A small base but giant issue in U.S.-Japan relations
October 24th, 2011
01:34 PM ET

A small base but giant issue in U.S.-Japan relations

By Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy reporting from Tokyo

Futenma Air Station on Okinawa is just one of dozens of American military installations in Japan. It is not the biggest and it is not home to the most American troops, but its status has become a bellwether issue between the two allies.

It almost certainly will come up when U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta meets with the Japan's prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister on Tuesday.  Ahead of his arrival in Japan as part of his weeklong trip to Asia, the issue of one the Marine Corps base on Okinawa was at the forefront.

"Realigning the U.S. military footprint in Japan will make our alliance more effective while reducing the impact of our presence on local populations," Panetta wrote in an op-ed published Monday Morning in a Yomiuri newspaper, Japan's largest daily.  "Moving forward with the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab is a core part of this effort."

Futenma first became an American military base in the waning days of World War Two after the United States invaded Okinawa.  At the time, the area on Okinawa's southwest coast was sparsely populated.  But in recent years, the city of Ginowan has grown up around the base, leaving the runways and base facilities surrounded by densely packed homes and businesses.

In 1995, three U.S. Marines stationed on Okinawa assaulted an elementary school girl.  According to a publication by the Okinawa Prefectural Government, the incident "triggered action by the people of Okinawa, demanding the reduction and realignments of U.S. bases."  A rally a short time later drew a record crowd of 85,000 protesters.

The next year, the United States and Japan agreed to relocate Futenma and the 1st Marine Air Wing to a less populated area and return the Futenma property to Okinawa.

The two countries later agreed many of the Marines from Futenma would move to a Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) on Camp Schwab in central Okinawa.

Now, 16 years after the Okinawa people began demanding that Futenma close down, the secretary of defense will become the latest U.S. official to talk with Japan's leaders about this thorn in the side of a decades-old alliance.

"I will make clear to them that we continue to support our commitment with Japan with regards to Futenma and with regards to Okinawa," Panetta told reporters before flying to Japan.

But he also pointed out that Japan is part of the reason for delays in closing the current Futenma base and opening the new FRF airbase at Camp Schwab.

"I think it's very important that Japan proceed with obviously moving forward with Futenma (replacement facility), getting the appropriate permits that are required in order for ... that development for the airbase to take place. And it's been going on a long period of time," Panetta said.

The slow action on FRF is symptomatic of a larger problem in Japan. The nation has had six prime ministers in five years, which is not conducive to decision making.

Panetta has a rich agenda of matters to discuss in Japan, including further cooperation in the area of ballistic missile defense and arms exports.

"We think that it's very important that the United States and Japan be able to work together to provide technology and assistance to others as we move forward" on ballistic missile defense, according to a senior defense official who talked with reporters on the flight to Tokyo.

And there is the issue of North Korea. The United States has been trying to talk the North Koreans into returning to the six-party talks to end its nuclear program.  Japan is a key player in those talks.

Panetta may also discuss Japan's search for the FX, their next generation fighter jet. Japan is currently considering three possible platforms, versions of the U.S.-built F-35 and F/A 18 jets and a fighter from a European consortium.

"I think the secretary will be very, very clear that choosing one of the two U.S. platforms makes a lot of sense for the alliance and provides a lot of upsides in terms of interoperability," the official said.

But with all those issues on his plate, his first stop upon landing will be a town hall-style meeting with U.S. and Japanese troops at Yakota Air Base to thank them for their service and answer some of their questions.

Post by:
Filed under: Diplomacy • Japan • Marines • North Korea • Panetta
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Halliburton

    What do You expect. There are a lot of hyper testosterone GIs over there. They need a little young poonanny once in a while.

    November 8, 2011 at 8:49 am | Reply
  2. samiam

    The japs and krouts lost ww2. Thats the price they pay for their aggression and the murder of our American troops. They should be on their knees in gratitude that America is so lenient on them. We are the conquerors in those countries and we should damn well enjoy our spoils of war.

    October 26, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Reply
  3. hrjack

    Well, after 19 yrs in the military and also being stationed around the world I would let everyone that has not served know that there is more going on behind the scenes that the everday civilian is aware of. There is a reason we are in the places we are in and it is because it gives us the U.S. a strategic advantage when confronting the bad guys. It also lets the bad guys know that we are right here and can reach out and touch them very quickly if they choose to do bad things. To all the ones that are so narrow minded and bigotted towards foreigners please remember all our families came from other countries unless you are a native American. I am married to one of those foreigners and no she did not get US citizenship because she did not want it. However, my child that we had after 6 yrs of marriage does have dual citizenship and will have to decide on her 21st birthday which one to keep. Also just remember us idiots in the military also pay taxes and do not make near what ouor civilian counterparts make we choose this life not for the money or the fact that we are going to be separated from our families for months and sometimes years. But so you can sit and say what ever you want wether it is bad mouthing the military men and women, the government or anything else you don't like. But just remember the American military members are the ones that defend your rights.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  4. Jason K

    Don't stop with Nihon, close the ones in South Korea, Germany, Italy, Iraq, and all the other 700 + foreign installations we have. American is not supposed to be an empire, we are supposed to be a constitutional republic! Our National Guard and Coast guard are supposed be be guarding OUR nation, not Iraq! Besides, we have enough work for the military at home protecting our southern borders and helping the law find and get rid of all the free loaders pouring into our country. There, financial problems all solved!

    October 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Reply
    • rob

      and sytematically k!ll all gang members as well.

      October 26, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Reply
  5. Jim W.

    I know that there is a generation of men and women who fought the Japanese and many died in that fight. My namesake Uncle Jim, my Father's oldest brother was killed in Okinawa. But that war is over and it's more than 65 years later. Japan is not the same country as it once was. They have gone out of their way to renounce their past and have tried to put the era of shogun warriors behind them. It was a terrible war and a terrible time. We fought to eliminate those who'd threaten world peace and we won the war against the Axis powers. It seems we've been fighting wars somewhere ever since but Japan is no longer our enemy but rather a loyal ally. We have no business keeping our military on their soil if they don't want us there. It serves very little to no purpose in today's world. I say pack up our gear and turn the bases over to the Japanese government and get our young men and women back home.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:41 am | Reply
    • Dan the man

      The big wigs don't want that, ie the 4-Star/3-Star Generals they want to travel and live in different parts of the world with their families on your dime! Thats wahy they keep selling these bases and their need to Congress, pretty good salesmen huh?

      October 26, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Reply

    I'm in the military and I fully support closing most overseas bases and bringing the troops back to the U.S. I'm sure that'll save billions of dollars. Also, given our ability for power projection, there's really no excuse to keep all of our bases overseas.

    October 26, 2011 at 9:26 am | Reply
    • chefdugan

      Your are absolutly right. The bases are obslete since we can react to any threat instantly. Besides, that;s why we have Hawaii and the duty is so much better.

      October 26, 2011 at 10:12 am | Reply
  7. Dr. Mike

    I remember the Pacific war well. Giving Okinawa back to Japan was a huge mistake. For some unknown reason Japan has been whitewashed for the atrocities they committed in China and elsewhere. At the very least the return of Okinawa should have had provisions for the presence of US bases in perpetuity and exempt from any interference. I do agree with the concept that crimes perpetrated against Okinawans on Okinawan territory should be held accountable but under military tribunal.

    the atrocities inflicted in China and elsewhere make the Nazis appear almost humanitarian. Yes, it could happen again. Remember bushido.

    I am a 1943 model and am quite familiar with the Pacific war having had family members and friends involved. Giving Okinawa back to Japan was a huge mistake. Japanese want us to forget their atrocities. What Japan did in

    chbina and elsewhere make

    October 26, 2011 at 1:10 am | Reply
    • wrong

      you have a really misguided opinion about japanese culture and really about the world in general, there isnt a shred of evidence japan "wants revenge" for WW2.

      whats the point in holding an entire group of people accountable when most of the original perpetrators are dead.

      not to mention you completely ignore what we did to them.

      grow up and have less unintelligent thoughts.

      October 26, 2011 at 10:10 am | Reply
      • Flatsguide

        wrong, you have no concept of history whatsoever. Dr Mike is absolutely right. If you have no clue of what you are talking about, shut up, you'll appear brighter than you do here.

        October 26, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Brad

      Move on man, your inner hatred is eating you alive. The war was a long time ago, how many people are still alive that participated? Time moves on, you need to also. You are obviously Chinese and look what your people did to Tibet and the people living in Central Asia.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  8. japanno1

    get that shyte out of my country. thank you. And take your ugly GI babies with you..the pretty ones can stay and make pornoooo.

    October 25, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Reply
    • Dan the man

      You mean the ugly babies they made with Jap women, half asien/half black?

      October 26, 2011 at 10:03 am | Reply
  9. Normal Person

    It is time for us to come back home from Japan. They can take care of themselves now. Bring our troops home, save some money. It is time! Nobody in that area can afford a conflict nor do they want one. Things are changing in the world, and it is time for us to change our position in Japan. They do not need us over there. All that you have over there is some little clown in North Korea. His day is coming. But the Korean people will handle that.

    October 25, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  10. Going In Circles

    The war machine chugs on.

    October 25, 2011 at 11:12 am | Reply
    • DRTSAT

      and on and on under the watchful eye and the orders of our civilian government.

      October 26, 2011 at 9:23 am | Reply
  11. lovesomuch

    Love it so much…do you like dating a sexy mature woman online ? R u a cougar who is seeking a nice cub , or want to meet a younger man ? u can get what you want here—- The site named ***Cou g ara dot ( 0 M ****. It’s where cougars and younger men can meet(Cougar is the slang for woman who is mature, experienced and want to date with a younger man). maybe you will meet your love here .
    keep it real please !` :)

    October 25, 2011 at 9:57 am | Reply
  12. Fernando

    I will tell these people their own governments should be protecting them not the U.S military and US tax payers. I have been stationed in south Korea twice and their military is very capable of defending their own country. Kevin if you have not done so all ready join the Military and get stationed overseas. What experience do you have before you tell other posters to " Know what you are talking about before posting " . Send your own money to these Governments to finance their defense not my tax dollars. South Korea has one of the most modern military's on the planet so stop talking out your neck we cannot be the world police force, the money is gone, economy in the dumps. US military will start to down size but you want to keep protecting everyone while other nations standby at let the US foot the bill and put our Soldiers life on the line. Kevin I ask you do you know what your talking about? I have 16 years active duty and have been to the middle east, Europe and the far east many times.

    October 25, 2011 at 1:30 am | Reply
  13. Kevin

    Sunwyn Ravenwood,
    Know what you are talking about before posting. Tell the S Koreans that YOU don't think that US troops are needed protecting them. Tell the victims of genocide in Bosia that YOU don't think US troops are needed protecting them. Tell the people of Libya that YOU don't think US troops should be protecting them. So you know, there are NOT "hundreds of thousands of troops on hundreds of bases in well over 100 countries". The BRAC closed quite a few bases around the world back in the 1990s, but your statement is a complete fabrication and full of lies. There were never that many bases and we are not occupying any countries from WW2. Germany and Japan both have their sovereignty and have signed aggreements to have the US presence there. Because of the US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the terrorists have been marginalized around the world. The forces stay in Japan because they are a strategic partner against the agressive N. Korea. How can you not see that the N Koreans are intent on dominating the region? They have launched missiles over Japan on a couple of occasions, directly threatened them with military action, harassed their shipping and merchant fleets, and developed and detonated nuclear devices in a show of force to it's neighbors that they mean business. What kind of a person are you that would allow someone intent on domination to attack and conquer it's neighbors? How many innocent Japanese and Koreans are YOU will to let die because no one is around to check their hostility? Maybe you just don't care...

    October 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Reply
    • Dan the man

      Most Koreans hate us, they tolerate us because we keep our troops on a tight leash! Germany is the same way, and were pumping billions into their economy which incidentally is doing way better than ours, as is Koreas/Japans too!
      So according to your philosophy we just stay and continue to write blank checks, with no intent of recouping our money? And in the process watch their life-style surpass ours? Pull your head out of your fourth point of contact son!

      October 26, 2011 at 10:29 am | Reply
  14. Sunwyn Ravenwood

    It is time and past time to remove all our troops from Okinawa and all the other countries we have occupied since WW2. We don't need to have hundreds of thousands of troops on hundreds of bases in well over 100 countries. We certainly don't need any in Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, England, and dozens of other countries where we are not fighting,

    We need to bring ALL our troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq and we need to close all our bases except those used for refueling ships and planes and a few weather stations.

    October 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Reply
    • redleg

      Sunwyn, it's not that easy. It's actually more cost effective to keep some stationed overseas. We don't have all the transportation assets we need to move combat troops to a site from CONUS. We don't have the funds to do that either. Also, drawing everthing back turns us back into an isolationist country. That didn't work out too well for us in the early part of the 20th Century and wouldn't work out well again.

      October 26, 2011 at 9:42 am | Reply
    • Dan the man

      yeah its past due to reasess our role in countries, where were only tolerated because of the billions we pour into their economies! The Soldiers are even questioning their role. They spend most of their time, wasting time, sightseeing, travelling, getting in trouble, marrying foreigners, who only want a green card to obtain citizenship, having babies out of wed-lock etc, etc! And the tax-payer pays for all these services!

      October 26, 2011 at 9:55 am | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.