Proposals abound for tinkering with the American presence. In 2006 after a decade of negotiation the Japanese government agreed to pay to help move some Marines to Guam and relocate Futenma airbase to less populous Henoko elsewhere on the island. The initiative was designed to satisfy no one: inconvenient to the U.S., expensive to Japan, and unhelpful to Okinawa. In Japan’s 2009 election the opposition Democratic Party of Japan opposed the proposal. After taking office, DPJ Prime Minister Hatoyama declared: “It must never happen that we accept the existing plan.”

The new government’s intentions were good, but it did not expect the Obama administration’s unyielding refusal to reset Washington’s military relationship with one of its closest allies. The DPJ had spoken of creating a more equal partnership, but that is not how America conducts alliances. Nor were Japanese policymakers—and people—ready to challenge the relationship. The first DPJ government collapsed under U.S. pressure.

Yet the Futenma plan appears to be no more viable than the Hatoyama premiership. The Government Accountability Office figures that relocating the Marines to Guam likely will cost more than $29 billion, nearly triple the initial estimate. Congress cut all money for the project this year. Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Jim Webb (D-Va.) called the proposal “unrealistic, unworkable and unaffordable.”

Japan also slashed 2012 financial support for the move. Tokyo is inclined to simply kick the can down the road, so to speak. Doing so “worked” after the 1995 rape; protests eventually died down. Large demonstrations erupted again in 2010 but then ebbed.

Japanese leaders hope that doing nothing will work again, at least in the short-term, since Okinawans still have little clout in Tokyo. Prime Minister Naoto Kan last year told island residents that “We have reviewed [moving operations out of Okinawa] from every angle, however, and the current situation would not allow it.” For years Tokyo has attempted to simultaneously bribe and browbeat local residents into submission.

Civil disobedience is a potential game-changer. In May 2010 17,000 Okinawans created a human chain surrounding Futenma. More recently roughly 200 demonstrators delayed delivery of an environmental impact report on a new runway from the defense ministry to the prefectural government.

....... Using force against protestors would threaten a future Japanese government’s survival and embarrass Washington.

Rather than resist Okinawan demands, the U.S. should voluntarily reduce its military presence on the island. Jeffrey Hornung of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies observed: “Given how much problems this is causing in Okinawa, it’s finally time to rethink things.”

But American military facilities are a symptom, not a cause. The bases exist to support the defense of Japan. The MEF also is available for deployment elsewhere, most obviously in a war on the Korean Peninsula.

It is unreasonable to expect Washington to defend Japan without bases in Japan. But the U.S. should end its security guarantee and then remove, rather than relocate, its military facilities in Okinawa and elsewhere in Japan. Indeed, instead of augmenting its forces elsewhere in East Asia, such as in Australia, Washington should withdraw and demobilize troops and close bases throughout the region. World War II ended 67 years ago. America no longer need guarantee the security of its many prosperous and capable allies.

Japan should endorse this step as the only way to escape its status as an American protectorate. Tokyo has essentially relinquished control over its own territory to comply with U.S. demands. Although the Obama administration frustrated the 2009 DPJ campaign pledge to create a more equal security partnership, Japanese citizens will inevitably raise more questions about the bilateral relationship as they debate security issues.

Prof. Kenneth B. Pyle of the University of Washington argued that “the degree of U.S. domination in the relationship has been so extreme that a recalibration of the alliance was bound to happen, but also because autonomy and self-mastery have always been fundamental goals of modern Japan.” Even as Prime Minister Hatoyama was beaten by Washington he looked to the future, observing: “Someday, the time will come when Japan’s peace will have to be ensured by the Japanese people themselves.”

That many Japanese still look to America for their defense is hardly surprising. Relying on a friendly superpower for protection frees domestic resources for other purposes. The alliance also eases Tokyo’s diplomatic burden, which otherwise would include reassuring neighbors still obsessed with Imperial Japan’s military depredations.

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S.A. Mick McClary P.O. Box 6245, Great Falls, MT 59406