Hatoyama's Confession: The Myth of Deterrence and the Failure to Move a Marine Base Outside Okinawa
Hatoyama Trumps Mubarak
While most Japanese newspapers led with the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the morning of February 13, it was different in Okinawa. Both Okinawan dailies, Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Taimusu, ran as their top story, “Deterrence was [just] a Pretext,” (Yokushiryoku wa hoben).1 In a joint interview held in Tokyo on January 31 and February 8 with the two Okinawan papers and the Kyodo News Agency, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio conceded that he had just given “deterrence” as the factor necessitating retention of the US Marine Corps on Okinawa (and hence the building of a new Okinawa base for them) because he needed a pretext. Nine months after stepping down as Prime Minister, he conceded that this was not true. Since then, Hatoyama has scarcely stopped talking, even giving an interview to a Hong Kong TV station,2 and in the process he has shed vivid light on Japanese policymaking and the US-Japan-Okinawa relationship. Japan scarcely needs a Wikileaks when it has a Hatoyama.
Hatoyama became Prime Minister when the left-of-centre DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) won a landslide victory in the general election of August 30, 2009, defeating the conservative LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) that had ruled post-war Japan almost without a break. He had campaigned on pledges to establish political (rather than bureaucratic) leadership in governance, to build a more equal US-Japan relationship, and secure the return of the Futenma Marine Air station without replacement in the prefecture. Hatoyama had also advanced the view that Japan’s security should be achieved without a permanent US troop presence, and envisaged a more harmonious relationship among China, Japan and Korea as a foundation for the nation’s foreign policy.
Hatoyama’s plan directly challenged the agreement between US and the LDP government to close the dangerous airbase in the middle of densely populated Ginowan City and to build a new air base and military port at Henoko, on the pristine Northeastern shore of Okinawa. The plan to “reduce the burden on the people of Okinawa and thereby strengthen the Japan-US alliance,” was conceived in the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) agreement in 1996.3 In 2006, the US and Japan agreed on the “Roadmap” plan,4 which stipulated that eight thousand Okinawa Marines and their nine thousand family members would be moved to Guam by 2014, and V-shaped runways would be built on Henoko, as a replacement base for Futenma. The plan was hurriedly formalized in February 2009 in the final days of LDP rule.5 When Hatoyama became Prime Minister in September 2009, the thirteen-year old plan for the new base construction in Henoko had not been implemented, primarily because of determined Okinawan opposition.6
Hatoyama’s election pledge and the DPJ triumph at the polls buoyed Okinawans, who had experienced more than six decades of a military base regime in which 75 percent of all US military-use land in Japan is located in Okinawa’s 0.6 percent of Japan’s land. As Prime Minister, however, Hatoyama, failed to break through the thick wall of bureaucratic control of the state or even to negotiate directly with the US. After months of sometimes hopeful, sometimes confusing, and often contradictory proposals for alternative “relocation” plans, Hatoyama finally concluded that there was no viable alternative to the existing plan for a Futenma “replacement” base in Henoko. He thus betrayed Okinawan expectations.
On May 4, 2010, explaining to Okinawans why he had abandoned his pledge, Hatoyama said, “In terms of the role of the Marine Corps in the totality of all US forces in Okinawa, the more I learned, the more I have come to realize their interoperability. I have come to believe that it was the [only] way to maintain deterrence.”7 He offered no explanation, however, of why, after months of efforts to relocate the base outside of Okinawa, he suddenly brought up the concept of “deterrence.” Following the US-Japan Joint Statement on May 28 confirming the two countries’ intention to build a replacement base in Henoko, Hatoyama resigned on June 4. He had served as Prime Minister for just eight months.
In the interview, Hatoyama belatedly explained his decision to revert to the Henoko plan despite overwhelming Okinawan popular opposition. “Deterrence” had simply been a pretext, the ex post facto rationalization for a decision reached after failing to implement his vision for Okinawa and a new Japan-US relationship. As military analysts had long recognized, the Marines functioned not as a “deterrent” against attack on Okinawa or Japan, but as a force used in attacking enemy territory. The role of the Marines was not to protect Okinawan or Japan, but to train for the role they have played in US wars from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. It was in a way no surprise to Okinawans who long suspected that “deterrence” was merely an excuse to justify the new base construction. What was surprising was Hatoyama revealed the details of the Futenma-related negotiations in the days leading up to his resignation, and admitted openly that claims of “deterrence” had been merely a pretext.
Equally notable was that calling for unconditional closure of Futenma without building a replacement base in Okinawa or anywhere else in Japan never seemed to occur to Hatoyama or other Cabinet members. Research indicates that the Marine functions that US plans to move to Guam most likely include Futenma’s helicopter units, which would make it unnecessary to build a replacement base in Okinawa or anywhere else in Japan.8 Building a “replacement” base was presuppositional in the whole discussion of Futenma closure, including the mainstream media and the government.