During the 1980s, the integrity of Japan's non-nuclear policy deteriorated significantly as a result of increasingly detailed information becoming available to the public about the nuclear routines of the U.S. Navy. This information, along with statements by former officials, made it increasingly difficult for the U.S. and Japanese governments to maintain the ambiguity over nuclear weapons in Japan. It was inevitable that sooner or later plain English would be needed to describe exactly what the arrangements and "understandings" were between the two governments. This, in turn, could have severe consequences for the U.S.-Japanese relations.
This almost happened in May 1981, when former U.S. Ambassador to Tokyo Edwin O. Reischauer disclosed in a newspaper interview that since 1960 an "understanding" had permitted U.S. nuclear-armed warships access to Japanese ports and territorial waters. Reischauer said that the Japanese government had verbally agreed to this understanding during the 1960 revision of the security treaty. Several current and former U.S. and Japanese officials confirmed Ambassador Reischauer's interpretation, including the former Japanese ambassador in Washington, Takezo Shimoda, who said the question of temporary docking or transit through Japanese waters "was outside the matter for prior consultation."152
Reischauer's disclosure naturally caused a major scandal and when reminded by the Japanese media that his statement was "shocking," Reischauer replied there was nothing shocking about it but that "the problem is in the Japanese government which may have forgotten the oral understanding."153 Not only did Reischauer say that he understood at the time that there was an oral agreement on this point, but "the Japanese understood that, too," he said. Reischauer referred to conversions he had with then Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ohira, who later became Japanese Prime Minister, to underscore that understanding and added:154
Nonetheless, Prime Minister Suzuki ordered his Foreign Ministry to investigate the facts. When the press subsequently asked about the transit agreement, however, Foreign Ministry spokesman Shohei Naito said: "We were told that no documents of this kind were found....Those relevant records don't exist in our archives." Asked whether this meant that the agreement did not exist, Naito responded: "We have not found documents of this kind."159
Whether the Japanese government told the truth or not, it is clear that Prime Minister Suzuki did not have much room to maneuver. He had returned from a summit meeting in Washington only a few weeks earlier to a heated debate over whether he had committed Japan to a new level of defense cooperation with the United States - a debate that led to the resignation of Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ito. Given the continued U.S. assurances that it abided by the terms of the security treaty and its associated arrangements it was impossible for the Japanese government to publicly acknowledge Ambassador Reischauer's disclosure. Indeed, anything short of a complete denial would have forced Suzuki to declare U.S. violation of the security treaty. Faced with that situation, Suzuki told reporters, "it is very difficult (for Japan) to realistically probe" Reischauer's assertion,160 but nonetheless insisted that it would have no influence on Japan's policy.161
The Tank Landing Ship.
As if Reischauer's disclosure was not enough trouble, the Japanese government soon faced another nuclear scandal. Only a couple of days after the Reischauer story first broke, another former U.S. official, Daniel H. Ellsberg, disclosed that the U.S. had permanently anchored a Tank Landing Ship (LST) with nuclear armed weapons only a couple of hundred yards from the shore off the Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station near Hiroshima from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s. Ellsberg told the Washington Post that he wrote a "memo for the record" in 1971 in which he described how the U.S. Navy had tried to circumvent policy without the Pentagon's knowledge, to conceal a violation of the U.S.-Japanese security treaty, and to give the Marine Corps aircraft a nuclear-bombing head start over the Air Force.162
Three other former U.S. officials confirmed Ellsberg's disclosure. Paul H. Nitze, who was assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said he "certainly remember the episode. There was quite a flap about it," but added that he could not remember all the details. Former undersecretary of state for political affairs U. Alexis Johnson said he had a report on the LST from the U.S. Embassy in Japan and took it up with Nitze in 1961. At the time, the ship was in Okinawa for repairs and both Nitze and Johnson recalled that Robert McNamara ordered the ship to stay in Okinawa.163 Former Ambassador Reischauer also confirmed the disclosure and said he immediately protested directly to then Secretary of State Dean Rusk,164 and that the U.S. Navy told him they would withdraw the ship.165 The ship was the USS San Joaquin County (LST-1122), a vessel of 328 feet and 1,600 tons with a crew of approximately 110 plus officers.
Ellsberg's account of the circumstances, however, suggests that McNamara withdrew the order to withdraw to avoid a quarrel with the Navy and that the ship returned to Iwakuni and stayed there for several years more.166 This was supported by two former crew members, including Michael O'Harro, who was the communications officer aboard until November 1963. Another officer said he was onboard the ship until May of 1964, and that the ship's mission had not changed in the previous five years. According to this officer, the ship did not depart Iwakuni until 1966 or 1967 and the crew knew that the ship carried nuclear weapons in violation of the security treaty:167
The Future of the Alliance
The failure of the Japanese authorities to offer anything but denials and "no documents" responses -- combined with the increasingly compromising facts -- created a deep sense of distrust in Japan toward the U.S. and Japanese governments. "You are lying to the people," reporters shouted at one of Suzuki's press conferences,172 and The New York Times described the mood as "the most uncomfortable for American diplomats in Japan in recent memory." Japan's security was based on trust in the United States, Japanese editorials warned, but "an 'alliance' based on falsehood cannot flourish."173
The future of the U.S.-Japanese relationship was also the main theme when Ambassador Reischauer later defended his disclosure in a commentary printed in the Washington Post in June 1981. He warned that it was "unhealthy and even dangerous" for the U.S. government and the Japanese public to have significantly different understandings of the meaning of the word "introduction" of nuclear weapons. He said:
Despite the denials, however, it was increasingly clear that Japan's three non-nuclear principles were not a factor at all in U.S. Navy's planning of port visits to Japan. Instead, the visits appeared to take place under the terms and conditions of the Neither Confirm Nor Deny (NCND) policy, which he oral agreement disclosed by Ambassador Reischauer was intended to serve. Since Japan accepted NCND in operation in its ports, it inevitably also accepted the possibility that nuclear weapons would be onboard ships from time to time. Otherwise, each visit would indirectly confirm that nuclear weapons could not possibly be present onboard the ships, a confirmation the NCND policy prohibited -- even indirectly. The visit was an operational issue, and Japan's three non-nuclear principles were, for all practical purposes, irrelevant.
Trusting Yet Reminding
The Japanese government may have gradually realized that there was a problem, because in February 1983 Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe told the Diet that the Japanese government would once again tell the United States that Japan does not permit nuclear weapons on its territory.176 The move was triggered by a U.S. request for the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) to visit Sasebo. With the 1981 Reischauer scandal fresh in mind, Foreign Minister Abe told Kumashi Kakehashi, the mayor of Sasebo, that he would soon meet with U.S. Ambassador Mike Mansfield to make sure the U.S. comply with Japan's three non-nuclear principles.177
The initiative was curious one since the Japanese government only three years earlier had insisted that the security treaty effectively prevented U.S. ships from carrying nuclear weapons into Japanese ports without first consulting the Japanese government. If it was so certain then, then why ask now? Rather than an attempt to force concessions out of Washington, the initiative was probably more intended to prevent the national debate from erupting again.
After the meeting with Ambassador Mansfield, Foreign Minister Abe told a House of Councilors Committee meeting that Japan had been assured by the United States that the USS Enterprise would not carry nuclear weapons during its visit to Sasebo. Abe explained that the assurance was given when Ambassador Mansfield said the U.S. would abide by the security treaty. "Since [Mansfield] said the United States will comply with the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, we don't have to ask [the U.S. if the USS] Enterprise will bring nuclear weapons to Japan."178
Contrary to Foreign Mininster Abe's assertion, however, Japan did not get any assurances from Ambassador Mansfield that the USS Enterprise would not carry nuclear weapons during its visit to Sasebo. On the contrary, Mansfield's reference to the security treaty ensured that the United States did not commit to anything related to nuclear weapons on the ships. Because the security treaty did not address nuclear weapons, the Neither Confirm Nor Deny policy's requirement to retain ambiguity about the armament of the ship was maintained.
While timid about its non-nuclear policy vis-a-vis the United States, Japan did not hesitate to enforce its nuclear ban when it came to other nuclear powers. For example, after the British carrier HMS Invincible (R05) had been prevented from using dock-facilities in Australia in December 1983 due to its presumed nuclear armament, the Japanese government announced that the HMS Invincible port clearance would depend on ascertaining whether or not the ship carried nuclear weapons. If Britain declared that it was nuclear armed, or if there were inadequate assurances of no nuclear armament, the clearance would be denied.179 The British government, bound by its own Neither Confirm Nor Deny policy but with no security agreement like the United States to threaten in retaliation if denied access, gracefully canceled the visit. For once the Japanese government had upheld its non-nuclear principle and with no dire consequences for Japanese-British relations.
No sooner had the HMS Invincible story passed, however, before the Japanese media once again carried reports about U.S. nuclear weapons in Japanese ports. The Asahi Shimbun reprinted sections from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships that stated that two U.S. submarines in several cases during the early 1960s had brought nuclear Regulus missiles into Yokosuka. Once again the Japanese government denied the report, and Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone told reporters that it was "inconceivable" that such port call had occurred. "Japan strictly abides by the non-nuclear principles and the prior consultation scheme," Nakasone said and added: "I believe that the U.S. has also respected them."180
Although Nakasone did not offer anything concrete in support for his belief, a spokesperson for the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Ryozo Kato, subsequently explained that the U.S. consistently had announced on various occasions that it understands the specific sentiments of the Japanese people on nuclear weapons and sincerely fulfills its duties in accordance with the security treaty. The U.S. State Department, in turn, responded with its assurance that it abided by the obligations under the Security Treaty but would not confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons anywhere.181
The Japanese and U.S. governments almost seemed to adhere to two parallel positions, where Japan linked the advance consultation provision to the three non-nuclear principles, while the U.S. linked it to the Neither Confirm Nor Deny policy. To what extent U.S. and Japanese officials communicated about this division in private still remains unclear, but after Japanese media reported in January 1984 that U.S. congressional records revealed the presence of nuclear weapons in Japan even after the reversion of Okinawa, the U.S. response to the Japanese government did not indicate a great deal of trust. The State Department tried to locate the Congressional documents but was unsuccessful, so it asked the Tokyo Embassy to inform Japanese foreign ministry officials of this and add that the U.S. would neither confirm nor deny the presence nuclear weapons anywhere.182 Moreover, the message to Japan was:
Admiral William Crowe, the CINCPAC, was greatly concerned that Japan would be inspired by New Zealand's non-nuclear stand and change its own port visit procedure. Although the firm rejection of nuclear weapons was the same in both countries, at least in public, Japan accepted the uncertainty of the ship's nuclear armament while New Zealand decided to make up its own mind. In a report to the Secretary of Defense from late 1984, Crowe explained CINCPAC's objective:
The Limits of Prior Consultation
One year later, in February 1986, the nuclear debate in Japan evolved further when the Japanese government volunteered its interpretation of the Security Treaty's meaning of "prior consultation." The new interpretation demonstrated the provision essentially put the Japanese nuclear ban out of commission. Both the Japanese and U.S. governments had previously stated that prior consultation also concerned the introduction of nuclear weapons,185 and the Japanese government had stressed at the time the security treaty entered into force in 1960 that both Japan and the United States had the right to propose prior consultation.186
The startling reality was that Japan could not ask questions about the presence of nuclear weapons without jeopardizing the entire Security Treaty. Only the United States could initiate "prior consultation." For Japan to request "prior consultation" would require either a rewriting or cancellation of the treaty, a strong impediment against bringing up the nuclear issue at all.
Only if the United States "does not fulfill its obligations" under the treaty (i.e. seek prior consultation before bringing nuclear weapons in), would the Japanese government have the right to initiate prior consultation. But the possibility that the United States would not fulfill its obligations is "an eventuality that is not anticipated under the security treaty system," the government explained.187 In effect, Japan was unable to reject a port call of a nuclear-capable warship unless it became an object of prior consultation.
In other words, unless the United States volunteered that it was bringing nuclear weapons in, Japan was prevented from inquiring about this even if everything pointed to the ship carrying nuclear weapons. Japan's "domino-logic" was simple: since no prior consultation had ever been initiated by the United States, no nuclear weapons had ever been brought in, and since no obligation had been violated, so no questions had to be asked.
Confusion over legal interpretation was only one side of the problem with the U.S.-Japanese nuclear relationship. Clarity was another. Two statements from 1986, for example, clearly illustrate the abyss between the public presentation of the situation and that which can be said once an official is no longer in office. During a visit to New Zealand in January, Stephen Solarz, the chairman of the East Asian Subcommittee of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee described the Japanese situation:
The United States had agreed not to install, store or introduce nuclear weapons in Japan without prior consultation with the Japanese government. How this applied to American naval vessels that had nuclear weapons as part of their normal armament was never spelled out. I had understood that in the negotiating of the revised security treaty of 1960 there had been an oral agreement that nuclear weapons onboard naval vessels which came and went did not constitute "introduction."189
Reischauer pointed out that at least the United States proceeded on the assumption that nuclear weapons were permitted onboard warships and consistently refused to admit any secret deal. The Japanese government, on the other hand, was so afraid of the public anti-nuclear sentiments, that it never informed the public properly but instead painted itself into a corner by allowing the Japanese public to assume for decades that U.S. warships entering Japanese waters never carried nuclear weapons.190
Although much clearer in his explanation of the situation, however, Reischauer's interpretation was only partly correct because the United States, just like the public in general, clearly could see the dilemma the Japanese government was placed in each time a ship visit occurred. The U.S. was free to respond to that dilemma at any time, but instead of helping its ally the United States consistently pressed ahead with nuclear port visits while leaving the Japanese authorities to deal with the political fallout at home. The Japanese alternative: risk the military alliance and jeopardize your own security.
The Japanese government's balancing between loyalty to the United States and public deception was tested once again in connection with the port visits by the battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62). In 1983, the Japanese government reportedly approved a U.S. request to allow the newly re-commissioned and Tomahawk equipped ship to enter Japanese ports, but not until 1986 did the ship actually visit. In January 1986, Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe brushed aside a demand by the opposition to check whether the ship would carry nuclear weapons when visiting Japan. The U.S. had not asked for prior consultations with Japan, Abe argued, therefore it is obvious there are no nuclear weapons aboard the USS New Jersey.191
Nonetheless, a week before the ships arrived for its first visit in August 1986, Foreign Minister Abe's successor, Tadashi Kuranari, requested a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Mike Mansfield to restate Japan's nuclear policy and its "nuclear feelings." Mansfield replied that he understood the Japanese attitude, repeated that the United States would neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons, but said that the United States would "faithfully abide" by the bilateral agreement of prior consultation.192 Like during Foreign Minister Abe's meeting with Mansfield in March 1983 (see above), Ambassador Mansfield provided no assurances to respect Japan's nuclear ban.
The timing of the meeting coincided with the United States and Australia expelling New Zealand from the ANZUS alliance in response to he country's policy on nuclear port visits, but unlike New Zealand the Japanese government submitted to the Neither Confirm Nor Deny policy and the unique U.S. monopoly on "prior consultation." In public, however, the Japanese government continued to insist that the three nuclear principles did affect the nuclear armament on the ships.
Japan's loyalty to the "prior consultation" limitations was put to the test again in 1989, when the Japanese government was confronted with information about the accident in 1965 where a nuclear bomb was lost overboard from the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) (for details about the accident, see above). The story was front-page news in virtually all newspapers, and television devoted considerable coverage to the new information.
Even before the story was initially released in the United States, U.S. intelligence was aware of the pending scandal and the political military officer at the U.S. Embassy privately informed Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs National Security Affairs Division Deputy Director Sugiyama that they could expect a new scandal.193 Initially, the coverage focussed on possible environmental consequences of the radioactive material in the bomb, but the issue soon shifted to the much more contentious issue of nuclear policy. According to a telegram from the U.S. Tokyo Embassy to the State Department:
Behind the scenes, however, the Japanese government actively encouraged the United States to keep it secret whether the USS Ticonderoga carried nuclear weapons. According to a State Department "Night Note" from May 15, 1989, the Japanese government "stressed the importance of strictly maintaining NCND [the Neither Confirm Nor Deny policy]."196
In the end, the Japanese government could not accept the Ticonderoga evidence because it would force it to declare a U.S. violation of the "prior consultation" requirement. In December 1989, more than six months after the Ticonderoga story broke, the Japanese Foreign Ministry reportedly decided not to press the U.S. for more explanations following U.S. warnings that "any further discussion of this matter will endanger our military policy, and adversely affect our security interests." In its response, the Japanese foreign ministry said that it was not in a position to independently obtain a copy of the USS Ticonderoga's deck log (although a copy of the log had been already been presented to it). Instead, it reiterated that because the U.S. did not request advance consultation at the time, Japan had no reason to suspect that nuclear weapons were onboard the ship when it arrived in Yokosuka after the accident.197
The Japanese government had proven its loyalty to its nuclear ally and sacrificed the integrity of its non-nuclear policy by choosing to ignore clear and indisputable evidence that nuclear weapons were brought into Japan. The United States, in turn, continued to maintain the secrecy in public. But the Ticonderoga story and the increasingly clearer documentation that U.S. nuclear-capable ships routinely ignored Japan's policy on nuclear transit affected the way the U.S. could respond to such stories in the future. In connection with a meeting with Japanese Deputy Minister Kuriyama on nuclear transits, the U.S. State Department acknowledged that the incident had "increased pressure on our pattern of response to such allegations."198 Perhaps there was a limit after all to how far the collusion could be stretched.
152. William Chapman, "Ex-Envoy Says Japan Docked Nuclear Ships; Suzuki Rocked Anew," Washington Post, May 19, 1981, p. A1; William Chapman, "Japan Insists It Barred U.S. Ships With A-Arms," Washington Post, May 20, 1991, p. A18.
Ambassador Reischauer also emphasized that the verbal agreement between the United States and Japan did not permit U.S. warships to offload nuclear weapons in Japan. "Reischauer Emphasizes Point," New York Times, May 20, 1981, p. A12.Back
156 "Foreign Ministry's Denial," Kyodo (Tokyo), May 18, 1981; as cited in U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Section IV, Japan, May 18, 1981, pp. C-13-C14.
Nobusuke Kishi, who was Japanese Prime Minister from 1957 to 1960, stated shortly after the Reischauer scandal broke that he believed that U.S. nuclear-armed warships had called at Japanese ports and passed through Japanese territorial waters. S. Chang, "Japan Leaders Stung by Report From Reischauer," Washington Star, May 20, 1981, p. A11.
Nobusuke Kishi, who was Japanese Prime Minister from 1957 to 1960, stated shortly after the Reischauer scandal broke that he believed that U.S. nuclear-armed warships had called at Japanese ports and passed through Japanese territorial waters. S. Chang, "Japan Leaders Stung by Report From Reischauer," Washington Star, May 20, 1981, p. A11.Back
161 "Government Maintains Nuclear Arms Interpretation," Kyodo (Tokyo), May 19, 1981; as cited in U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Section IV, Japan, May 19, 1981, p. C-1.
Even so, one immediate result of Ambassador Reischauer's statement was that the city of Kitakyushu canceled a scheduled port visit by the three ASROC-equipped U.S. Navy destroyers USS Waddell, USS Hull, USS Decateur. City officials told the Kyodo that in the present situation a visit by the U.S. warships could cause problems. "Kitakyushu Prohibits Port Call By U.S. Ships," Kyodo (Tokyo), May 19, 1981; as cited in U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Section IV, Japan, May 19, 1981, p. C-1.
Even so, one immediate result of Ambassador Reischauer's statement was that the city of Kitakyushu canceled a scheduled port visit by the three ASROC-equipped U.S. Navy destroyers USS Waddell, USS Hull, USS Decateur. City officials told the Kyodo that in the present situation a visit by the U.S. warships could cause problems. "Kitakyushu Prohibits Port Call By U.S. Ships," Kyodo (Tokyo), May 19, 1981; as cited in U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Section IV, Japan, May 19, 1981, p. C-1.Back
176 "Government Will Not Allow Nuclear Arms Into Country," Kyodo (Tokyo), February 23, 1983; as cited in U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Section IV, Japan, February 24, 1983, p. C-1.
The meeting and Ambassador Mansfield's statement was essentially a pre-run of a meeting he would have with Abe's successor three years later in connection with the visit of the battleship USS New Jersey (see below).
The meeting and Ambassador Mansfield's statement was essentially a pre-run of a meeting he would have with Abe's successor three years later in connection with the visit of the battleship USS New Jersey (see below).Back
179 "Nonnuclear Principles Cited," Kyodo (Miyazaki), December 11, 1983; as cited in U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Section IV, Japan, December 12, 1983, p. C-1. See also Asahi Shimbun, December 11, 1983; as cited in Ohara 1991, p. 57. Back
184 Admiral William Crowe, U.S. Navy (CINCPAC), "Subject: Secretary of Defence Quarterly Report, October-December 1984 (U)," 9 January 1985 (sent 10 January), p. 6. Partially declassified and released under FOIA. Emphasis added. Back
187 Telegram, Tokyo 3910, U.S. Tokyo Embassy to Secretary of State, "Subject: GOJ Rejects Proposal by JSP to Question US About Nuclear Weapons Onboard US Naval Vessels," 260723Z Feb 85, pp. 1, 2, 3. Confidential. Partially declassified and released under FOIA; See also Asahi Shimbun (evening edition), February 8, 1986; as cited in Ohara 1991, p. 67. Back
188 Stephen Solarz, East Asian Subcommittee chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, January 1986, while in New Zealand; as cited in Derek Wilson, "Neither Confirm Nor Deny", Pacific Institute of Resource Management, October 1988, p. 4. Back
192 Clyde Haberman, "Japanese, Citing Nuclear Ban, Protest U.S. Ships," The New York Times, August 25, 1986; Edward Neilan, "Battleship's Visit to Japan Causing Only Mild Stir," The Washington Times, August 22, 1986, p. 6; See also Asahi Shimbun (evening edition), August 16, 1986; as cited in Ohara 1991, p. 68. Back
196 U.S. Department of State, "Night Note -- Japan: 1965 Nuclear Weapons Loss," May 15, 1989. Secret/Excise. Declassified and released under FOIA. An anonymous former U.S. official said to be well informed on the bilateral negotiations for revising the security pack of 1960, told Kyodo News Service in 1995 that then Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi and then U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower exchanged a secret document in 1960 in which Japan promised to respect the neither confirm nor deny policy. Mikio Haruna and Kohei Murayama, "Tokyo 'Freely' Allowed Nuclear Ship Port Calls," Kyodo News Service, October 27, 1995. Back
197 "U.S. Seeks to Close 'Ticonderoga' Issue," Kyodo (Tokyo), December 27, 1989; as cited in U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, FBIS-EAS-89-249, Northeast Asia, December 29, 1989, pp. 1-2. See also: "Japanese Close Book on Bomb", New Zealand Herald, 30 December 1989; as cited in Robert E. White, "The neither confirm nor deny policy: Oppressive, obstructive, and obsolete", Auckland University, December 1989, p. 35. Back
198 U.S. Department of State, Clark to Kimmitt, "Subject: Your Meeting with Deputy Minister Muriyama: Nuclear Transit," n.d. [May 1989]. Secret/Sensitive. Partially declassified and released under FOIA. Back