Sunday, February 28, 2016

PF Mar 2016 - Military Presence in Okinawa - Introduction

NOTE: This will be my final PF topic analysis for the 2015/2016 season.  It is possible I will decide to post various topics of interest and instruction of a more general nature from time-to-time throughout the spring and summer.  I may see some of you in Salt Lake City this June.  For the rest, I intend to be back at it next September.

Resolved: The United States should withdraw its military presence from Okinawa.


The presence of U.S. military forces in Okinawa, one of a chain of islands belonging to Japan, extends from the end of World War Two until now. During that war the U.S. extended its military reach in the Pacific by occupying various islands in a line from Hawaii to the South China Sea and was thus able to project power into the region in a time when it was not possible to fly fully-equipped aircraft from U.S. territories to the island of Japan. After the war ended, the U.S. continued to maintain and occupy many of these military facilities including those on the main islands of Japan.  At the end of the war, Japan rewrote its constitution, renouncing its former aggressive imperialism and banned the continuance of an offensive military force, instead choosing to maintain a smaller, less-capable, self-defence force. Within two years of the adoption of the revised Japanese constitution, on ongoing civil war in China ended with the establishment of a communist regime contrary to U.S. interests.  Then, in 1950, the Korean conflict erupted and as U.S. forces were relocated to the Korean front-lines, the vulnerability of Japan to outside aggression was exposed and the U.S. supported strengthening and augmenting the Japanese Defense force under the 1952 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.  It may be an over-simplification to say, but the continued U.S. presence in the far-east and in particular the islands of Japan have been justified by claims the presence of such forces were necessary to defend Japan from its enemies and to ensure U.S. hegemony in the region which happens to be very close to the strait of Malacca, one of the most important shipping lanes in the region of the South China Sea through which billions upon billions of dollars worth of oil and trade goods pass. The ability to maintain operational readiness in the region has long been a primary concern of U.S. military strategists and no doubt this claim is all the more important in light of recent expansionist activities in the region by China and perceived Chinese aggression with Japan over certain disputed islands in the region.

Many in Japan and in particular Okinawa, see the presence of U.S. troops as a kind of occupation force which has little relevance in a time of peace and in an age when U.S. military reach is truly global. For the last 20 years or more, there has been increasing discontent with the U.S. presence in Okinawa. The major bases are in the middle of core population areas and various incidents and clashes between the U.S forces and citizens has resulted in very vocal demands for relocation of the forces. Most notable was the 1995 rape of a 12 year old girl by three U.S. personnel and a number of other incidents of criminal behavior by occupying troops has led to a large body of resentment. In addition, claims of noise pollution and environmental impacts are cited. In 2012, the U.S. and Japan came to an agreement to reduce the military presence and move the majority of remaining forces to other areas. The presence of the military bases are believed to hamper economic investment in Okinawa. In addition there are groups on the island who view the U.S. and indeed even Japan as usurpers and occupiers of a sovereign state having roots in the Ryukyu Kingdom dating back some 600 years. There is much more that can be said about the impacts of U.S. presence, in particular the economics of occupation, but in the interests of keeping this article space more compact I will touch upon it later.

Why Okinawa?

So one may ask, why Okinawa? The U.S. has presence in many sovereign places in the region and no doubt the same tensions and conflicts are played out not only on the smaller islands but also mainland Japan. For that matter, the same conflicts may exist in Italy, Germany, Britain, or any number of nations.  Indeed, one does not need to look too deeply to find calls for U.S. forces to withdrawal from many nations around the world. I suppose this topic could have been directed to any of these locations or even extended to broader regions such as the South China Sea or Europe.  Why Okinawa? I can only speculate. There has been particularly vocal discontent arising from Okinawa for several decades, including a full-page ad in the New York Times. There have been some truly egregious crimes against local citizens in Okinawa and these kinds of things have resulted in a rich trove of media and commentary of the kind which makes Public Forum debate research much simpler and this is good for education, I suppose.  Okinawa is representative of the issue at large and so we could potentially extend many of the arguments made in this debate to other locales. For example, I personally have been in Aviano, Italy which is home to a NATO force led by the U.S. I was there as a visitor, in a non-military capacity and witnessed first-hand the under-current of resentment which was later made much worse when a NATO aircraft negligently sliced a ski-lift cable resulting in the deaths of twenty tourists. These kinds of incidents bring into question the need for such forces around the world in times of relative peace. Since there are no doubt many such examples, a more generalized resolution could result in an explosion of ground which would make it much more difficult to attack or defend.  So, the specifics of Okinawa suffice for this resolution.


The United States
Generally, a confederation of states, the United States in this context is the sovereign state in which most of you reading this are no doubt citizens. There is no need to generally define the United States other than to point out we are speaking specifically of the federal government of the United States in this resolution.

According to Merriam Webster, an expression of obligation, propriety or expediency. While it may or may not express a moral obligation, 'should' conveys a sense of urging or a strong suggestion of an action to be taken.

From Merriam Webster, to take back or to turn away from an object of attention. In this resolution, the implication is physical removal of military presence but not necessarily no longer paying attention to the military affairs of the region.

An impersonal, possessive pronoun referring to the United States.

military presence
The definition of military presence is slightly more complicated.  Generally, we are speaking of the proximity of assets including personnel) commonly reserved for military use. The term gives us no clue as to the posture or utilization of the military assets. Indeed, many military assets are multi-purpose in that can be used to carry out war or promote peaceful operations. The military presence in question is considered "permanent". Military assets in a region of conflict are not necessarily in the same category as their presence is not considered permanent. Consider the definition given in this source:

Our working definition of US overseas military presence is that it consists of all the US military assets in overseas areas that are engaged in relatively routine, regular, non-combat activities or functions. By this definition, forces that are located overseas may or may not be engaging in presence activities. If they are engaging in combat (such as Operation Enduring Freedom), or are involved in a one-time non-combat action (such as an unscheduled carrier battle group deployment from the United States aimed at calming or stabilizing an emerging crisis situation), then they are not engaging in presence activities. Thus, an asset that is located (or present) overseas may or may not be “engaged in presence activities,” may or may not be “doing presence.”
We have thus far defined presence activities chiefly in “negative” terms—what they are not. In more positive terms, what exactly are presence activities, i.e., what do presence activities actually entail doing?
Overseas military presence activities are generally viewed as a subset of the overall class of activities that the US government uses in its efforts to promote important military/security objectives [Dismukes, 1994]. A variety of recurrent, overseas military activities are normally placed under the “umbrella” concept of military presence. These include but are not limited to US military efforts overseas to train foreign militaries; to improve inter-operability of US and friendly forces; to peacefully and visibly demonstrate US commitment and/or ability to defend US interests; to gain intelligence and familiarity with a locale; to conduct peacekeeping activities; and to position relevant, capable US military assets such that they are likely to be available sooner rather than later in case an evolving security operation or contingency should call for them.

The definition is important in establishing the fact military presence serves complex objectives which will no doubt be important in this debate.

Geographically, Okinawa is the name assigned to the largest island of the Ryukyu Island group in the Pacific approximately 400 miles southwest of Japan. Politically, Okinawa is a prefecture of Japan which is roughly equivalent to saying it is a province. While it long held a certain political independence, it was limited in the presence of strong Chinese influence and later Japanese influence until it was officially annexed by Japan in the late 1800's. Near the end of the Second World War, Okinawa was invaded by the United States in a horrific battle. The U.S. occupation pushed out the Japanese spurring a strong movement for Okinawan independence which no doubt accounts for much of the discontent present today.  The U.S. military and by extension, the U.S. government for all practical purposes ruled Okinawa until 1972 when the islands were returned to Japanese administration.

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