2014-09-12

U.S. Military Accountability for Extraterritorial Environmental Impacts: An Examination of Okinawa, Environmental Justice and Judicial Militarism

Local resistance to the relocation of a U.S. military base to a Bay threatening an endangered sea mammal off the coast of the island of Okinawa raises important issues regarding the extraterritoriality of U.S. environmental laws, the role of the courts in reviewing military operations and ultimately environmental justice. These issues are being played out in an island community that for centuries has tried to survive by balancing great powers, China, Japan and the United States. Okinawans now find themselves a minority subject to discrimination in Japan and still suffering from the impacts of the legacy of U.S. occupation and continued use of U.S. bases on their culture, economy and environment. Federal courts continue inconsistently to sort out the extraterritoriality of U.S. laws, including environmental laws. Already one federal court has applied the National Historical Preservation Act to this controversy in Okinawa. Strong arguments remain that the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act should also apply to the U.S. military's actions in Okinawa. Although the modern U.S. Supreme Court has reversed earlier cases and given great deference to military operations, a form of judicial militarism, environmental justice demands and case laws allows these environmental laws to shape U.S. military conduct on Okinawa and protect its environment.

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