Only people in their late 60s and older remember the turmoil that raged in Japan in 1960 between the proponents and opponents of ratifying the revised security treaty with the United States. As these generations have aged, the security alliance between the two nations itself has grown somewhat antiquated while the whole world has undergone unprecedented change.

When asked whether the slogan of “strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance” has not become too simple and too old, Shigeru Ishiba, former defense minister and currently policy affairs chief of the Liberal Democratic Party, said “strengthening” is devoid of anything substantial. Indeed, past administrations have done very little to implement this slogan and have failed to deepen discussions on security-related issues.

The neglect of past administrations has been exposed by the current investigation into whether Tokyo and Washington entered into secret agreements that permitted American naval vessels and aircraft carrying nuclear weapons to call on Japanese ports and fly to Japanese airports. Such port calls and visits would constitute clear violation of Tokyo’s oft-repeated three-point principle against nuclear weapons and would require the U.S. to consult with Japan beforehand under the bilateral security treaty.

Under this three-point principle, Tokyo pledged not to manufacture or possess nuclear weapons, and not to allow them to be brought in, reflecting the sensitivity of the only nation to suffer atomic bombings.

Under the secret accords, the U.S. is exempted from prior consultation when its ships and aircraft carrying nuclear weapons visit Japan or pass through Japanese territorial waters. An investigation team launched by Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada is scheduled to make public the secret documents in January.

The disclosure will contradict past administrations’ repeated denials of the existence of such secret deals. Okada said in his recent speech that the revelation of the secret agreements “would take the burden off past governments.” Still, past governments had long kept the citizens in the dark about such secret agreements.

Some may argue that past governments were correct to conceal that fact because doing otherwise would have harmed national interests. The basic point must be clarified: Protection of Japan under the American nuclear umbrella makes it impossible to maintain the three-point nonnuclear principle in the first place.

It now appears that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has options of action available to him in tackling this delicate issue: (1) to officially permit American ships and aircraft with nuclear weapons to enter Japan and its territorial waters; (2) to change the three-point principle to two points by eliminating the ban on having nuclear weapons brought in, or (3) to stick to the nonnuclear principle and deny any more such entries. Deciding what course to take would be much more important than the disclosure of secret agreements.

The LDP has maintained a sense of crisis over Japan-U.S. relations overall. Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who still exerts much influence over the LDP, said last January: “Should the United States decide not to protect Japan under its nuclear umbrella, Japan would have to reconsider its three-point nonnuclear principle. Japan should have the freedom to decide whether to remain denuclearized or to possess its own nuclear weapons.

“At least for the foreseeable future, the U.S. is likely to maintain its security treaty with Japan. But the security system itself is being fatigued and the U.S. appears less enthused about honoring pledges under the security treaty. It is incumbent upon each administration of Japan to strengthen the security alliance with the U.S.”

As Nakasone pointed out, regardless of who’s in the White House, it is about time for Japan to clarify its position vis-a-vis nuclear weapons and to take measures to strengthen security ties with the U.S.

Prime Minister Hatoyama, whose Democratic Party of Japan calls for a “more equal partnership” with the U.S., said in the Lower House Budget Committee in early November that such partnership means that one party can clearly express its idea even if it is different from the other party’s. The LDP administration changed its diplomatic stance each time the U.S. made a strong demand.

What does his stance mean specifically? One of the touchstones concerns the issue of of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in the central part of Okinawa Island. During his visit to Japan in October, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reiterated Washington’s position that Tokyo should implement the 2006 accord on the relocation without delay. But professor Gerald Curtis of Columbia University, an American expert on Japanese politics, said Washington should not take such strong stand with a prime minister only a few months in office.

Views within the Hatoyama administration are not united, as exemplified by various and confusing messages on the Futenma relocation emanating from the prime minister and the foreign minister. There also seems to be a gap between the two over the concept of “more equal” Japan-U.S. relations. It is certain that the U.S. thinks that the Hatoyama administration is veering away from the U.S. in view of Hatoyama’s past statements, one of which said that U.S. forces should use Japanese bases only in emergencies.

Despite differences in views within the administration, there are no signs that serious debates have taken place within the DPJ over the future shape of the security setup. If this lack of discussion is due to fear of bringing an intraparty ideological confrontation to the fore, it would prove that nothing has changed since the days of LDP rule.

As next year marks the 50th anniversary of the current Japan-U.S. security treaty, Hatoyama says he would like to review the setup. It is hoped that constructive results will follow.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the December issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic scenes.

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