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U.S. military landscape on Okinawa to change

Date Posted: 2012-02-17

The only thing certain about the U.S. military’s presence on Okinawa for the coming years is that everything is unclear, caught in a combination of political intrigue and fiscal realities.

A series of announcements from Washington and the Obama administration over the past week have military leaders scrambling to answer dozens of questions from Okinawa to Tokyo to Guam to Korea, and nobody’s really certain what the actual answers should be. The principal announcement that 8,000 U.S. Marines will be moved off Okinawa in short order is clear; the ‘where’ is far from clear. There’s been talk of sending some to Iwakuni in mainland Japan, but that’s being rejected, and there’s been talk bantered about sending some to Korea, another concept that’s been rejected by Korean leaders.

What is certain is that the Marines are going somewhere, and soon, as the U.S. has de-linked the headaches of relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from Okinawa to Guam from the troops relocation issue. President Barack Obama last fall struck a deal to send 2,700 Marines to Australia, and that’s been confirmed by the week’s talk. Another site would be the Philippines, where Marines would work on Philippine military installations. Guam’s still in the picture, with the number downsized to about 3,700~4,700, and now in a unit-deployment role instead of transfers with families.

Another change in Asia-Pacific movement would find U.S. Navy ships being stationed in Singapore to counter China’s rising military influence in the region. It would appear that the troop levels in Korea will remain the same, while analysts determine exactly what the new regime of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un shapes up to be. “We are diversifying our strategic and military approach,” says Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for Asian Affairs. “We will keep a strong commitment in Northeast Asia, but we will focus more of our attention in Southeast Asia.”

Japan and the U.S. are sticking to their guns, insisting that the controversial Futenma Marine Corps Air Station will eventually move to Henoko, in a sparsely populated region of northern Okinawa. Exactly when, or how, that will happen is unclear, given opposition from the Okinawa governor and many local Okinawa communities. The U.S. Congress has cut funds for relocating Marines to Guam, and some U.S. Senators are lobbying for a merger of Futenma with the sprawling U.S. Kadena Airbase located only a few kilometers away.

The Guam expansion is projected now to cost in excess of $23 billion, compared with the $9 billion when the concept was hatched a few years ago, with Japan underwriting $6 billion of the cost.

The U.S. Congress has already slashed funding for the Guam build up, and Japan has been reconsidering its involvement, given the requirements for $300 billion to rebuild its own infrastructure in the wake of the March 11th 2011 Great Tohoku Eartehquake.

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