GLOCOM Platform
debates Media Reviews Tech Reviews Special Topics Books & Journals
Summary Page
Search with Google
Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #338: March 14, 2006

Not in My Backyard: Rift over US Bases in Japan

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Not in My Backyard: Rift over US Bases in Japan
(Deborah Cameron) Sydney Morning Herald


Based upon Article 6 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, the U.S. maintains 5,000 troops in 26 military bases scattered across Japan. (The cost of maintenance of the bases is funded by Japan while the direct cost of troops and operations are borne by the U.S.)

Following the changes in international political and military environment, the U.S. has been redeploying its forces globally to cope with new threats. The realignment of U.S. forces in Japan is a part of this global strategy, and which Japan agreed to, officially last October. Under the plan, three U.S. bases in Japan would close down, and the number of troops stationed will be decreased. But there are naturally and inevitably a number of cases where troops are relocated to other bases in Japan, effectively increasing the presence of the U.S. forces, and risks - and perhaps opportunities, in certain localities.

Accordingly, a part of the realignment plan called for the relocation of 57 U.S. carrier-borne aircraft from Atsugi to Iwakuni.

Atsugi is a city in the suburb of Tokyo where most of the workers commute everyday to downtown Tokyo, and their families stay home. It is a density populated housing district, and the adverse effects to the residents caused by the existing air base, in terms of military-scale jet-engine noise as well as other risks of calamities, is enormous. The plan is to relocate the fighters and bombers to Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, where a U.S. airbase already exists, by enhancing the facilities there but no expansion in terms of the area already occupied.

It was considered, from an "objective" standpoint, then, that the relocation would decrease the burden and risk for the Japanese people as a whole.

But the opposition to the relocation plan surged among the residents of Iwakuni and neighboring municipalities, and the City of Iwakuni decided to conduct a referendum. The rule was to require half of the eligible residents to vote to make the referendum valid, and the city ordinance required the mayor and the city assembly to respect the valid results of the plebiscite.

As the voice of opposition seemed very strong, those who favored the relocation - not that they like guns and fighters but expect local economy to fare better by the soldiers' spending and the national government's various sorts of sweeteners - called for the people to abstain so as to make the referendum itself invalid, in which case the ballot boxes would be kept sealed and the votes would not be counted.

It turned out, however, that the supporters' strategy had no relevance. There were 84,823 eligible voters reported at the time of voting, and 48,802 turned up to make eligible votes, more than half so as to make the referendum valid. And the "no" votes overwhelmed the "yes" votes by 43,433 to 5,369. This means 89% of eligible votes said "no," and, furthermore, 51% of the total eligible voters expressly said "no."

A senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was cited as saying, "The state is responsible for security. A plebiscite on such an issue is not appropriate." Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga had already said last week that there would be no change in the plan agreed by the governments of Japan and the U.S. regardless of the Iwakuni vote. Prime Minister Koizumi commented "If a referendum were held, the result would be a 'no' vote anywhere. That is the difficulty with issues related to national security."

As the title of the article introduced here correctly points out, this is a very typical "NIMBY" situation. But since Japan is a country based on democracy, the antagonists cannot be simply bulldozed out of the way, as in the cases of incidents often reported in some of Japan's neighboring societies.

bullet Top
Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications