Japan and the United States clashed with each other over nuclear inspection provisions with the International Atomic Energy Agency in the late 1960s because of Washington’s demand that it and other countries possessing nuclear weapons be treated differently, according to newly declassified diplomatic documents.
In 1969, one year before signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Japan argued for the need to maintain equality with the United States and other nuclear “haves” in the face of an IAEA position that only those without nuclear weapons must submit themselves to mandatory inspections under its safeguards provisions.
But amid strong resistance from the United States, Japan instead sought to be treated like the European Atomic Energy Community, also known as Euratom, which made use of inspections conducted by individual NPT member states as IAEA inspections, according to the documents declassified Wednesday.
According to a diplomatic cable dated July 3, 1969, and sent by Foreign Minister Kiichi Aichi to the Japanese embassies in Sweden and Switzerland, the IAEA secretariat in February that year sent Japan and other countries concerned a proposal about safeguards provisions.
Japan took issue with the proposal, which targeted only nuclear have-nots, on the grounds that it might not guarantee equality among NPT member states, and sent its own proposal to the IAEA side in June the same year.
The Japanese proposal would have made it possible to apply safeguards to nuclear haves, such as the United States and Britain, which are not required to submit to inspections under the NPT regime, according to a related declassified document.
The U.S. government reacted sharply to the Japanese position, saying the proposal was harmful, according to a cable sent by Aichi on May 29, 1969. That prompted Japan, which was pursuing nuclear energy development, to begin seeking an inspection regime similar to that adopted by Euratom, to create an environment favorable to its pursuit of civilian reactors.
Inspections under the IAEA’s safeguards provisions are conducted by the nuclear watchdog to prevent countries from converting nuclear materials obtained for peaceful use into military use.
Japan signed the nonproliferation treaty in February 1970, just before the pact went into force, and ratified it in June 1976.
NPT Moscow gambit
The Japanese ambassador to the United States recommended in 1969 that Japan hold off on signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to reinforce its position in negotiations with the Soviet Union for the return of four disputed islands off Hokkaido, according to a diplomatic document made public Wednesday.
In a cable dated July 10, 1969, to then Foreign Minister Kiichi Aichi, the ambassador, Takeso Shimoda, said Japan, “highly capable of nuclear development both economically and technologically,” could “strengthen its bargaining position” in the negotiations on the four islands seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, by taking a reluctant stance on signing the NPT.
Shimoda questioned whether the Soviet Union would continue attaching importance to Japan’s stance after signing it.
At that time, the Soviet Union was urging the Japanese government to sign the NPT for fear that Japan would go nuclear.
While the Japanese and U.S. governments were then holding talks on returning Okinawa to Japan, Shimoda said the treaty shouldn’t be signed in haste because Washington wanted Tokyo to participate in the NPT. Japan signed the treaty in February 1970.
The four disputed islands are Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islets.
In 1956, Japan and the Soviet Union signed their Joint Declaration providing for restoration of diplomatic relations. The declaration stated that the Soviet Union would return Habomai and Shikotan to Japan following the signing of a bilateral peace treaty.
But when Japan and the United States signed a new security treaty in 1960, Moscow told Tokyo the return of the two islands would be impossible.