Washington’s inability to resolve its basing arrangements on Okinawa, as well as the rising price tag of a related plan for a $23 billion military buildup on Guam, underscore the challenges facing the Obama administration as it seeks to make a strategic “pivot” toward the Pacific after a decade of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Japanese government said it is still committed to a 2006 accord with the United States to find a new base location for other Marines who will remain on Okinawa. But officials in Tokyo acknowledged that they had made little progress in the face of fierce resistance from islanders opposed to the long-standing U.S. military presence there. Bleak public finances in the United States and in Japan have also undermined the effort.
U.S. military officials had planned to relocate the 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam in 2014 as part of a massive military expansion on the U.S. territory in the Pacific. Japanese officials and media reported, however, that only 4,700 of the Marines would end up in Guam, a sign that the Pentagon is reconsidering its plans there.
Congress has questioned the cost of the Guam expansion and has ordered the Obama administration to take another look. Lawmakers have also asked the Pentagon to conduct an independent assessment of its overall deployment plans and troop presence in the Pacific region.
The administration has moved on a series of fronts to bolster the U.S. military presence in Asia and the Pacific recently. Officials reached a deal with Australia to deploy a small number of Marines to Darwin and are holding talks with the Philippines about expanding military ties.
Those moves, along with an agreement to station Navy ships in Singapore, are part of a broader strategy aimed at countering China’s rising influence in the region. Although the Obama administration wants to retain the bulk of U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan, where they have maintained a heavy presence since World War II and the Korean War, officials said they are looking to expand their presence in Southeast Asia.
“We are diversifying our strategic and military approach,” Kurt M. Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for Asian affairs, told a House subcommittee Tuesday. “We will keep a strong commitment in northeast Asia, but we will focus more of our attention in Southeast Asia.”
Reviewing the options
George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, said the military is reviewing its options on where to transfer the 8,000 Marines from Japan. “It’s premature to discuss troop numbers or specific locations,” he said Wednesday.