Tactical Democracy: the Strategic Impact of US-Japan Relations

Home img Free essays img Politics img Tactical Democracy: the Strategic Impact of US-Japan Relations
Tactical Democracy: the Strategic Impact of US-Japan Relations


The military partnership between the United States and Japan, founded as a result of US seizure of Japan after its defeat in the Second World War, provides a platform for the US military preparedness in Central and East Asia. This alliance was originally forged as a fundamentally joint agreement focusing on the military policies of the US and Japan, which impacts Okinawan/Ryukyuan people. Japan continues to host nearly 50,000 US military personnel. More than 50 percent of these forces are based in Okinawa, and the region comprises less than 1 percent of Japan’s total land area. Besides, 70 percent of the United States military facilities in Japan are also stationed in Okinawa, exhibiting the unbalanced US military presence there as well as in mainland Japan. Both nations agree on positioning a wide presence of US army in Okinawa due to strategic location of the island and protecting Japan from increasing threats from North Korea and China.

However, increasingly anti-base protests in Okinawa demonstrate that majority of the local population is against the security procedures of the Japanese government to host US military bases. The research aims at investigating the US military policies that affect freedom of Ryukyuan/Okinawan people and also at defining whether there is a connection between improved Japan-US security relations despite Okinawans’ anti-base opposition during 2010-2015.

Security relations between Japan and the US are largely shaped by the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Security and Cooperation that allows continuous presence of US bases in Japan to maintain safety, peace, and security in East Asia as well as Okinawa archipelago. Therefore, the research also analyses to what degree an increased military cooperation between Japan and the United States has led to a decline of Okinawans’ opposition and the circumstances that do not permit Japan to declare Okinawa an independent state.

Key words: security, anti-base, opposition, military, sovereignty, alliance, protests, environment, archipelago, prefecture, policies, East Asia, Pacific, Islands, Okinawa, facilities

Need custom written paper? We'll write an essay from scratch according to your instructions! Plagiarism and AI Free Price from only 10.99$/page Call Now Start Chat Order Now


The US-Japan military alliance, founded as a result of US seizure of Japan after its defeat in the Second World War, offers a platform for the United States military preparedness in East and Central Asia. The Japan-US alliance was originally forged as a fundamentally mutual agreement. Japan provides military bases to US for a security guarantee, but this cooperation has established equal participation of both nations. Japan demonstrates that it possesses highly defensive system, and both nations have enhanced their bilateral military relations in order to resist threats from China and North Korea. The term “US-Japan alliance” describes joint military operations and exercises, but this research focuses on the military alliance between both countries and the policies of the US, which impact the Japanese and Okinawan/Ryukyuan people.

Steady developments regarding various initiatives to realign the United States military bases has been clouded by the failure to dissolve critical basing issues in Okinawa due to increasing protests among Okinawans against the presence of the American forces. The hosting of the US forces in Okinawa remains a crucial challenge for the partnership. The research aims to examine the US policies that affect Ryukyuan/Okinawan people and the whole Japan. Is the continued US military presence in Japan represents imperialism from the US direction? Why does the Japanese government continue to force the American presence in Okinawa when the people themselves do not wish to identify the area as a part of Japan and seek for their independence? This research also investigates whether there is a connection between improved Japan-US security relations despite Okinawans’ opposition during 2010-2015. Security cooperation between both nations are largely forged by the Treaty of Mutual Security and Cooperation (signed in 1960) that allows the maintenance of US military and naval bases in Japan to establish safety and peace in East Asia.


The Kingdom of Ryukyu, an independent state of the Ryukyuans, was forcibly seized by Japan in 1879 as one of its territorial divisions named “Okinawa”. It breached Article 51 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. For a long period of time, various practices and policies of discrimination, assimilation, and colonization have been imposed on the Ryukyuan population by the Japanese government, while citizens of the Ryukyu were prohibited from taking part in the national policy-making activities through the electoral process until 1919.

During World War II that followed US military occupation, large stretches of the land belonging to the Ryukyuan people were captured by the US government, violating the 1907 Hague Regulations. This land was utilized to build the US facilities and military bases. The Japanese government neglected the illegal seizure of the land and construction of US military bases without raising any protest. In addition, after the 1972 reversion, the Japanese government built there its military bases as well. The presence of the United States army in Okinawa/ Ryukyu, which includes the area occupied by the military bases and their military exercises as well as mistreatment of military personnel, creates and risks the life of the Ryukyuan/Okinawan population. The human rights issues affect the lives of Ryukyuan people, which emerge from militarization and colonization attitude of the US military officials to the victims of sexual assaults. Breach of the right to education, land issues, health and environmental issues are also documented in various reports submitted to UN bodies. Despite these concerns, the Japanese government has failed to recognize the region’s independence and existence (Hook and Richard 9).

Discriminatory Application of Laws to the Ryukyuans/Okinawans

The Japanese government insists that uniform legislation should be equally applicable to the whole of Japan. Howsoever it happened, several laws and regulations are discriminatorily applied only to the Ryukyuan/Okinawan population concerning the usage of land by the US military forces. The Law on the utilization of public lands of 1972 was valid for the period of 5 years and enforced purchasing private lands by the Japanese administration before the Okinawans/Ryukyuans were handed over to Japan. However, after the expiry of the five years, many landlords still did not agree to sell their lands; and, with the amendment of the Law, the validity to purchase the land was extended to ten years. After the expiry of the Law in 1982, the Japanese government started applying it to the land usage by US forces, which were forced to move to Okinawa/ Ryukyu in 1954. This law had been ratified in 1996 so that the Japanese government can secure the land for the US military bases, whereby the willingness and rights of the landholders were ignored. The result of discriminatory application of laws can be observed in the expansion of the 75 percent of US military facilities in the Ryukyu/Okinawa area (Calder 178).

Literature Review

There is a vast amount of literature explaining various reasons of the US military resentment in Okinawa/Ryukyu and its impacts on the Japan-US security cooperation. In the view of the International Theory of Constructivism, the strong opposition to US army bases in Ryukyu and Okinawa region as compared with Japan exists because of indifferent attitudes and behavior of the United States and Japanese governments, which shape the interests and views of Okinawa people. Constructivists emphasize the application of IR theory because it exhibits a distinctive set of preferences and interests and delivers predictable behavior of international actors. It is necessary to find out their social, historical, political, and cultural backgrounds to understand the behavior of non-state actors and states. Hence, this literature review investigates the opinions of various IR researchers that exhibit whether the US anti-base resentment among Okinawan population exists due to different security relations or to combined involvement of the US and Japanese governments into Okinawan affairs (Guzzini 151,166).

The Troubled History of Okinawa

Okinawa has had troubled history with Japan and the United States since the former’s defeat in the Second World War had resulted in the establishment of US military bases in Okinawa. The anti-base protests among local people began to increase with the expansion of combined military bases. Before Japan included Okinawa in its territory, the surrounding islands were known as an independent state, the Ryukyu Kingdom. In 1868, the Meiji government of Japan seized the Ryukyu Kingdom and included it in its territory through military invasions. It also adopted various measures to culturally transform the Ryukyuan citizens by changing their education pattern, instructed to adopt Japanese language, and advised military institutions to practice Japanese traditions. The Japanese government established the Ryukyu Islands as its prefecture in 1879 and continued discrimination against Okinawan citizens during the following decades (Inoue 53-54). Not only cultural transformation by the Japanese government, but also their experience in World War II is critical to Okinawan people. From March to June 1945, the US army invaded Okinawa, thus resulting in the bloodiest war in the Pacific region. Nearly 150,000 citizens were killed in the war or because of the Japanese military forcing them to commit suicide. Okinawans realized that the Japanese government sacrificed its citizens to extend the territory (Hook et al 245).

The resentment and opposition against the United States and Japanese governments continue to grow because both nations never regretted for the torments and hardships experienced by the Okinawans during the World War II. Local hostilities against both nations had been also increasing in 1950-1960 due to seizure of land for the building of US army and air force bases. These circumstances of torture, discrimination, and violation of human rights have forced citizens of Okinawa to seek for independence from Japan (Taylor 3).

The Military Strategy of the US and Expansion of Army Facilities in Okinawa

After World War II, allied forces under the leadership of the US occupied Japan. In 1952, when Japan became independent, the United States continued its presence in Okinawa due to rising tensions in Asia and also the escalation of the Cold War. From the 1950s, the US began to construct large-scale permanent military facilities and air force bases and forcefully confiscated the land from landlords. Arasaki (2001) states that as resentment started growing among displaced landlords, many Okinawans began to support them. This had resulted in anti-base resistance and developed pessimistic attitudes towards the Japan-US coalition. The protests had also increased due to the expansion of US army facilities (Arasaki 106).

In the 1960s, the resentment among public was intensified as the construction of facilities by the United States continued until more than 25 percent of total land area of Okinawa was occupied. Due to the increasing impact of the independence movement in Okinawa, the government of the United States decided to delegate Okinawa to Japan in 1972. Nonetheless, after reversion of Okinawa, the positioning of US military forces still continued; and this was considered by the Okinawan population as a breach of trust of the Japanese government (Taylor 7-8). The scholars Inoue (2007), Arasaki (2001), and Taylor (2007) state that discrimination and torture are the prime reasons of anti-base sentiments among citizens of Okinawa. Moreover, the wartime experiences of Okinawan citizens and the land seizure by the United States are also among the reasons of the anti-military sentiments. Thus, the opposition to US facilities in Okinawa is considerably higher there than in Japan.

Get a Price Quote

Order essay with this Title

First Order Discount 15% For New Client

For some reasons of social security, Okinawan people also oppose against the hosting of US army because of base-related accidents and crimes. Statistics by the Prefectural Government of Okinawa supports the concerns of their citizens about safety, because on average 25 base-related accidents and crimes including road accidents occur there each month. The crash of the US helicopter into Okinawa University in 2005 and the rape of a twelve-year-old girl by three army personnel in 1995 are horrifying examples, which produced a significant impact on the United States army presence in Okinawa. The rape incident intensified protests in Okinawa and ultimately resulted in negotiations between the US and Japan on relocating the Air Station at Futenma to a less densely populated city. Besides, Okinawans were also enraged because the culprits were given lenient sentence by the US army court on the basic military agreement (SOFA) between both countries. Endvall (2013) underlines the historical negligence of Okinawan citizens by the Japanese and American governments for undue presence of large US military forces. Besides, the continuous breach of sovereignty of Okinawan people due to the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (Endvall 386).

The breach of children’s and women’s rights and the atrocities of the US army have also escalated protests among many female opposition groups. Spencer (2003) debates that the Women Act of 1972 enforced by Okinawan territorial government to protect local women against crimes by the US army personnel has brought local citizens together. It resulted in the formation of anti-base movement in the early 2000s, which also increased global awareness about US military atrocities in Okinawa (Spencer 134-135). Such thoughts among Okinawa citizens about human rights and security united anti-base groups, thus demonstrating that social concerns are prime reasons to the establishment of army bases in Okinawa. In addition to social issues, a concern regarding the impact of US army bases on the environment is another reason for opposition among Okinawan people.

Impacts on Okinawa Environment due to the Presence of US Military Bases

The US military exercises created a significant influence on the environment and ecology of Okinawa; for instance, air and water pollution, deforestation, soil erosion, wildfires, and noise pollution. Moreover, because the US does not hold legal responsibility for cleaning its base surroundings in Okinawa, the ecological balance is greatly impacted by the US army activities. Furthermore, Steve (2012) debates that the positioning of US military also leads to indirect effect on Okinawa’s GDP because the islands depend on the United States for the compensation of payments. This dependence has impacted Okinawa’s growth and construction of public work, for example, the rehabilitation of large areas of fertile land. Moreover, the pollution of river and sea areas of the island caused damaging the marine life (Steve, 2012, 48). Further, the transferring of the Futenma military facility from Ginowan area to the Henoko resulted in riots in Okinawa against the policy of army facilities expansion within both countries. Henoko provides home to marine wildlife including rare dugong species and many endangered birds (Yonetani 2001, 85). Yonetani (2001) argues that citizens’ awareness against the shifting of Futenma military base has increased awareness and the protection of the environment in Okinawa. Besides, the Futenma relocation issue has gained international importance and even become a symbol of the US anti-base movement (Yonetani 89).

Thus, the increased consciousness regarding the environment protection is a considerable concern for the growing anti-base resistance in Okinawa. The economic effect of hosting military forces on the island divides the citizens between unfavorable and favorable attitudes towards the installation of military base politics of Japan-US coalition. The Japanese government provides financial compensation to Okinawans by investing in development works and offering restitutions to people living nearby US military bases for the positioning of the US forces in the area. However, the economic gains provided by the US are frequently disapproved by local population and politicians for converting Okinawa’s economy into being dependent. For instance, between1990 and 1995, the governor of Okinawa Ota denounced the military compensation politics of US and Japan and favored the removal of US facilities for prosperity and peace of Okinawa.

The Views of Okinawan Citizens towards Deeper Alliance Partnership

The huge presence of the United States military forces and air force bases has caused massive mental and physical suffering for the Ryukyuan people, rendering a negative influence on the economy as well as resulting in their high unemployment. As of 2013, 74 percent of the US forces in Japan are stationed in the lands of the Ryukyu/Okinawa, which is 0.4 percent of the total territory of Japan (Kagotani and Yanai 94). The majority of Okinawan population favored opinion of Ota: in the referendum held in September, 1996, more than 90 percent of local population supported the reduction of US army facilities and disapproved Japan’s interference to the sovereignty of Okinawa (Yonetani 71-73). The scholars Donnelly (2009) and Green (2011) offer politic explanation to the impacts of compensation politics in Okinawa by stating that it creates confusion for Okinawan citizens. In one point of view, a large portion of the population is against the hosting of US army in their territory. Next, the elections held in 1996 proved that the majority of Okinawan population is in favor of withdrawing the army bases and redesigning the SOFA agreement. In another point of view, there are many economic gains for Okinawan citizens in stationing the US facilities because many people there are poor  and have high level of unemployment. Thus, US bases offer employment for many citizens by creating jobs and offering compensation payments (Donnell 138; Green 92).

In opposition to Green’s (2011) and Donnelly’s (2009) idea, the author Calder (2007) contests that the financials gains of the US army facilities in Okinawa are supported largely by the local population. The author argues that many construction companies, landowners, base workers, and small businesses are economically benefiting from the hosting of US facilities. Moreover, citizens who are against noise or air pollution created by the US army exercises can also claim damages from the Defense Administration of Japanese government (Calder 182).

Furthermore, Calder (2007) disproves the results of the public election regarding the reduction of the number of US troops. He contests that many citizens who support US bases did not participate in the election because large percentage of voters were absent in electoral process. Further, during the last two decades, the governors supporting the hosting of US troops in Okinawa were reelected with majority (Calder 185). Nonetheless, statistical data of the Okinawan territorial government show that the effect of financial gains related to the military presence of the United States on Okinawa’s economic growth is reducing. The revenue support from the US has decreased from 16.5 percent in 1972 to 5.2 percent in 2008. Besides, the presence of Japanese personnel in US facilities also decreased  from 20,000 in 1973 to 8,500 workers in 2009 (Prefectural Government of Okinawa).

Most scholars usually consent that financial support from Japan has a significant impact on the economic growth of Okinawa and creates different opinions among the citizens because not every citizen does benefit from financial support. Hence, the ongoing anti-base resistance in Okinawa is remotely affected by economic gains as it was during the last two decades. Moreover, security threats are among the other factors that shape the views of Okinawan citizens. Japan regards North Korea and China as its major threat in terms of sovereignty and peace in East Asia due to their frequent testing of nuclear weapons (Hook and Son 35).

The Japan-US alliance continues to strengthen military facilities on the island in order to maintain security in East and Central Asia as North Korea continues to threaten peace in Pacific region. The opinion of Okinawan citizens in 1990-2000 showed how US-Japan army bases were condemned by Okinawan population. However, this tendency began to decline during the Cold War and became smaller when compared with the significant percentage of Okinawans favoring the US military bases. Thus, the US military presence on Okinawa Islands is of prime concern since the US politics plays significant role in transforming the security measures of Okinawan citizens when compared with the Japanese population (Flake 93).


In 2010-2015, the military alliance between Japan and the United States had been significantly improved because of the enhanced participation of both national governments. The Japan-US relations received a set-back due to the Futenma military base removal issue. However, the increasing arms race in Asia brought both nations closer to a single platform. Besides, these nations adopted a joint security strategy towards North Korea and China due to the increased military tensions for the establishment of security in the Pacific region. The Theory of International Relations (IRT) assumes that structure and actors are jointly constitutive. This paper argues that there exists an interactive relationship between both nations and the US-Japan alliance since the countries are able to strengthen military cooperation and improve bilateral relations.

Though US-Japan alliance was able to expand military partnership during 2010-2015, US military presence on Okinawa Islands remained a crucial factor in the partnership. The study illustrates that Japan and the United States continued to expand military partnership despite base opposition by Okinawan population. The local citizens severely criticized the combined military policies of the US and Japan because the latter considerably impact the sovereignty of the state. The discrimination, illegal confiscation of land belonging to farmers, behavior of US military officials, lack of remedies and justice to the victims of sexual assaults, breach of the right to education and health and environmental issues have all increased anti-base sentiments among Okinawan citizens. Thus, the majority of the population of Okinawa is concerned regarding the military developments of North Korea and China. The citizens of Okinawa support more a diplomatic solution and minimum interference of the Japanese government in their domestic policies rather than the expansion of military buildup.


The development of military base resentment in Okinawa illustrates that the anti-base movement there has become influential and better organized as their local movement is gaining international recognition. Moreover, local politicians are also protesting against Japan-US base policies. The United States military bases in Okinawa face not only dissatisfaction regarding the Futenma relocation and degradation of its ecological environment, but the local people also indicate the increasing distrust towards the US and Japanese governments. However, the enhanced security partnership between both nations does not impact the hosting of army bases in Okinawa. Thus, this paper proves that military bases resentment among Okinawan citizens and their independence movement are hardly impacted by security cooperation between both countries and continues to increase as long as local identity of Okinawa is controlled by the military politics of the United States and Japanese governments.