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Fumio Ota

【#1002】Clouds Cast Already over Implementation of 3 Security Documents

Fumio Ota / 2023.01.25 (Wed)

January 23, 2023

A joint statement on a meeting of the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee in Washington on January 11 said that the Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers at the so-called 2+2 meeting “committed to expand joint/shared use of U.S. and Japanese facilities and to increase bilateral exercises and training in areas including Japan’s Southwest Islands.” As the Japanese ministers made the commitment, the U.S. side might have concluded that U.S. forces may be allowed to use Japanese facilities. When the U.S. Marine Corps told the Okinawa Prefecture government on January 13 that it would like to use Shimojishima Airport on Okinawa’s Shimoji Island for training flights for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, however, the prefectural government asked the U.S. to refrain from using it on the ground that a memorandum signed in 1971 between the Japanese government and Chobyo Yara, then chief executive of the Government of the Ryukyu Islands under the U.S. administration, stipulated that the airport would not be used for military purposes. As a result, the commitment at the 2+2 meeting failed to be fulfilled.

Okinawa rejected the military use of an airport

The 2+2 joint statement was based on Japan’s three national security documents adopted by the Japanese government late last year. Okinawa’s rejection of the military use of Shimojishima Airport runs counter to the three documents that call for expanding the use of civilian airports and seaports.

“Specifically, as part of the reinforcement of the comprehensive defense architecture, Japan will establish a cross-governmental mechanism to develop and enhance the functions of public infrastructure such as airports and seaports based on the needs of the SDF [Self-Defense Forces] and the JCG [Japan Coast Guard] for their smooth utilization and deployment in response to protection of its nationals, peacetime training, and deployment during contingencies,” says the National Security Strategy of Japan, one of the three documents.

“Based on defense needs, under the inter-agency mechanism for strengthening comprehensive defense architecture, the government will develop and upgrade airports, seaports and other facilities, particularly in the southwestern region,” says the National Defense Strategy among the three documents. “To enable the SDF to use, for purposes including peacetime training, facilities such as existing airports and seaports as operation infrastructure, the government will take necessary measures such as the establishment of a framework for interagency coordination.”

“In addition to expanding […] the use of civilian airport and seaport facilities, the MOD [Ministry of Defense]/SDF will enhance training for rapid deployment of its units to islands such as those in the southwestern region,” says the Defense Buildup Program also among the documents.

A report published by a panel of experts before the three national security documents said that the entire government should make peacetime preparations for airports and seaports that are assumed to be used by the SDF and JGC in an emergency and those required for protecting citizens. Soon after the report was published, I pointed out that the problem was how to realize the preparations (JINF Viewpoints, November 28, 2022).

3,000-meter runways required for evacuating islanders

It is extremely unfortunate for Okinawans that Shimojishima Airport with a 3,000-meter runway available for large military aircraft for evacuating people in an emergency like a Taiwan contingency fails to be used due to a memorandum signed more than a half century ago. Military ships that can transport more evacuees than aircraft are also effectively barred from civilian seaports in Okinawa Prefecture (JINF Viewpoints “Maritime Self-Defense Force ships are effectively barred from Okinawa seaports,” November 14, 2022).

Japan’s national security environment has turned around in the past half century. Unless Japan implements commitments in the three national security documents and the 2+2 statement that might include the government’s direct control of airports and seaports, the United States as a Japanese ally to fight with Japan may lose confidence in Japan.

Fumio Ota is a councilor and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. He is a retired Vice Admiral of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.