US Strengthening Alliances In East Asia Is The Wrong Way To Go – OpEd


Risking an explosion of public anger in Okinawa, the U.S. Marine Corps is sending crash-prone MV-22 Osprey aircraft, which take off and land like a helicopter but fly like an airplane, to the islands. The white-hot opposition to the aircraft on the islands goes much deeper than just the possibility of a few civilians being killed by wayward aircraft.

Okinawa has suffered discrimination at the hands of its Japanese rulers ever since Japan conquered the independent island kingdom in the 1870s. After World War II, the United States ruled Okinawa as a military colony until returning it to the Japanese in 1972. Yet the Japanese, still treating Okinawans as second-class citizens, foisted a disproportionate share of residual U.S. forces on them. Today, more than half of the 50,000 U.S. military personnel still stationed in Japan—long after World War II ended—reside in the already crowded islands.

Okinawan mass protests over what they see as U.S. military occupation are nothing new but have recently equaled those in 1995 after the rape of a local schoolgirl by three U.S. Marines. According to The New York Times, many analysts say that any crash of an Osprey aircraft could lead to violent protests that could threaten the U.S. military presence on the islands.

Adding insult to injury, in response to public outrage over the rape case, the U.S. and Japanese governments agreed to move the Futenma U.S. Marine air station, which will house the Osprey aircraft, out of the crowded city of Ginowan, but the agreement has never been carried out. Further dashing Okinawan hopes, in 2009, the then-Japanese prime minister promised not only to move the base from Ginowan but off Okinawa altogether but then caved in to American and Japanese pressure.

The Japanese government chooses to play with fire in Okinawa by allowing the Osprey deployment because it is currently in a ridiculous maritime dispute with a rising China over some tiny, barren, and uninhabited atolls in the East China Sea. Some of the 15,000 Marines stationed in Okinawa could now reach those islands using the longer-range Ospreys, whereas they couldn’t using more mundane and much less expensive transport helicopters. The Japanese government recently enraged China by buying the atolls from their private owner. So the Japanese government is willing to toss MV-22 aviation fuel on smoldering Okinawan unrest to be backed up by the U.S. while throwing gasoline on the island dispute with China.

Like America’s close alliance with Israel, America’s protection of Japan appears to be leading to more aggressive behavior by the client state, which could drag the United States into an unwanted war. It’s like a schoolyard dispute in which one of the participants becomes more aggressive because his big brother is standing behind him. Even worse than the similar situation in the Middle East, the U.S. could be dragged into a shooting war with a nuclear-armed power—and over an issue that has no bearing on vital U.S. security interests.

And this is only the most egregious example. The United States is also beefing up or reinvigorating alliances with South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand to put a containment ring around the rising China. Ironically, the U.S. is even moving closer to its former foe, communist Vietnam, to contain China. The Obama administration is adding ships, aircraft, and personnel to the entire region in its “pivot” toward the Pacific, after tiring of its two land quagmires in other parts of Asia.

All this when the U.S. has a sluggish economy and record budget deficits and national debt. The Cold War is long over, and many of those East Asian client states that have their defense subsidized by the U.S. have become wealthy. Those nations could easily form an alliance that would act as a first line of defense against the rising China, thus relieving the United States from deploying forces far forward—in places like Okinawa. In fact, because amphibious assaults across water are so difficult to undertake, the islands of the Pacific—such as Japan (including Okinawa), Taiwan, the Philippines, and Australia—are more easily defended than countries with land borders, such as Israel or the European nations. Besides, China, traditionally a land power with a “people’s army,” still excessively invests in that army for political and internal security reasons—at the expense of the navy, which could more easily threaten Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia, and Thailand. Instead, ridiculously, with its huge deficits and debt, the United States is borrowing money from creditor China to subsidize the defense of wealthy, otherwise easily defended countries against, well … China.

The United States, from its Pacific bases in Hawaii, Guam, and Wake Island, could become a balancer of last resort, getting involved in an East Asian dispute only if China became so powerful that these other East Asian nations together could not contain it. If the U.S. continues its unnecessary and expensive forward-deployed posture of being the region’s primary security guarantor, future violent protests in Okinawa may be the least of its worries.

Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.

One thought on “US Strengthening Alliances In East Asia Is The Wrong Way To Go – OpEd

  • October 4, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    This is more or less Ron Paul’s view of the world, and it is an updated version of Senator Robert Taft’s traditional Mid-western isolationism Remarkable how little the author says about China and its aggressive proxies — North Korea, Pakistan and Iran. Chairman Mao it was who famously said that political power comes from the barrel of a rifle; China respects military power. China briefly invaded India’s northeastern state, Arunachal Pradesh, in the 1960s and is threatening it again. China invaded Vietnam in 1979 but suffered defeat. China absurdly claims the entire South China Sea, including all its waters and islands, as China’s national territory. When Secretary Clinton told the ASEAN meeting that the South China Sea is an American national interest, China’s foreign minister angrily reminded everyone present that China is a large country but its neighbors are all small countries. The Japanese government bought Diaoyu/Senkaku from its private owner in order to prevent it being bought by the firebrand mayor Ishihara of Tokyo, a right-wing nationalist, who would have used it as a stage for anti-Chinese provocations. China has recently raised the heat on this issue in order to divert its own people from the high level of current political discord within the ruling Communist Party. The entire East Asian economic miracle has been dependent on the US Navy’s guarantee of peaceful seas. People used to speak of “Soviet expansion” and it is fashionable to say that China is not an “expansionist” state; rather one speaks in vaguer terms of China’s “rise”, as if the implications of that were entirely benign. China has already done a major part of the intended expanding on land, when it occupied Tibet and Xinjiang in the 1950s; it is still trying to digest those huge territories, whose indigenous people will remain discontent with ever growing Chinese presence and control for at least another two generations, until they are ultimately overwhelmed. If China gets its way on the Diaoyu/Senkaku issue, the next demand will be for separation of Okinawa from Japan, as a Chinese protectorate. Japan will go nuclear and the entire post-1950s East Asian settlement will be fundamentally transformed. Then say good-bye to US influence in Korea and hello to the new Chinese empire in Asia and its adjoining seas, east and south. America’s greatest gift to China was Reagan’s pressure on the USSR, which led to historically unprecedented demise of a northern threat to China. China remembers that Russia took its Pacific province from the Qing dynasty around the same time Japan took Okinawa. If China recovers the Russian Far East, Korea and Japan will be isolated from direct contact with Russia as an alternative to China. If US forces back off to the outer ring of central Pacific bases, the benefits of US support for East Asian economic development during the last 60 years will be absorbed by China and US access to critical high-tech supplies from Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, etc, will be threatened. In the 1990’s era of “US-China alliance” (!), as Bill Clinton famously called it, China was naively allowed to gain a global monopoly on production of rare earth minerals. Then a few years ago Chinese “fishermen” provoked a squabble with Japan over Diaoyu, and the self-respecting Japanese government arrested them, but finally released them without trial when China violated WTO commitments by halting supply of rare earths to Japanese industry. China’ appetite will only be whetted by a US withdrawal. China’s major task for the next century is to divest itself of the solipsistic fantasies of “restoring the Middle Kingdom”, on a enlarged global scale, an imaginary drama of “ruling the world”, as foolishly fostered by lifelong loathers of the modern West, such as Jacques Martin.


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