Here are five reasons why the long stalemate over U.S. forces in Okinawa likely will persist well into the next decade:
IT’S TOO COMPLICATED
In the best circumstances, laying Marine runways into Oura Bay off of Camp Schwab will take years to complete. That buys time for activists to derail construction, for Japanese voters to change political leaders or for American lawmakers to change their minds.
THE MARINES LIKE WHAT THEY HAVE
Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is far more valuable military real estate than the runways that would replace it.
Futenma’s runway is the only one on Okinawa that sits at a high enough elevation to survive a tsunami unscathed.
The civilian airport in Naha is at sea level and would be knocked out. Even the Air Force’s powerful Kadena Air Base north of Futenma would be impacted by flooding.
If the Marines move to Oura Bay, their runways will be at sea level, too.
Every day, a group of mostly white-haired protesters stands outside the gates of the Marine base that would host the new runways.
Some are native Okinawans who want a smaller military footprint on their homeland. Others are visitors from faraway provinces lending support to the cause.
If construction starts, protesters might be willing to interfere with workers. That’s why a legion of police officers watches the camp every day and security boats patrol the waters of Oura Bay to keep outsiders away from Camp Schwab.
But the protesters aren’t going anywhere.
Okinawa prefecture’s new governor came into office with a mandate to undo any progress Washington, D.C., and Tokyo had made on developing the runways at Oura Bay.
Onaga’s making a popular case that Tokyo is trampling on the right of Okinawans to determine their own futures. It rings true for Okinawans who think of themselves as carrying a disproportionate share of the American military presence in Japan.
IT MAY DISRUPT A GOOD THING AT CAMP SCHWAB
Okinawans are commonly depicted as uniformly anti-military, but that stereotype obscures broad differences in how individuals view American Marines.
In fact, the daily anti-Marine protest that takes place outside Marine Corps Air Station Futenma often draws a parallel group of Okinawans who show up with banners thanking American troops for their military service. The village next to Camp Schwab, Henoko, is especially fond of Marines.
Some fear that dynamic could change if loud Marine helicopters and Osprey aircraft start landing at Camp Schwab, disturbing residents who in other circumstances would back the military presence.