NEW YORK — The tacit agreements between Japan and the United States concerning U.S. nuclear-armed vessels visiting Japanese ports were necessary in the 1960s due to the unstable political climate at the time, according to a leading American expert on Japan.
“Probably in that environment any agreement by the Japanese government to allow nuclear weapons to enter ports — any public agreement — would have caused even more demonstrations and uprising,” George Packard, president of the U.S.-Japan Foundation, said in a recent interview at his New York office.
Packard has had a wide-ranging career in academia, government service, journalism and as a writer.
Packard spoke about the politically charged atmosphere and protests in Japan leading up to the signing of the revised Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and afterward.
The treaty was signed on Jan. 19, 1960, by Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi and U.S. Secretary of State Christian Herter.
It committed the United States to defending Japan if it came under attack and provided bases and ports for U.S. armed forces in Japan.
Kishi resigned the day the treaty was ratified on June 23, 1960. A state visit by President Dwight D. Eisenhower timed to coincide with the ratification was canceled due to unrest in Japan over the issue.
“I would agree with Edwin Reischauer and his view was that they (the secret agreements) were probably necessary in 1960, given the heated political atmosphere in Tokyo,” Packard said.
Edwin O. Reischauer, whom Packard served as an aide, was U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966. Because of that volatility, Packard said Kishi had little choice but to go along because the “nuclear umbrella required nuclear weapons, but the political situation would not have permitted an open treaty.”
The former diplomat said that as demonstrations died down and stability returned as early as 1963, Reischauer believed it was “time to put the cards on the table” and inform the public in the U.S. and Japan about the agreements.
However, the U.S. State Department and Japanese government were against the idea.
This led to a meeting between Reischauer and Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ohira in April 1963.
It was then that the U.S. government informed its Japanese counterpart it did not believe it had to consult with Tokyo over port calls by nuclear-armed ships.
The tacit agreements, which contradicted Japan’s official nonnuclear policies, became the subject of intense media scrutiny in Japan recently, after a Foreign Ministry panel announced the result of its investigation into the government’s decades-long denial of the secret deals.
After half a century, times have changed, Packard said.
“The climate now is totally different and I think the Japanese public accepts the idea that nuclear weapons are part of the American defensive posture, which helps to protect Japan,” he said, adding it is a “matter of common sense.”
Packard also weighed in on the challenge facing Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and President Barack Obama as Tokyo considers how to hold its position under the nuclear umbrella while also reducing the U.S. forces presence in Japan.
He said it is natural that Hatoyama wants to reduce the U.S. military footprint, following the examples of Germany, South Korea and the Philippines.
He expressed confidence the two leaders will work out a deal after “friendly” negotiations.
On the Japanese side, Tokyo could gain a bargaining chip if it decides it can exercise the right to collective self-defense.
While the government has said it has that right, the Cabinet has so far rejected its use.
Packard said a formal endorsement of collective self-defense “does not commit Japan to do anything in advance,” but allows for a “case by case look at any contingency that might arise.”
Hatoyama has pledged to uphold Japan’s three nonnuclear principles of not possessing, producing or allowing nuclear weapons on Japanese territory.