So, let’s think about fixing this.

If the DPJ is truly only interested in making the U.S.-Japan partnership more an alliance of equal powers instead of one dominant and one lesser power, the DPJ needs to find ways to do more for the alliance. Making a big deal out of Futenma is doing something for the DPJ and SDP, not for the alliance as a whole. As insensitive as the U.S. appears in digging in its heels, it really is acting in the interests of the alliance.

Tokyo can do more for the alliance by creating an intervention capability of its own to deal with North Korean nuclear weapons. Why should the seizure of North Korean nukes be solely an American concern, when they are just as likely–if not more likely–to be used against Japan? Japan cedes away a basic responsibility for its defense to the United States, and then complains when the forces tasked for that responsibility become inconvenient.

Making the base go away is not going to make the mission go away. As long as North Korea exists, diplomatic efforts to disarm North Korea will only be successful if someone maintains the capability to take nuclear weapons away from them. Shutting down Futenma and pushing that capability another 2,000 miles from the objective makes the region, and Japan, less secure.

Japan needs to grow up and assume a greater responsibility for its own defense. It needs to stop pretending that the defense of Japan begins at its territorial waters’ edge. It needs to realize that it is unfairly putting the burden of being able to threaten regional adversaries on the Americans, and needs to not only purchase the force necessary to do so, but to evolve the political will. It needs to realize that part of the reason why Japan is not as respected in global affairs is because it is an affluent, technologically sophisticated country that still relies on others for its defense.

Has it never occurred to the Japanese that the best way to get rid of the Americans at Futenma is to make their mission redundant? Creating a wholly Japanese force for this mission would not only make the Japanese more responsible for their own defense, and thus a more credible international partner, but also give Japan some of its self-respect back.

Let’s assume the following:

-The DPJ is serious about being seem as a more equal partner in the U.S.-Japan alliance.

-The reason why Futenma exists is, as the Marine general told Japanese officials, to destroy or capture North Korean nuclear weapons.

-Given the strength of the U.S.-Japanese alliance, Japanese forces count as much as American ones, and vice-versa.

-Any solution requires an end state in which the alliance has just as much, if not more, military capability to deal with crises than it had before.

The Five-Step Plan

1. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution is amended to allow military forces to be deployed overseas in defense of Japanese interests.

2. Japan converts one infantry “division” into a marine infantry brigade, consisting of two  rifle battalions and an engineer battalion, with enough rotary lift to lift an entire battalion at once. This unit would be mentored by the U.S. Marines based at Futenma and Camp Schwab.

3. Japan announces the construction of three Mistral-class amphibious ships built under license from France.

4. U.S. turns Futenma and Camp Schwab back over to Japan. Marine units relocated to Australia or the continental United States.

5. New Japanese amphibious unit takes over mission of capturing or destroying North Korean nuclear weapons.

Does Futenma stay open after it gets handed over? That would be entirely up to the Japanese. If it stays open, angry locals are Japan’s problem. The locals might also view the base differently when it is a Japanese base. But whatever happens, removing America from the equation would be healthier for the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Does the solution look like weakness? No. The alliance doesn’t lose any forces–in fact, it gains the ability to rapidly deploy an amphibious brigade. U.S. forces are moved back several thousand miles, but equally capable Japanese forces remain.

Does this help the Okinawans? Well, like all parties, the Okinawans are stuck with the strategic realities of the situation. The Japanese government might choose to continue to use Futenma to base the new unit’s helicopters. But even if it does, it removes a party from the equation–the U.S.–that does not have to respond to constituents, and places the base’s future in the hands of a party that does.

Is the solution realistic? That depends on how serious Japan is about being a more equal partner in the U.S.-Japanese alliance. There’s been a lot of talk lately about how a moribund Japan is in need of it’s third revolution (the first being the opening of Japan by Commodore Perry, and the second MacArthur’s occupation). Well, this is it. The third revolution is Japan emerging from its postwar cocoon and becoming a full, mature player on the global stage. This course of action would represent a courageous first step by the Hatoyama government.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch