USA/Japan — U.S., Japan Agree to Relocate Air Base on Okinawa

WASHINGTON, May 28, 2010 — The Unit­ed States and Japan agreed yes­ter­day to relo­cate a con­tro­ver­sial U.S. air base to a less dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed area on the Japan­ese island of Oki­nawa.

The future of Marine Corps Air Sta­tion Futen­ma had been a sub­ject of intense polit­i­cal debate in Japan that led to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the base being moved off the island entire­ly, despite a 2006 agree­ment to relo­cate it on Oki­nawa.

Talks between Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton and Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates for the Unit­ed States and For­eign Min­is­ter Kat­suya Oka­da and Defense Min­is­ter Toshi­mi Kitaza­wa for Japan addressed a range of secu­ri­ty con­cerns and yield­ed sub­stan­tial agree­ment, offi­cials said.

For years, Oki­nawans have said they car­ry the major­i­ty of the bur­den of host­ing Amer­i­can forces in Japan, and the agree­ment vows “to reduce the impact on local com­mu­ni­ties, includ­ing in Oki­nawa, there­by pre­serv­ing a sus­tain­able U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in Japan,” accord­ing to a joint state­ment issued by the secu­ri­ty and con­sul­ta­tive com­mit­tee.

“The [com­mit­tee] mem­bers expressed their shared com­mit­ments to relo­cate Marine Corps Air Sta­tion Futen­ma and return the base to Japan as part of the alliance trans­for­ma­tion and realign­ment process,” the state­ment said.

Oth­er realign­ment ini­tia­tives — includ­ing the relo­ca­tion of about 8,000 Marines and 9,000 fam­i­ly mem­bers from Oki­nawa to Guam — depend on com­ple­tion of the Futen­ma replace­ment facil­i­ty. The relo­ca­tion to Guam will return of most of the U.S. facil­i­ties south of Kade­na Air Base to Japan.

“Bear­ing this in mind, the two sides intend to ver­i­fy and val­i­date that this Futen­ma relo­ca­tion plan appro­pri­ate­ly con­sid­ers fac­tors such as safe­ty, oper­a­tional require­ments, noise impact, envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns and effects on the local com­mu­ni­ty,” accord­ing to the state­ment.

The agree­ment con­firms that the replace­ment facil­i­ty will be at the Camp Schwab Henoko-saki area and adja­cent waters. The min­is­ters put an end-of-August dead­line for com­ple­tion of a study of the replace­ment facility’s loca­tion, con­fig­u­ra­tion and con­struc­tion method. Ver­i­fi­ca­tion and val­i­da­tion will be com­plet­ed by the time of the next secu­ri­ty con­sul­ta­tive con­fer­ence, offi­cials said.

The com­mit­tee also looked at ways to mit­i­gate the bur­den that Oki­nawans bear. The two sides com­mit­ted to expand the relo­ca­tion of U.S. forces train­ing activ­i­ties off the island. Japan­ese mil­i­tary facil­i­ties and areas in main­land Japan may also be used. “Both sides also com­mit­ted to exam­ine the relo­ca­tion of train­ing out­side of Japan, such as to Guam,” the state­ment said.

The committee’s state­ment rec­og­nizes that the alliance remains indis­pens­able not only to the defense of Japan, but also to the peace, secu­ri­ty, and pros­per­i­ty of the Asia-Pacif­ic region. The talks were con­duct­ed in the shad­ow of North Korea sink­ing a South Kore­an war­ship in March. The ten­sions in the region have increased, offi­cials not­ed, and also reaf­firmed the need for the Mutu­al Secu­ri­ty and Coop­er­a­tion Treaty between the Unit­ed States and Japan.

In light of the uncer­tain­ty of the sit­u­a­tion in Korea, the talks reaf­firmed the U.S. com­mit­ment to Japan’s secu­ri­ty.

“Japan recon­firmed its com­mit­ment to play­ing a pos­i­tive role in con­tribut­ing to the peace and sta­bil­i­ty of the region,” the state­ment said. “Fur­ther­more, the [com­mit­tee] mem­bers rec­og­nized that a robust for­ward pres­ence of U.S. mil­i­tary forces in Japan, includ­ing in Oki­nawa, pro­vides the deter­rence and capa­bil­i­ties nec­es­sary for the defense of Japan and for the main­te­nance of region­al sta­bil­i­ty.”

The min­is­ters also pledged a “Green Alliance” between the nations on bases, and said both nations would be good envi­ron­men­tal stew­ards. The two sides intend to study oppor­tu­ni­ties to expand the shared use of facil­i­ties between U.S. and Japan­ese forces, which would con­tribute to clos­er bilat­er­al oper­a­tional coor­di­na­tion, improved inter­op­er­abil­i­ty and stronger rela­tions with local com­mu­ni­ties, offi­cials said.

The min­is­ters also affirmed their inten­tion “to inten­si­fy com­mu­ni­ca­tion with com­mu­ni­ties in Oki­nawa on issues of con­cern relat­ed to the pres­ence of U.S. forces.” The two sides com­mit­ted to explore coop­er­a­tion in such areas as infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy ini­tia­tives, cul­tur­al exchanges, edu­ca­tion pro­grams and research part­ner­ships.

The min­is­ters agreed to inten­si­fy their ongo­ing bilat­er­al secu­ri­ty dia­logue. “This secu­ri­ty dia­logue will address tra­di­tion­al secu­ri­ty threats, as well as focus on new areas for coop­er­a­tion,” the state­ment said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)