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Truth and Falsehood behind Okinawa Bases (Part 3): Okinawa’s geographical superiority called into question

  • 2016-02-05 15:00:00
  • , Ryukyu Shimpo
  • Translation

(Ryukyu Shimpo: February 5, 2016 – p. 3)


 The government has long regarded the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan as “potential conflict zones around Japan” and emphasized that Okinawa offers “geographical superiority” as a base-hosting location, as U.S. Marines stationed in the prefecture serve as “deterrence” against contingencies in these areas.


 In recent years, North Korea’s missile program has become a major issue of concern. If the North fired a missile, the U.S. Air Force would conduct an interception operation and the U.S. Navy’s submarines travelling in coastal waters would launch counter-missile attacks.


 What duty would the Marines perform during a Korean Peninsula crisis?


 Former U.S. Consul General in Naha Aloysius O’Neill once discussed the Marines’ role in the event of emergencies in an interview held [with Ryukyu Shimpo] after his retirement.


 “An amphibious assault ship in Sasebo (Nagasaki Prefecture) would pick up Marines [in Okinawa] and travel, for example, to the Korean Peninsula.”


 Amphibious assault ships are a linchpin of the Marines’ key assault attack operations. In the event of contingencies, they carry personnel, supplies, fighter jets, helicopters, amphibious vehicles and other equipment to launch assault attacks from the sea. The USS Bonhomme Richard, which goes on missions with the Marines, is based in Sasebo.


 If a contingency arose in the Korean Peninsula, USS Bonhomme Richard would depart Sasebo and travel 30 to 32 hours south to White Beach in Uruma. It would pick up supplies at Makinominato Service Area and board personnel at Camp Hansen. Then it would load aircraft at U.S. Marines Air Station Futenma and head north to the Korean Peninsula. These procedures would be problematic. Amid time-sensitive emergency-response operations, sending a ship back and forth would be inefficient.


 Masato Shinozaki, a senior staff writer at Rimpeace, a civic group monitoring U.S. forces in Japan, explains that it usually takes 30-40 hours for an amphibious assault ship to reach Pusan in South Korea from White Beach. The total travel time from Sasebo to Okinawa and to the Korean Peninsula would be about 70 hours. Meanwhile, it takes only eight to 12 hours to sail straight from Sasebo to Pusan.


 Okinawa refutes the national government’s argument that the Marines are in Okinawa because of its “geographical superiority” precisely because for these reasons. The prefecture claims that “from a military perspective, it is more efficient [for the Marines] to be based in Kyushu.”


 The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31MEU), a response team at the U.S. Marines in Okinawa, travels on the USS Bonhomme Richard for more than six months a year to patrol the seas. Its duty area covers Southeast Asia and the West Pacific Ocean, but in recent years, it has patrolled the East Coast of Australia on many occasions.


 If a crisis occurred on the Korean Peninsula, the 31MEU would be sent there from where it is operating. It is travelling a greater distance every day, which dwarfs discussions on whether the Marines should be based in Okinawa or Kyushu.


 To respond to arguments that call into question Okinawa’s geographical superiority, the national government has been explaining of late that Okinawa is located “close (but not too close)” to potential conflict zones. The Okinawa government had asked it to provide grounds for Okinawa’s “geographical superiority” when the Ministry of Defense published a leaflet that discusses the significance and roles of U.S. forces in Okinawa and Marine Corps in 2011. The national government is also maintaining this position in an ongoing lawsuit over the revocation of a landfill permit off Henoko, Nago.


 On the concept of “close, but not too close,” Okinawa has been asking the national government to provide data, such as distance, in concrete terms, but it has been avoiding giving straight answers, saying “This can change depending on circumstances.” The prefecture argues that “the national government cannot verify the concept and is trying to twist things around,” stressing that there is no strong justification for Okinawa’s geographical superiority. (Slightly abridged)

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