Japan Behind the News >> The Guam Concession: Why Japan Is Helping Pay to Move the Marines out of Okinawa

Cultural News, April 2010 Issue

By Motoaki Kamiura, Military Analyst

Translated by Alan Gleason 

Motoaki Kamiura

Motoaki Kamiura

The controversy over where to move the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station from its current location in central Okinawa continues to rage in Japan.

For years Okinawans have been upset about the hazards posed by Futenma, which lies in the midst of a densely populated district of the island. When the United States decided to shift a sizable portion of the Marines’ Okinawa presence to Guam, plans were also drawn up to move Futenma. However, the U.S. requested that Japan provide land to replace Futenma at another location somewhere in Japan.

Besides agreeing to this, Japan did something unprecedented: it agreed to help cover the cost of building new facilities for the Marines in the U.S. territory of Guam. It would also be the first time that the U.S. military received financial assistance from a foreign government to build facilities within American territory.

Of the estimated 10.3 billion dollars it will cost to move the Marines to Guam, the Japanese government will cover 6.1 billion. Out of this amount, 2.8 billion will consist of outright payment for the construction of administrative buildings and barracks, and 3.3 billion is earmarked for loans and investments in building family housing, roads, and utility-related infrastructure.

To justify this unheard-of financial aid to U.S. forces, Japan needed a rationale of some sort. What it came up with was this: Japan was requesting that the U.S. move the Marines to Guam so as to ease the burden imposed on Okinawa by the presence of foreign troops.

The Marines are America’s elite military force, charged with being the first to deploy anywhere in the world to fight or provide support. Consequently they are equipped with aircraft and warships that provide them with optimum mobility. If the Marines’ combat units move from Okinawa to Guam, common sense dictates that the Marine air squadrons at Futenma and Iwakuni, and their vessels based at Sasebo, should move with them.

Yet despite this, Japan has insisted only on relocating the Marine facilities in Okinawa to Guam — and therefore, the government explains, it must help foot the bill for the new Guam base.

The reason for this seemingly illogical arrangement is simple: contracts for constructing the new facilities on Guam will go to Japanese corporations. In a nutshell, the government will use Japanese taxpayers’ money to build a U.S. military base on U.S. territory. By diverting a portion of this largesse to Japanese contractors, Japan’s politicians and bureaucrats will acquire a new “base concession” for themselves and their supporters.

Motoaki Kamiura is a Tokyo-based military analyst. He appears frequently on national television programs.

Alan Gleason is an editor, writer, and Japanese-English translator. He lives in Tokyo.

(Cultural News, April 2010 Issue, All Rights Reserved)