Yuki Tanaka: Tokyo, Washington and the Missing Nuclear Agreements

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  • [Yuki Tanaka is Research Professor, Hiroshima Peace Institute and an Asia-Pacific Jurnal coordinator. He is the coeditor with Marilyn Young of Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth Century History. He wrote this article for The Asia-Pacific Journal.]

    At first glance, the Liberal Democratic Party’s decades-long denial of clear evidence revealed by the U.S. government that it had secret agreements allowing the introduction and stationing of US nuclear weapons in Japan appears absurd. This was the reality, however, for the nation that long proclaimed the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles,” barring the production, possession or importation of nuclear weapons, as a bedrock of national policy. With the fall of the LDP looming in the September 2009 election, several former top officials of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who were well informed of these secret deals, came forward to disclose the deal. Their motive was not protection of Japan’s “Three Non-Nuclear Principles.” To the contrary, their view is that, as the “Three Non-Nuclear Principle” did not effectively prevent the entry of nuclear weapons into Japan, they should be scrapped.

    Okada Katsuya, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan’s new Democratic Party government, has repeatedly said that he has instructed senior staff of his Ministry to conduct a thorough investigation to reveal the details of the secret deals that previous LDP cabinets made with the U.S. Yet, he has thus far avoided answering the question of whether the Hatoyama administration will maintain the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles” as national policy. Confronted with this persistent question from journalists, he repeats the same illogical statement that a thorough investigation of this secret affair must be completed before discussing the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles.”

    One of the Democratic Party’s campaign pledges during the September election was establishment of an “equal partnership” with the U.S. based on Japan’s national “independence.” When Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, visited Japan in late October, he pressed Okada and Kitazawa Katumi, the Minster of Defense, to make sure that Japan’s official investigation of the secret deals would not harm the U.S. policy of nuclear deterrence and the U.S. – Japan relationship.

    Okada (left) and Gates

    The revelation of the details of the secret agreements on nuclear weapons in itself cannot bring about a decisive solution to Japan’s nuclear problems, above all since irrefutable evidence has long been available in U.S. documents and circulated widely among Japanese journalists and researchers. The most important question is not the secrecy concerning the U.S. nuclear weapons program in Japan, but the foundations of that secrecy, i.e., Japanese support for the U.S. policy of nuclear deterrence. In the absence of a clear DPJ policy on the issues, it can be expected that similar secret deals will be made to sustain Japanese support for the U.S. policy of nuclear deterrence, including the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Japan.

    The cabinet of Sato Eisaku, who served as Prime Minister between 1964 and 1972, was critical in framing and implementing the U.S.-Japan nuclear framework. In January 1965, he urged President Lyndon Johnson to place Japan under the American nuclear umbrella under the U.S. – Japan Security Treaty (Ampo). Johnson immediately agreed. With this arrangement in place, at the end of 1967, Sato proclaimed in the Diet his government’s adoption of the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles.” Moreover, as is now widely known, in November 1969, Sato also entered into a secret agreement with President Richard Nixon, as part of the negotiations that led to the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japan with U.S. bases intact, that the U.S. military was free to bring nuclear weapons into Japan in an emergency situation without prior notice. Ironically, Sato was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 for having established the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles.” For Sato and many other LDP leaders, including Nakasone Yasuhiro, Abe Shinzo and Aso Taro, the principle was simply a political showcase. The core of U.S.-Japan security policy was and remains “nuclear deterrence” predicated not only on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, but full U.S. nuclear access to Japan. There are as yet no clear signs that the new DPJ administration, while proclaiming the desire for a more independent foreign policy, is reconsidering the nuclear relationship.

    Against this background, it is important to recall U.S. uses of Japan as a base for nuclear war planning dating back to the Vietnam War. In 1967, the Commander of the Pacific Command established the Pacific Operations Liaison Office (POLO) in the Fifth Air Force facilities at Fuchu Air Base just outside Tokyo. For the following five years, POLO was responsible for formulating the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) - i.e., the plan to utilize both aircraft and warships carrying nuclear weapons for the Pacific Command. Moreover, based on SIOP, in 1965 the Yokota and Kadena Air Bases were designated as bases for the U.S. Strategic Air Command's new airborne command, codenamed BLUE EAGLE. According to the Nautilus Institute’s report of August 1995,  ‘During the 1970s, the BLUE EAGLE aircraft flying out of Japan practiced transferring nuclear launch orders to strategic nuclear submarines and nuclear-armed aircraft carriers operating in the waters around Japan. Such nuclear command and control exercises continued well into the 1990s, and probably continue even today.’ [1] The existence of POLO and the BLUE EAGLE were secret until the Nautilus Institute published the relevant official documents in 1995.

    Nuclear evasion took other forms, too. Kyodo reported that Declassified U.S. documents found at the U.S. National Archives and Records by Shoji Niihara, a Japanese specialist on Japan-U.S. relations, reveal that the Japanese government voluntarily set narrow territorial sea limits of three nautical miles in five strategically important straits despite being legally entitled to extend its territorial waters to twelve miles. As Kyodo News reported in October 2009, based on archival documents and interviews with former vice ministers of foreign affairs, this was to avoid political issues arising from the passage of U.S. warships carrying nuclear weapons. [2]

    Thus, the question that requires urgent attention is not whether U.S. nuclear weapons have been or will be brought into Japan secretly, but the entire structure of U.S. nuclear deterrence deployed in Japan. It is precisely this structure that leads American policymakers to view Japan as a “vassal state”; without transforming this policy it will remain impossible Japan’s democracy and freedom of information to function autonomously. If Japan’s new Democratic Party government genuinely wishes to establish an “equal partnership” with the U.S. based upon the principle of national “independence,” it must seriously consider freeing Japan entirely from the U.S. nuclear umbrella and its nuclear deterrence strategy.

    It is important to recognize nuclear deterrence policies for what they are: a “crime against peace” as explicated in the Nuremberg principle. This is because “nuclear deterrence” effectively means planning and preparation to commit indiscriminate mass killing, or in other words a “crime against humanity,” using nuclear weapons. In this regard, “nuclear deterrence” is no different from the “nuclear terrorism” that the U.S. and other nuclear powers so strongly condemn.


    [1] http://www.nautilus.org/archives/nukepolicy/Nuclear-Umbrella/index.html

    [2] Kyodo News, “Japan limited sealanes at behest of U.S. Claims on five straits likely cut to let nukes pass: Archives,” October 12, 2009.

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