Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Socialist Party Alternative to the Henoko Site?

Futenma MCAS, with the Ginowan City surrounding it

One of the enduring minor myths associated with the current coalition government's attempt to revisit the 2006 base shifting agreement with the United States is that one of the microparties in the coalition, the Democratic Socialist Party of Japan (hereafter, the Socialist Party) wants the Marines and their equipment moved entirely out of Japan.

The origins of this myth are hard to trace. Socialist Party Leader Fukushima Mizuho is not known to have ever made this demand. No such demand exists in the DSP’s manifesto. Indeed, the demands made in the supposedly radical Socialist Party manifesto are more tough-minded nationalist than wild-eyed pacifist. It is also fairly accommodating, seeing a need for negotiation rather than confrontation.

“We seek a renegotiation with the United States of the agreement regarding the relocation and realignment of U.S. Forces. We will suggest the reduction and elimination of U.S. bases on Okinawa and elsewhere. We seek a closure of the Futenma MCAS and the return of its land to Japan. We oppose an increase of the functional capabilities of the bases, including the construction of new base facilities at Henoko. We will demand a scrapping of the “Agreement to Move U.S. Forces to Guam.”
Tough demands…but not entirely unreasonable ones and certainly there is no demand that the Marines leave Japan. There is not even a demand that the Marines leave Okinawa.

The Socialist Party does, however, want the unit currently stationed at Futenma MCAS out of Okinawa. To that end Socialist Party members of the Diet Teruya Kantoku (Okinawa #2 District, House of Representatives) and Yamanouchi Tokushin (House of Councillors proportional list seat, a registered resident of Ginowan City) yesterday visited the Ariake Saga Airport in Saga Prefecture, a potential alternative site for the aircraft of the Marine Corps unit currently stationed at Futenma.

After visiting the airport, Teruya declared that Ariake Saga, with no homes in the area and plenty of open space around it, represents the “best location” (he switched to the English phrase to say this) for a base. Careful politician that he is, he immediately qualified his remarks by saying that he was in no way declaring that Ariake Saga should be the site of a new base – that would be a subject for another time.

As can be seen from the above photograph from Google Maps (click on the image to enlarge it) the Ariake Saga Airport has nothing in its immediate vicinity except the sea and many hectares of reclaimed agricultural land. The nearest habitation seems to be about 4 kilometers from the terminal. The current runway is 2000 meters long, long enough for landings and takeoffs for C-130 or a C-17 heavy lift fixed wing aircraft but too short to accommodate an Antonov 124-210 heavy lifter, which only just was able to takeoff from at Futenma, where the runway is 2740 meters in length. However from the aerial view there is no obvious reason why the runway cannot be extended another 1000 meters or more. In addition, since the area around Saga Ariake Airport is reclaimed land one can expect that there will be few of the difficulties with land acquisition, should expansion of the facilities be necessary. In almost every other case, the existence of traditional landholdings would stymie attempts to acquire land for expansion.

On the minus side, and it is a big minus. Saga Ariake Airport is all the way on the other side of the peninsula from the Sasebo Naval Base, where the ships of the III Marine Expeditionary Force are berthed. It looks to be at least 50 kilometers as the crow flies over rugged terrain – a potential deal breaker, as the sea route to a rendezvous follows a ridiculous roundabout

Teruya intends to do a document exchange with officials of the Ministry of Defense to submit materials on the possibility of converting Saga Ariake to U.S. military use. One should hope the bureaucrats of the MOD treat the MPs with greater courtesy than Saga Governor Furukawa Yasushi, who refused to meet with the Socialist MPs on the grounds that their request for a visit was not an official government request.


Anonymous said...

Another consideration is the proximity of the aircraft (helicopters) to training areas for the ground Marines, which are on Okinawa island (and Camp Fuji on Honshu). This makes options such as the one presented here logistically untenable or at least highly undesirable from a U.S. perspective.

MTC said...

Anonymous -

My guess is that the Socialist Party project team is aware of the logistics issue and would propose the shift of Futenma to Ariake Saga as a part of greater sprinkling of U.S. Marines units throughout Saga and Nagasaki Prefectures, reducing the U.S. Marines presence on Okinawa to the jungle training areas and possibly the northern beaches.

This is only my conjecture, however. Someone will have to ask Teruya or Fukushima what the Socialist Party is thinking.

Slotermeyer said...

I dunno. Seeking the "elimination and reduction of U.S. military bases" sounds like wanting the U.S. military to pack up and leave Japan to me, given the nature of Japanese political nuance.