prompted lengthy negotiations on reducing the country's military footprint.


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Con

The Department of Defense believes that Marine Corps forces along with other US forces on Okinawa satisfy the US national security strategy by visably demonstrating the US commitment to security in the region. These forces are thought to deter aggression, provide a crisis response capability should deterrence fail, and avoid the risk that US allies may interpret the withdrawal of forces as a lessening of US commitment to peace and stability in the region.

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