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Okinawans, Americans Say No To Military Spending

Global Day of Action on Military SpendingOn April 17, 2012, Okinawan activists and their American supporters will join dozens of organizations around the world for the second annual Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS 2.0).  Activists in 40 countries and more than 100 cities around the world will participate in the second annual GDAMS. There will be street theater in Dhaka, demonstrations in Istanbul, a parliamentary debate in Yaoundé, protests against military bases in Okinawa, a peace village in Oslo, a high-level seminar at the UN in Geneva, a flash mob in Oakland, Tax Day leafleting in Bethlehem, PA, a “walk of shame” in Washington, DC, and much much more. Check out the GDAMS website for a complete list of actions. http://demilitarize.org/

This year organizers in Okinawa and their allies in Washington, D.C. will hold events to call for the closure of the Futenma base in Okinawa as part of an effort to reduce defense spending in both nations. The lengthy dispute about the Futenma relocation plan could see resolution soon due to austerity measures aimed at reducing debt in the U.S. and Japan. For the past 16 years, protesters have maintained a permanent sit-in encampment in Henoko, Okinawa to signal opposition to a new replacement facility in the environmentally sensitive area.

The message of the Okinawans and Americans is simple: close the controversial Futenma base, and stop the expansion of U.S. military bases in Okinawa. Ending the current realignment plan is a first step in eliminating wasteful military spending on U.S. bases abroad, as well as relieving the burden of America’s military presence in Okinawa. The archipeligo prefecture is only 1% of Japan’s land mass, but it disproportionately bears the burden of 65% of US Forces in Japan stationed at nearly thirty bases and installations. Residents’ complaints range from fears of aircraft crashes to environmental degredation, noise pollution, and public safety threats.

The costs of relocating Futenma within Okinawa would be shared by the U.S. and Japanese governments. Based on a 2006 agreement, the Japanese government would pay an over $6 billion to relocate Marines to Guam. In the original plan, that money was supposed to be used to improve infrastructure and expand the capacity of bases there to host the more than 8,000 Marines and their families stationed at Futenma. Like Okinawa, Guam is Pacific island with limited political autonomy where U.S. military bases face local opposition.The kinds of facilities provided for Marines in Okinawa are profiled in the video below.

As the base situation in Okinawa becomes politically and financially untenable, the U.S. has reconsidered the agreement. According to recent reports on negotiations, about 4,700 Marines are expected to be relocated to Guam, while the rest would be rotated to through other U.S. military facilities in the region. Yet the U.S. still expects Japan to pay for reduction of its military footprint in Okianwa. As of March 9, the U.S. asked Japan for an additional 91 billion yen (nearly $1 billion) to cover the costs of the move. And recently, the U.S. asked Japan to cover 20 billion yen (about $245 million) in repair costs for upkeep of Futenma.

Overall, Japanese and U.S. taxpayers share the cost of U.S. military bases in Japan. Japan’s sympathy budget pays for U.S. bases in Japan (about 149 bases throughout the country), an annual cost of over $2 billion (as of 2008). Despite the high costs associated with maintaining military bases in Okianwa, the U.S. insists on providing not only accommodations and training facilities, but also world-class entertainment to Marines in Okinawa. For example, the Taiyo Golf Club was re-opened in March 2010 during the height of the global recession. Despite the agreement to return the land to Okinawa, the Director/Superintendent of the Club, Rich Erland said, “The Marines will be glad to call this course their own.”

The U.S. was responsible for 43% of global military spending in 2010, according to the annual report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) last year. This research is aimed at documenting military spending world-wide, shedding light on bloated defense budgets. In the U.S., the Pentagon has insisted that it is “too big to audit” and avoided releasing specifics about spending at the Department of Defense. GDAMS is organized to coincide with the release of SIPRI’s numbers on military spending for the 2011 fiscal year, as well as Tax Day in America.

On April 17, Okinawan residents will hold events on the island at four different U.S. military facilities and construction sites – Futenma, Henoko, Kadena and Takae. Japanese press and interested individuals can find more information about GDAMS in Okinawa by visiting the Okinawa Outreach Blog. Event contacts are also listed on this GDAMS Events map. Last year, Okinawans also participated in the first annual GDAMS.

In Washington, D.C., Network for Okinawa (NO) members are taking part in local events to support peace advocates in Okinawa. The day will include a “walk of shame” to the offices of corporations that profit from military spending and dodge taxes. There will also be a stop at the White House and poetry reading in Freedom Plaza, where NO members will read statements of support. This event will begin at 12 noon at 18th and M Street, NW. There will also be a teach-in American University. Contact Noah Gimbel (noah.gimbel[at]gmail.com) at IPS for more information, or to get involved in this year’s events.

Further, American and Okinawan base opponents will use GDAMS as an opportunity to stand with South Korean opponents of a naval base in on Jeju Island. This base construction project has been met with considerable local and international outcry, and is part of a larger trend of militarization of North East Asia. Jeju Island protesters are also expected to take action for GDAMS 2.0.