(AP Photo/Kyodo News, File)

There was a reminder (jp) this weekend of how the dynamics of the Futenma Air Base relocation issue may be greatly impacted by certain political risks beyond the control of either the Japanese government or US armed forces’ administration in Japan. In this case the reminder was gentle and it seems that the Japanese media played nice as the story did not feature prominently at least in the online versions of the various Japanese daily newspapers.

Within the space of a few hours on Saturday morning 3 US servicemen committed offences for which they were taken into custody. A 21 year old was taken into custody for not reporting that he had been in a minor traffic accident while under the influence. The suspect himself has denied that he was driving at the time of the incident but admitted to drinking. A 23 year old corporal in the US Marines was arrested for entering the property of an employee of the US military. He was reported to have said that he was “searching for his lover.” While the first two of these might seem to be not much more than nuisance value, a third incident was a little more serious. A 21 year old lance corporal in the US Marines was arrested by Ginowan police for violating the Japanese Swords and Firearms Control Law after he broke into the house of a 47-year old woman while in possession of a 7.5 inch knife. He entered through the first floor balcony. It is unclear what motives the suspect had.

What makes these incidents all the more interesting is that only two weeks ago at a press conference Foreign Minister Maehara when announcing (en) that he would no longer use the term “sympathy budget” to describe the Japanese contribution to the costs of stationing US forces in Japan, suggested that he had communicated to the US military administration a need for some tightening up of personnel behaviour:

“At the same time, I requested that the US Forces continue implementing a plan suggested by Okinawa Area Coordinator Robling in June that includes a ban on US Forces personnel going to the so-called bar districts at night, a thorough enforcement of guidelines on what to do in case of an accident by attaching relevant stickers inside US military vehicles, and patrols to prevent incidents and accidents. In response to that request, Ambassador Roos said, “We would like to make firm efforts.”

While it is important to note that offenses by US servicemen are not altogether that high if compared with the population at large, this is a particularly sensitive time for the alliance and the base presence in Okinawa in particular. Perhaps the ‘efforts’ need to be a little ‘firmer.’ More serious crimes could well further complicate the relocation of certain functions of Futenma to Henoko,1 or undermine the effort to convince other jurisdictions that having a US Marine base might be a good idea. It may also force a speeding up of actually having to make a decision on what to do with Futenma itself which would be a disaster for both the Japanese and the US administrations given that Plans B & C fell through and that neither side seems capable of fulfilling Plan A. While it is promising that the two sides have agreed (en) to disconnect the issue of base relocations from the overall pursuit of a more strategic and stronger US-Japan alliance, perhaps complacency may not be a viable long-term approach either.

1 Which in my view and many others  is already unimplementable without serious political betrayal of the Okinawans- were are talking Kishi Nobusuke-level betrayal here not ill-considered Hatoyama-level ‘betrayal.’

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Corey Wallace joined Japan Security Watch in 2011. He writes on Japan security-related topics, focusing on issues and stories that may not find their way into the English language media. He also hosts the blog Sigma1 where he writes on Japanese domestic politics and broader issues in international relations. Prior to taking up a PhD Corey was a participant on the JET program (2004-2007) and on returning to New Zealand he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology from 2007-2010 as a policy adviser. Corey lectures two courses at the University of Auckland. One is on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, which contains a significant focus on East Asia security issues. The other is a course on China's international relations. His primary academic interests before his current Japan focus were science and technology politics/policy, issues of ethnic identity, and Chinese modern history and politics. He carries over his interest in issues of identity and history into his PhD where he is looking at generationally situated concepts of national identity and their impact on foreign policy ideas in Japan.
Corey Wallace has 51 post(s) on Japan Security Watch