Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone effectively persuaded U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s to aim for the total elimination of intermediate-range nuclear forces in Asia, instead of an initially proposed 50 percent cut in Soviet forces, according to recently released Japanese diplomatic records.
The United States and the Soviet Union eventually agreed in 1987 on the worldwide abolition of INF.
One focus of U.S.-Soviet nuclear disarmament negotiations was the geographical areas for INF elimination.
On Jan. 15, 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee, put forward a new proposal for nuclear disarmament, to which the United States sent a reply late the next month.
In a letter Reagan wrote to Nakasone dated Feb. 6, before he sent his reply to Gorbachev, the U.S. president noted that the Soviet Union was reluctant to agree immediately to the total removal of INF on a global scale. Reagan said he was inclined to propose to Moscow that the Soviet Union start by reducing SS20 intermediate-range missiles in Asia by at least 50 percent.
With Reagan suggesting that he would prioritize the elimination of INF in Europe, Nakasone said in a letter dated Feb. 10 that careful thought was needed on the idea of zero for Europe and 50 percent for Asia, according to the diplomatic records.
The plan would create a realistic danger of impediments to the U.S. security strategy for the Northern Pacific, Nakasone wrote.
The prime minister also told Reagan that Japanese Ambassador to the United States Nobuo Matsunaga would explain the issues with the proposal for a 50 percent cut. In an instruction to Matsunaga also dated Feb. 10, Nakasone said the U.S. proposal strikingly lacked balance with Europe.
In a letter to Nakasone dated Feb. 22, Reagan said he was paying attention to the prime minister’s special concerns. Reagan withdrew the initial proposal, and expressed his intention to present a proposal to the Soviet Union that could result in the total elimination of INF in both Europe and Asia by the end of 1989.
Nakasone immediately sent a letter to Reagan the same day saying he was grateful that the president had paid sufficient consideration to Japan’s proposal. The revelation suggests that Nakasone made use of his strong personal relationship with Reagan. The leaders called each other “Ron” and “Yasu.”
In December 1987, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in Washington.
The diplomatic records were among 22 sets of files covering the years through to the late 1980s that were declassified by the Foreign Ministry last week.
In principle, the ministry declassifies diplomatic files 30 years after their creation. The documents can be accessed at the Diplomatic Archives in Tokyo.