Lawless Gives Briefing on Plan for Moving Marines to Guam

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The United States and Japan are working on a plan that will result in the relocation of 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to the island of Guam.

During a press briefing in Washington April 25, Richard Lawless, deputy under secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters that the move will be a step in returning "very valuable land" on Okinawa to the Japanese people.

"The Marine relocation to Guam," Lawless said, "should be seen in the context of a whole range of changes we are making to transform the alliance, and that involves both a major realignment of U.S. bases in Japan, a major change in the way we base ourselves and our partners in the alliance - the Japanese self-defense forces - as well as a range of changes we're making in the way that we operate and operationalize the relationship."

The two countries agreed in principle to devise implementation plans for these changes at a meeting of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, informally known as a "2+2" meeting, in October 2005, Lawless said.  (See related article.)

Members of the consultative committee include the U.S. secretaries of defense and state and the Japanese ministers of foreign affairs and defense.  That commitment was laid out in a document, called "Alliance Transformation Realignment."

"We've basically pulled together all the components of that package, reached agreement in details and in principle on all of these components," Lawless said.  But the issue of the Marine relocation had remained open. 

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Japanese Minister of State for Defense Fukushiro Nukaga finalized plans for the relocation April 23.

"That issue has now been resolved," Lawless told reporters. 

A Japanese delegation is in Washington this week working on some of the fine points of that agreement, according to Lawless.  He expressed hope that the negotiators would have a comprehensive implementation plan ready for review by top Pentagon and Japanese leadership by the week of May 1.

The goal, Lawless said, is to reduce "the burden on the people of Japan" while doing nothing that would "in any way reduce the credibility and the deterrent power of the American presence as it contributes to the alliance and peace in the Pacific."

The agreed relocation to Guam, he said, will "maintain credibility [and] maintenance deterrence, but at the same time relocate a portion of the Marines to a position in the Western Pacific that still makes them immediately relevant to the defense of Japan."

Lawless said the Japanese government will bear the relocation costs as part of a larger realignment of U.S. troops on Okinawa that is expected to cost $20 billion to $30 billon over a six- to seven-year period.

He noted that a new site for the Futenma facility on Okinawa has been agreed upon.  The realignment of U.S. troops in Japan, Lawless said, is slated for completion by 2012.

Lawless said the physical realignment of troops is just "a small piece" of "helping to transform the fundamentals of the alliance."

He cited, as an example, the Japanese government's decision to build its new air defense command center - a multiyear and very large project - at the Yokota Air Base on the island of Honshu so as to increase interoperability with U.S. troops there.

Co-locating forces, Lawless said, "creates a truly bilateral, interoperative, balanced alliance.  And that's one of the things we're hoping to achieve with this alliance transformation."

A transcript on the briefing is available on the Defense Department Web site.

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