Strategic narratives and US military bases in Japan: How ‘deterrence’ makes the Marine base on Okinawa ‘indispensable’

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Governed directly by the US from the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 until its reversion to Japan in 1972, the island of Okinawa hosts the majority of US military bases in Japan despite comprising only a fraction of a percent of the total land area. The central government in Tokyo has refused to countenance revision of the status quo in the face of increasing local opposition, including mass protests and the election of anti-base politicians at the local, prefectural and national level. The relocation of the controversial Marine base at Futenma to Henoko in the north of the island, has become the locus of opposition in recent years. Activists, local media and local politicians call for it to be relocated outside Okinawa to reduce the burden on the prefecture, while the central government, conservative national media and the US maintain that the current relocation plan must be implemented – to do otherwise would undermine deterrence. This article analyses the projection of the deterrence strategic narrative in the conservative Japanese media. The first section locates the concept of strategic narratives in a discursive epistemology, and highlights the importance of discursively empowered actors, before placing the newspapers in the broader context of the Japanese media environment, which differs from that of other highly developed countries in the way it empowers traditional actors. The main section of the article then traces the development of the narrative from the late 1990s, analysing how it discursively links the Marines’ presence with the ‘China threat’, and how it renders those who question the narrative as naïve, or even dangerous, for potentially undermining the Japan–US alliance and thus the security of all Japan. The article concludes by assessing the effects of the narrative, including potential unintended consequences for deterrence in the long run.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Media Studies
  • Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)


  • Deterrence, discourse analysis, strategic narratives, International Relations, military base, Japan, US-Japan relations, media narratives
Original languageEnglish
JournalMedia, War and Conflict
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Nov 21
Publication categoryResearch