United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced today that all US military forces will be pulling out of Okinawa. All US bases, facilities, and land will be returned to Okinawa, in a graduated withdrawal to begin this summer and be complete by the end of 2012.
The surprise announcement came after tense negotiations between the Obama Administration and the new government of Yukio Hatoyama.
"In close consultation with our Japanese partners, we have come to a detailed and comprehensive agreement that will in two years remove all US troops from Okinawa. This will end more than 50 years of US bases in Okinawa," Gates said.
The presence of the bases - and the accompanying crime, noise, and general disruption - has been a thorn in the side of many Japanese governments and the bane of life for residents of the smallest Japanese prefecture.
US forces are set to move air operations to Guam, and land troops to an uninhabited island near Hawaii.
To appease Hatoyama's coalition partners, among them the People's New Party, the US originally agreed to the proposal that Camp Futenma's functions be moved to the US Marine Corps' Camp Schwab in Nago, also in Okinawa.
However that would have involved constructing a helicopter runway in an inland area within the camp. Environmental groups and local activists squashed that.
At that point, both sides appeared to be out of ideas.
A solution emerged from an unlikely source: Tokyo governor and revisionist historian Shintaro Ishihara. He suggested that, in exchange for a complete US withdrawal, Japan itself agree to carry more of the defense burden.
Ishihara: "Young men in Japan today are make-up wearing, vegetable-eating, testerone-deprived, cell phone-obsessed mamma's boys. This agreement will rid Okinawa of the colonial power, and at the same time put our boys back in uniform - and make men out them. It's a win-win situation for Japan."
Japan's Self Defense Forces (SDF) are now preparing for an onslaught of conscripts. All 18-year-old males will have to register, and beginning January 1, 2011, enlist for a period of one year.
Both sides immediately agreed to Ishihara's proposal, though vocal protests are expected in leftist circles in Japan and demonstrations are scheduled this week at Kyoto University.
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Thursday, April 01, 2010