Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Yoshio Shimoji: "The Osprey Question"

Ginowan citizens’ rally on June 17, 2012 against V-22 "Osprey"
deployment to Futenma Air Station
A prefecture-wide rally, initiated by Naha City Mayor Takeshi Onaga, and supported by all heads of municipalities in the prefecture, is being planned.

The Osprey question

Yoshio Shimoji
July 10, 2012
Naha, Okinawa

Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged Sunday that the U.S. would ensure safe operations of the V-22 Osprey aircraft at the Futenma Air Station but reiterated there would be no change in Washington's long-cherished plan for its deployment in Okinawa.

The project to develop a tilt-rotor aircraft with both a vertical takeoff and landing started in 1982. In 1991, the aircraft was practically put into service for the first time after a 9-year research and development period. During the test period it caused 4 accidents, resulting in a number of fatalities and injuries and thus disgracefully earning the nickname of "widow maker".

From 1991 to 2012, 9 accidents occurred, killing 36 people. Amid this snafu, in 1992, the Pentagon decided on its deployment to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa. The year saw another crash of the Osprey on the Potomac River in Virginia, causing 7 deaths. Thus, Washington must have been uncertain about whether this accident-prone aircraft could actually be deployed at Futenma with such densely populated surroundings and so they must have begun to have their eye on Henoko, Nago City, in northern Okinawa as a quid pro quo for Futenma.

The Marines had already drawn up blueprints for new runways on reclaimed land off the Henoko coast in the late 1960's when Okinawa was still under firm U.S. military control. The U.S. Navy submitted the Marines' blueprints to U.S. Congress for approval but the bills were voted down in the face of mounting costs for the Vietnam War.

In Okinawa, demand for Futenma's return was intensifying sharply, especially after the 1995 gang rape incident. In response to Okinawa's demand for a substantial reduction of the U.S. military footprint, in 1996, then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and U.S. Ambassador Walter Mondale held a hastily-called evening news conference and made a bombshell announcement that both governments had agreed upon the return of Futenma in 5 to 7 years with its facilities to be relocated to Kadena Air Base. No one disputed at the time why it would take so many years just to relocate Futenma's functions to Kadena. In retrospect, we realize there was a foreshadowing in it.

The next morning, all the news media loudly reported on Kadena residents' outrage over the plan, quoting them as saying they could tolerate no more burdens and sacrifice due to increased base functions. It's quite understandable that they reacted so negatively as they did. Kadena Air Base occupies 83% of Kadena Town (total area: 15.04 sq. km), obliging the townspeople to live constantly with noise pollution and aircraft hazards. The USAF's 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base also said they were strongly opposed to joint use of the base with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. The initial Kadena relocation plan thus came to a deadlock right from the start, and the welcome bilateral agreement to close Futenma and return the land was floated in limbo.

The ball was thrown to Okinawa to decide where to relocate the base. We witnessed readers' noisy proposals for relocation sites come and go in local newspapers. Before long, the Pentagon casually intimated that the relocation site should be somewhere on the Pacific side of the island. As if to respond to this, there came forward some construction firms in Nago to suggest the relocation site be reclaimed land off the coast of Henoko. They cited an economic boost it may bring to the stagnant local economy as their reasoning for it. How much backdoor approach they had from the U.S. side and sycophantic Japanese bureaucrats no one knows. But Henoko became fixed as the target relocation site for Futenma thereafter.

The Futenma issue started with the Pentagon's Osprey deployment plan drawn up in 1992, not with their humanitarian motivation to reduce Okinawa's burdens. Despite Okinawa's increasingly solid and unanimous opposition to it, Washington adamantly persists in saying that the Henoko relocation plan is the best of all options. Otherwise, they maintain, the status quo of Futenma will remain as it is and the plan to deploy the Osprey stands unchanged. Thus, the current fracas over Osprey deployment to Futenma following the 16-year Futenma-to-Henoko relocation racket. Now, the Pentagon has started saying the aircraft has an excellent safety record compared with standard helicopters.

A nation cannot keep deceiving another nation. The Futenma relocation issue, the primary motivation for which has turned out to be the Pentagon's decades-old plan to deploy the Osprey to Okinawa, is rampant with tricks and gimmicks. The forced implementation of Henoko relocation and Osprey deployment plans are against the very democratic principles which the U.S. proclaims it stands for. Can it preach other nations, then, just as did U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Ulan Bator, Mongolia, on Monday (July 9), to learn democracy, freedom and human rights a la Americana?

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