The announcement by President Barack Obama of a high-level task force on Okinawa is a bid to defuse long-smoldering issues surrounding U.S. force deployment on Japan's southernmost prefecture. It will buy time for tempers to cool but may do little more than paper over continuing problems between the United States and Japan.
In the immediate aftermath of the bitter squabble between two supposedly close allies, there appears to be have been plenty of faults on both sides. The experts will tell us that the United States acted with extreme haste to get the floundering Aso government to agree to a deal over the Futenma replacement facility. In what was termed the "Guam International Agreement," the Obama administration was able thereby to have the Aso cabinet bind its likely Democratic Party successor to an arrangement that was highly unpopular with Okinawans. The process underlined the clear power disparity between the two Pacific allies and left Tokyo with large financial subventions toward the costs of sending U.S. Marines from Okinawa to their new base on Guam.
Yet there really isn't much wriggle room for the Hatoyama coalition cabinet. Faced with highly vocal "Not In My Back Yard" constituents outside Okinawa, who would instantly oppose the relocation of U.S. forces to virtually anywhere on the Japanese main islands, the government is stuck.
Since the security treaty with Washington remains the basis of Japan's defense policies and Obama made certain that Japan was the first nation he would visit on his swing through Asia to underline the centrality of the U.S.-Japan alliance, Tokyo does not have many options. It is obviously the weaker partner in these longstanding political, military and economic arrangements and given its concerns with North Korea and the People's Republic of China, it simply cannot think of relaxing its ties with Uncle Sam for the next decade at the very least. For now, Tokyo has nowhere else to go, despite some recent rhetoric about an embryonic Pacific community.
Since Japan remains hesitant about adopting an active foreign policy that might put its own military at risk, it is obliged to defer to the United States on most defense matters. The reality is that there are bound to be more difficulties over base relocation squabbles but despite understandable Okinawan concerns over service personnel misbehavior, expense, noise and environmental damage will remain secondary to the priority placed on keeping in with Washington.
The Hatoyama cabinet can only do so much to mollify Okinawan critics. The United States will sooner or later get it way over Futenma, though not before enraging some in the State Department and Pentagon for delays in the process. It may be an unpopular and bad tempered process but the stronger party will win through in the end. Despite all the hopes of some that the prospect of benign globalization and global justice will change the political chess board, international relations still remains a power play. Expect the stronger party to win the prize - eventually.© Japan Today