Monday, November 10, 2008

Guam recedes into the distance

A US official has finally admitted that it is unlikely that the US and Japan will meet the 2014 target date for initiating the relocation of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of US Pacific Command, was in New York City last week, where he reviewed the state of the Defense Policy Review Initiative (DPRI). In his remarks, he acknowledged that in light of the financial situation in both countries, it is likely that "it'll take a little bit longer to effect – we won’t be done by 2014, or maybe even 2015, but it’s about a decade in execution."

Admiral Keating's admission is the first such admission — to my knowledge — from a senior US official involved with the process. It confirms the picture presented by the Government Accountability Office in its report on Guam. I still think the official view is too optimistic. I see too many potential obstacles to be confident that the process will be implemented according to schedule and according to plan. The biggest question in my mind is what happens if and when the DPJ forms a government. The DPJ's "Okinawa vision" paper — discussed in this post — strongly suggests that should the DPJ take power, it will seek to revise the 2006 agreement.

For now, the extent of the delay will depend on the makeup of President-elect Obama's Asia policy team. If the bulk of Asia policy positions go to China or Korea hands, I would suggest that the outlook for realignment is grim indeed. Realignment will proceed smoothly only if the foreign policy team is seeded with individuals intimately familiar with the issues at stake and capable of making the case for why it is essential that the realignment must proceed as soon as possible. (And, I hope, be willing to consider doing it unilaterally if Japan drags its feet.)

But even with the right people in place the outlook isn't good for Guam. In the current environment, it will be hard to get the necessary support from Congress and the upper levels of the administration.

Japan may have to accept that the Marines may be in Okinawa for longer than expected.

1 comment:

OperationNorthwoods said...

At some point, you might want to discuss how the US and Japan should adjust the US military presence if there is a depression. It would be better for the US to have a logical drawdown than a very hurried one when the US government can't continue to borrow enough to cover both its domestic and foreign commitments.