Ginowan City, with Futenma Air Base in the Center*
In negotiations between democracies, the atmosphere and public perceptions of the negotiations can matter even more than their paper outcome. In negotiations with Japan over relocating Futenma, the U.S. Marine Corps air station in the middle of Ginowan City, it’s time for the United States to recognize that. Maintaining an effective relationship with the Japanese public requires a policy change on Futenma relocation.
The U.S. bases much of its presence in Japan on Okinawa, an island strategically located near the Taiwan Strait. The tactical arguments for why the U.S. marines need to be in Okinawa province are compelling, even if the public relations effort at explaining it has been inept.
Marines operate as a combined air-land-sea force and these different elements would have to be brought to bear together, and quickly, in the event of a crisis–such as an attack on Taiwan from the Chinese mainland. The new V-22 Osprey transport aircraft the Marines plan to deploy there can take off and land vertically, but apparently requires a new long runway “just in case” due to reliability issues.
But the reason the U.S.-Japan relationship works is, more than anything else, strategic rather than tactical. Japan–and, for that matter, Taiwan (as I noted here)–are able to develop closer ties with mainland China because they understand the United States is committed to ensuring their security. The reason the United States is able to protect its allies and economic interests in the region is because commitments have been made in treaties and are consistently repeated at the highest levels. That is a strategic, not a tactical, matter.
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