TOKYO — The think tank New Diplomacy Initiative (ND) has compiled a policy recommendation arguing that the Futenma Air Station could be returned without building a new military base in Japan by reviewing the U.S. Marines’ operations. ND board members presented this report at the House of Representatives members’ office building on Feb. 24.
The purpose of this policy recommendation is to inform the people of the Marines’ role and show that “Henoko relocation is not the only option.” ND is also planning to hold an event to release its report in Washington in order to present alternatives to building a new base in Henoko to the U.S. side. It wants to enhance public consciousness in order to urge the Japanese and U.S. governments to reconsider the Henoko relocation plan.
The ND’s policy recommendation argues that the Futenma relocation and related issues can be resolved after the current U.S. Forces Japan realignment plans (revised in 2012) are implemented by transferring the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU with 2,000 members) – which is supposed to remain in Okinawa – out of Japan. It suggests concrete ways for Japan to support the 31st MEU’s operations [after it moves out], such as by providing high-speed transport vessels or maintaining the infrastructure for hosting reinforcements in an emergency, and will look into the feasibility of these steps.
The report is the result of the ND’s research since it was founded in August 2013. It consists of two parts: (1) alternatives to Henoko relocation and (2) a new rotation method for the Marines.
The report explains that since the main forces of the 4th and 12th Marine Regiments are slated to be moved out of Japan under the realignment plans, only the command functions and the 31st MEU will remain. Since the 31st MEU’s main mission is to board the Navy’s assault landing ships in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, and engage in joint exercises for humanitarian aid and disaster relief in Southeast Asia, it actually spends less than one-third of a year in Okinawa.
The ND stresses that if ready access to the landing ships can be ensured, the 31st MEU does not necessarily have to be stationed in Okinawa. Consequently, the aircraft wing on the Futenma base, which provides transportation capability for the 31st MEU, would not have to stay in Okinawa, so there would be no reason to build a new military base in Henoko.
In addition, it proposes that Japan could shoulder the cost for transporting 31st MEU troops and supplies by high-speed ships and asks the Japanese and U.S. governments not to be fixated on “Henoko as the only option” and to “look for realistic technical and operational solutions.”
The think tank also proposes a system for the Self-Defense Forces to participate in the 31st MEU’s humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations and converting the Marines’ command functions remaining in Okinawa into a joint center for responding to earthquakes, typhoons, droughts, and other disasters in the region, which, it claims, would contribute to regional confidence building centered on the Japan-U.S. alliance. (Abridged)