Okinawan Election Threatens U.S.-Japan Military Realignment Agreement

Bruce Klingner /

The results of a small town mayoral election on distant Okinawa island risks undermining plans to build a U.S. base and may further inflame tensions in the already strained U.S.-Japan military alliance. Challenger Susumu Inamine, who opposes constructing the U.S. base, beat pro-base Yoshikazu Shimabukuro in the January 24th contest, which had largely became a referendum on the U.S. military facility.

Inamine’s victory will stiffen Okinawan and Japanese resistance to the construction plan. Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama will use the Okinawan election as further justification for refusing to abide by an existing bilateral U.S.-Japan agreement on the disposition of U.S. military forces in Japan.

In 2006, Washington and Tokyo agreed to a complicated realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, including Okinawa. The most contentious component was moving a Marine Corps air unit from a densely populated region of Okinawa to a more desolate location elsewhere on the island. Both countries agree that the Futenma Air Station needs to be moved due to safety concerns arising from urban encroachment on the base. However, plans to build a replacement facility near Camp Schwab faced opposition from local residents. (more…)