In mid-October, the National Security Archives in Washington released declassified telegrams, background papers and top-secret minutes regarding US nuclear weapons policy in Okinawa and, more broadly, Japan between the 1950s and 1972. Information about secret deals comes from this source, but it is neither the only nor the main one.
Two weeks ago, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, ordered a detailed review of the matter within his ministry to be ready for the end of November. A 15-member team went through 2,600 file containers kept at the ministry’s archives and 400 from the Japanese embassy in Washington.
For Japan’s new Democratic Party of Japan-led government, which took office on 15 September, transparency is one of its basic principles.
Three non-nuclear principles
In the wake of the two atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese people have been definitely opposed to the presence of nuclear weapons on Japanese soil. Policies by successive Japanese government have followed to this widely popular line.
However, when Japan and the United States renewed their mutual security treaty in 1960, they established the principle that if US ships and planes carry nuclear weapons they could not enter Japanese waters or air space “without prior consultation.”
In 1967, then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato announced to the Japanese Diet his Three Non-Nuclear Principles, whereby Japan would never “develop, use, or allow the transportation of nuclear weapons through its territory.” However, Sato’s position was not as upfront as previously thought.
The United States’ greatest naval asset in the Pacific Ocean is not a ship, but an island: Okinawa. Captured from the Japanese at the end of the Second World War, the island was turned into a powerful strategic base that enabled the United States to control East Asia.
Sato wanted to re-establish Japanese sovereignty over the island but could not accept nuclear weapons or a territory contaminated by nuclear material, hence his three non-nuclear principles
In order to placate the United States, Sato led Japan to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in exchange for a nuclear-free Okinawa under Japanese control. This happened in 1972.
Sato, the longest-serving prime minister (1964-1972), was eventually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his dedication to peace.
In the shadow of secret deals
As forward-looking as this policy might have been, it was watered down when the US and the Japanese governments made a secret deal, which was not disclosed to every Japanese prime minister or foreign minister when in office.
Three examples stand out. On 3 April 1963, US Ambassador to Tokyo Edwin O. Reischauer sent a cable to Washington citing talks he had with Japanese Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ohira, noting that Ohira apparently agreed that the introduction of atomic weapons into Japan did not include nuclear arms on US naval ships in Japanese waters. When Sato announced his three non-nuclear principles four years later, he was apparently contradicting the aforementioned. Yet, in the end, raison d’état prevailed.
On 19 January1972, a few months before Okinawa was returned to Japanese control, a high official in the US State Department sent a memo to his departmental colleagues, saying, among other things, that “the GOJ (Government of Japan) now maintains in public that it is unaware of US nuclear transit visits, and would refuse permission for such visits if we should request them. Therefore, if current transit practices were publicly exposed in an authoritative manner, the consequences would surely include: (1) the fall of the Japanese government; (2) enhancement of the credibility of those Opposition leaders most hostile to US-Japan defense cooperation; (3) a corresponding loss of credibility by Japanese officials that have defended US-Japanese security cooperation in the past; (4) massive doubts about US respect for basic Japanese principles.”
Another document of great importance was a memorandum of agreement between US President Richard Nixon and Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato signed on 21 November 1969. Minutes from that agreement were included in the 1994 memoires of a former Japanese diplomat, Kei Wakaizumi, two years before his death. In it, Kei talks about working on a secret Nixon-Sato deal with Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser.
At the time, a top secret minute to a joint communiqué by the two leaders said, “it is the intention of the United States Government to remove all the nuclear weapons from Okinawa [. . .] However, in order to discharge effectively the international obligations assumed by the United States for the defense of countries in the Far East including Japan, in time of great emergency the United States Government will require the re-entry of nuclear weapons and transit rights in Okinawa with prior consultation with the Government of Japan. [. . .] The Government of Japan, appreciating the United States Government's requirements in time of great emergency as stated above by the President, will meet these requirements without delay when such prior consultation takes place.”
In order to highlight the need for great secrecy, the document concluded saying that “the President and the Prime Minister agreed that this Minute, in duplicate, be kept each only in the offices of the President and the Prime Minister and be treated in the strictest confidence between only the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Japan.”
Mistrusts towards the LDP, united on North Korea
The Japanese public was shocked by the revelations. Politically, they are likely to accelerate the LDP’s decline to the benefit of the now ruling DPJ. In the foreign policy field, it will probably speed up changes and transform the US-Japanese relationship into a more equal partnership.
Still, the US president and the Japanese prime minister are on the same wavelength on the issue of nuclear weapons and their elimination.
On 24 September, during the historic summit on nuclear weapons proliferation at the security Council of the United Nations, both Barak Obama and Yukio Hatoyama said that they felt they had a special “moral responsibility” in the matter, the US as the only nation to have used a nuclear weapon and Japan as the only country to have suffered atomic bombings.