Steve Rabson - Professor Emeritus of East Asian Studies, Brown University
In the wake of massive protests in Okinawa after three U.S. servicemen raped a twelve-year-old girl in 1995, the Pentagon agreed to close a Marine air base located in the middle of a city. But there was a catch. The Japanese government would have to build a replacement in Okinawa. This small island prefecture, comprising 0.6% of the nation’s land area and less than 1% of its population, already bears 75% of the total U.S. military presence in Japan. Some 25,000 U.S. troops and 20,000 of their dependents currently reside on bases that occupy 15% of the prefecture where serious crimes, deadly accidents, daily disruptions, and environmental destruction are endemic to the disproportionate military presence. The Japanese government, controlled by the conservative party (LDP), agreed to build the new base for the Marines, but well-organized local protests and timely lawsuits have succeeded in delaying its construction so far. Then, in Japan’s August, 2009 Lower House election, the reformist Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) defeated the conservatives and, honoring a campaign promise, new Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio announced that he would re-consider the agreement so the proposed base would be built outside Okinawa. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates rushed to Tokyo, furious that the Prime Minister would “break the promise” of the former government. High U.S. Defense and State Department officials are continuing to pressure Hatoyama to cave in as protests mount in Okinawa. The speaker will give an update on the controversy, which raises questions about the oft-touted “equal partnership” in U.S.-Japan relations, and explain the political and historical context of Okinawa’s disproportionate burden of bases.