35+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

Okinawa: Perennial Flashpoint in the U.S.-Japan Alliance

US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma base in Ginowan, Okinawa prefecture. (AFP2018/Toshifumi Kitamura) 

Published: Oct 16, 2018
Briefing Book #644

Edited by Robert Wampler

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

Declassified U.S. Record Spotlights Historical Roots of the Issues

Washington D.C., October 16, 2018 – Recent news reports out of Okinawa underscore the extent to which the long-standing U.S. military presence on the island is a perennial source of political friction that complicates the U.S.-Japanese military alliance.

During the Cold War and after, domestic politics on the island has repeatedly focused on the desire of Okinawa’s residents to reduce or eliminate this U.S. military presence. This tension creates a political challenge for Japan, which needs to find a way to address these domestic pressures while supporting the military relationship with Washington.

Today the National Security Archive is posting a selection of documents from its Digital National Security Archive collections, to highlight the relevance of these materials – and recent history – to current policy and political issues. DNSA subscriptions are available through the academic publisher, ProQuest. The Archive’s three document sets on U.S.-Japan relations contain 654 documents on the subject of Okinawa, providing extensive coverage of U.S. policies regarding its administration of the island in the 1960s, Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972, and subsequent political and economic issues created by the U.S. military bases on the island.

The long history of the efforts by Washington and Tokyo to resolve these conflicting priorities is the subject of many declassified documents published by the National Security Archive in three volumes that focus on U.S.-Japan relations between1960 and 2000. The Archive is posting a selection of these documents that highlight the way in which the U.S. has repeatedly struggled with these issues. As they show, in the 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. worked to find a modus vivendi under which Okinawa could be returned to Japanese control while securing the vital U.S. military presence. Then as now, domestic politics on the island served as the focal point for opposition to the U.S. bases, as candidates for governor made the bases and their removal key planks in their political platforms.

Following the reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972, the situation improved, in large part because of the influx of financial support to the island and steps to curtail or end direct U.S. involvement in resolving legal disputes about land.  But the flashpoints for Okinawan opposition to the military bases never entirely disappeared.  Incidents and accidents involving U.S. military personnel, often resulting in serious injury or death of Okinawa residents, provided repeated sources for political opposition to the bases. A pervasive anti-military sentiment, born of suffering the island endured during World War II, was pointed to – then and now – as a potent wellspring for opposing the U.S. military presence. Likewise, ethnic differences between the people of Okinawa and Japanese mainlanders provided another potent source of political friction.  As the September 30 election of an opponent of the U.S. presence to the post of governor of Okinawa shows, a final resolution of these issues still eludes Washington and Tokyo.


Read the documents