MCAS Futenma.

Well, the debate and diplomacy seem to be over. Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has stated that he will accept the 2006 agreement after all. And so ends a depressing episode and lesson in global security realities and good intentions gone awry.

There’s enough blame to go around for everyone.

On the Japanese side, Hatoyama really didn’t understand the purpose of the base, which is symbolic of American commitment to Japan and America’s vital interests in the region. Hatoyama also thought that Obama’s “change” campaign rhetoric somehow had something to do with how America would see the Futenma. And when, as former Ambassador Michael Armacost put it, Hatoyama found himself digging a hole, he didn’t stop digging. The more it looked like he would fail, the more he promised he would succeed.

On the American side, the U.S. has underestimated Okinawan opposition to having so many U.S. military bases on Okinawa, and the solution to Futenma is not to just move it to another part of Okinawa. The U.S. administration also didn’t quite realize–or didn’t really care–how important the Futenma issue was to Hatoyama, and really did nothing to help him. Yes, he rather naively risked his political career on a single U.S. military base, and you could argue that he made his bed, and he can sleep in it. But he’s also the Prime Minister of Japan, an important ally, and the military basing issue is only one part of a broader relationship.

I doubt this will have any long-lasting, negative effect on the U.S. – Japan alliance. Hatoyama so deeply personalized this issue that it’s more likely to stick to him than to the Americans. The Americans are the Americans. They promised nothing.

Perhaps I’m an optimist, but the resolution, or rather the lack of it, may also explain to the Japanese public exactly why they need America, and America needs them, in a way that neither government has explained to its own people in decades. This could drive the Japanese to have a deeper appreciation of the alliance, or to accept the costs of greater military self-sufficiency. (Ideally, both.)

Various views:

It’s Hatoyama’s fault.

It’s North Korea’s fault.

It’s America’s fault.

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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