U.S., Japan to announce new plan for Okinawa

The United States and Japan have agreed to a new plan for closing and consolidating dozens of U.S. military bases and U.S.-controlled locations across Okinawa, in a move that American defense officials believe will unjam a more than 15-year-old effort to reposition thousands of U.S. troops across the Pacific. The “Consolidation Plan for Facilities and ...

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

The United States and Japan have agreed to a new plan for closing and consolidating dozens of U.S. military bases and U.S.-controlled locations across Okinawa, in a move that American defense officials believe will unjam a more than 15-year-old effort to reposition thousands of U.S. troops across the Pacific.

The “Consolidation Plan for Facilities and Areas in Okinawa” expected to be announced publicly on Friday in Japan, represents the first time that Tokyo and Washington have agreed on all the pieces of what to do on Okinawa, a senior defense official told the E-Ring, ahead of the announcement.

Okinawans have for years protested and stalled various efforts to move some U.S. troops off of the island that required new facilities. The main objection has been that closing the unpopular Marine Air Base Futenma, which is in the middle of a heavily-populated inland area, would require relocating Marine aircraft to a coastal base that must be expanded with a new V-shaped runway built out into the sea.

The United States and Japan have agreed to a new plan for closing and consolidating dozens of U.S. military bases and U.S.-controlled locations across Okinawa, in a move that American defense officials believe will unjam a more than 15-year-old effort to reposition thousands of U.S. troops across the Pacific.

The “Consolidation Plan for Facilities and Areas in Okinawa” expected to be announced publicly on Friday in Japan, represents the first time that Tokyo and Washington have agreed on all the pieces of what to do on Okinawa, a senior defense official told the E-Ring, ahead of the announcement.

Okinawans have for years protested and stalled various efforts to move some U.S. troops off of the island that required new facilities. The main objection has been that closing the unpopular Marine Air Base Futenma, which is in the middle of a heavily-populated inland area, would require relocating Marine aircraft to a coastal base that must be expanded with a new V-shaped runway built out into the sea.

The new plan calls for 2,500 acres of land including six major facilities and several smaller areas to be returned to Japan, from entire housing districts to sections of land as small as an access road. The controversial runway will be added to the coastal base.

“This is important because it lays out the plan for us to have a long-term presence in Okinawa, and one that is politically sustainable,” said the senior defense official. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to release a statement following the announcement. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Mark Lippert is in Japan and expected to be on hand with Abe for Friday’s announcement.

The new agreement is the final product of negotiations dating back to a 2006 “road map.” The call for a new plan for U.S. troops and bases on Okinawa, and a specific sequence of steps to implement it, was renewed at last year’s so-called 2+2 meeting between then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and their Japanese counterparts.

In the past month, top U.S. officials have worked to close the deal. President Obama called Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Secretary Hagel called Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter met with Senior Vice Defense Minister Akinori Eto in Japan. In January, Lippert met in Japan with Defense Minister Onodera and Gen. Shigeru Iwasaki, chief of staff of the Joint Staff, Japan Self Defense Forces .

Pentagon officials believe they finally have an agreement that will work, citing Abe’s pledge to get the necessary approval by Okinawa’s governor.

The environmental approval application to start building the new runways was filed just last week.

“Once that happens, we’re rolling,” the senior defense official said.

Originally, the U.S. said it would not be able to move more than 8,000 Marines and their families off of the island without approval for the new location for Futenma. Last year, the U.S. de-linked the Futenma move from the Marines, an effort seen as meant to appease Okinawans.

But another hitch remains unchanged: the Pentagon wants to move the Marines from Okinawa to Guam, which is currently protesting the massive infrastructure projects required to accommodate the influx of Americans.

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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