The Resignation of Yukio Hatoyama and the Issue of US Bases in Okinawa
The recent resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has drawn attention once again to the issue of US military bases in Okinawa. One of the main issues contributing to his loss of popularity was his reneging on a campaign promise to have US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma closed. Hatoyama had long been an advocate of reducing the US military presence and as early as 1996 had campaigned for the lower house on a platform that included renegotiating the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and “map[ping] out a structure in which no U.S. forces would be stationed in Japan in normal times.”
Had a Prime Minister with that sort of history backtracked on a promise that was unpopular, it would merely be an issue of internal politics and a fairly mundane one at that. In this case, however, Hatoyama bowed not to internal
pressure but to external pressure. Steve Clemons at Talking Points Memo has gone so far as to argue that Obama has brought down the wrong Prime Minister, though I think that makes the issue a bit too personal. Obama is hardly the first US President to believe that the US has a right to keep military bases in places where they are not wanted. Indeed, doing so is a key element of creating a global image of US power and influence.
It’s not the kind of influence I’ve always valued. It’s not the kind of influence that means people listen to your ideas because they are good and well-supported or trust you because they know your strange-sounding plans have turned out well in the past; it’s not the kind represented by the wild geese in TH White. It is neocolonialist. Or maybe we could just drop the “neo”.
There are many reasons why these bases are unpopular in Japan. Futenma Air Station occupies approximately one quarter of the land of Ginowan City with houses lining the fences. Even civilian airports are rarely built in the center of cities due to the noise and the risks involved; you can imagine why people living near the base would be unhappy with it.
The people of Okinawa, the young women in particular, have also faced direct violence as a result of the US installations there. In 1995, three US servicemen were accused of raping a twelve-year old girl. In 2003, a US Marine was convicted of rape and assault. A series of serious incident occurred in early 2008 which included members of the US military raping a woman in a hotel and a 14-year old girl. While the majority of individuals stationed in Okinawa do not carry out such crimes, those who do are following a precedent set by their government: they take the idea that they do not have to be concerned with what the local people want to its extreme, and horrifying, end.