U.S.-Japan deal to withdraw 9,000 Marines from Okinawa

US and Japan have settled that about half the U.S. Marines on the Japanese island of Okinawa will in a short time depart. Almost 5,000 will go to Guam as part of a much bigger U.S. military build up in Asia, a repositioning that comes in the middle of China’s rapid growth as a key economic and military power.

Of the Marines being shifted, about 2,700 will be sent to Hawaii and still others will rotate via a base in Darwin, Australia.

Darwin, Australia ! remember ???

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About: Okinawa

Okinawa Prefecture is one of Japan’s southern prefectures. Okinawa prefecture is made up of dozens of islands that lie at the southern end of the Japanese archipelago. It consists of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over 1,000 km long, which extends southwest from Kyūshū (the south-western-most of Japan’s main 4 islands) to Taiwan.

Background and Okinawa’s strategic importance for US:

  • 1429: King Sho Hashi establishes Ryukyu kingdom
  • 1609: Satsuma clan from southern Japan invade
  • 1872: Japan makes Ryukyu kingdom a feudal domain; absorbs it in 1879
  • 1945: Okinawa was the site of the last major campaign for U.S. forces in the Pacific during World War II. The Battle of Okinawa lasted from March through June 1945. An estimated 100,000 Okinawan civilians die in Battle of Okinawa; Japan surrenders; US takes control of Okinawa. After the United States defeated Japan in World War II, a U.S. occupation force remained in Okinawa and other parts of the country.
  • The Communist take-over in China and eruption of conflicts in Korea and later Vietnam served to emphasize Okinawa’s strategic importance to the US.
  • 1972: Okinawa reverted to Japanese control, but the US bases remained.

During the Cold War, the US military presence on Okinawa served as a bulwark against communism in a strategic location during the Vietnam War.

B/w 1965-1972, Okinawa was a key staging point for the US, in its military operations directed towards North Vietnam. Anti-Vietnam War sentiment became linked politically to the movement for reversion of Okinawa to Japan.

Okinawa, along with Guam, also presented the United States military a geographically strategic launch pad for covert bombing missions over Cambodia and Laos.

US took over Japanese bases and began stationing troops in the region. The US then inked a security pact with Japan, guaranteeing to defend it in return for land for its military forces.

Planes based in Okinawa flew missions to both Korea and Vietnam. Naval forces were also based there, the region acting as a key hub for the conflicts.

Almost 40,000 U.S. personnel are based in Japan, and more than three-fourths of the military bases are on Okinawa. At its height, U.S. military operations on Okinawa accounted for about 20% of the land use on the island chain.

Why Okinawa still holds strategic importance for US?

Recently, the US has kept its forces in Okinawa and raised its military footprint throughout Asia as China rises as a key economic and military power. Both Japan and US consider the island chain as a crucial bridgehead in the speedily germinating Pacific theatre, where the rising military power of China raises eyebrows.

Much of the U.S. aid to Japan after 2011’s earthquake was launched from Okinawa bases.


Why US-Japan deal to withdraw 9,000 US Marines from Okinawa?

The U.S. military presence on Okinawa has caused considerable controversy.

People in Okinawa are agitated because of:

  • Noise from the base, in an urban area.
  • Misconduct of U.S. troops stationed there
  • Cultural misunderstandings and the isolated criminal acts
  • 1995 rape of 12-year-old Japanese girl by three U.S. military personnel

The friction between locals and military personnel has been exacerbated in recent years. Locals have long complained of aircraft noise, the risk of accidents, and crime associated with a large contingent of young servicemen.

In 2006, the US and Japan reached an agreement that would have relocated thousands of Marines off the island once the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma was closed and moved to Camp Schwab on Okinawa. That plan conked after extensive protests over the proposed location and costs for the new air base.

Resistance to the presence of U.S. troops in Okinawa runs so deep that it contributed to the resignation of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in 2010. He had promised to move the base but afterwards declared that the base would stay which he gave in to U.S. pressure, and his government coalition broke up.

It’s desired the cut down of forces on the island chain will lessen the hostility.


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