100. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

This is a supplementary note to give you more clearly the position in the government on the reversion of the Bonins to Japan.2

The attached proposal is agreed by Secretaries Rusk and McNamara. General Wheeler was personally willing to go along; but the Joint Chiefs did not agree.

Essentially, the Joint Chiefs believe that we should retain the option to base nuclear weapons at our installations on Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima without the consent of Japan, should this be necessary, and they would not return administrative rights to these islands until Japan [Page 218]permitted nuclear storage.3 The Joint Chiefs fear that by yielding our rights to nuclear storage in the Bonins we would set a precedent which would make it more likely that the Japanese would refuse nuclear storage in Okinawa. Additionally, the JCS are reluctant to accept at this time the Japanese offer to assume major defense responsibilities in and around the Bonins area.

We do not now store any nuclear weapons in the Bonins and do not have any plans to do so. Secretaries Rusk and McNamara believe that agreeing to a return of the Bonins without rights for nuclear storage would not in any way prejudice our case for insisting on nuclear storage in the Ryukyus. A request for nuclear storage rights on islands where we now maintain very small bases and only 77 military personnel would hardly be understandable to the Japanese.

Secretaries Rusk and McNamara believe, and I concur, that acceptance of the Joint Chiefs’ position would risk serious strains in our relations with Japan, and decrease the prospects of Japan’s responsiveness for support on Viet Nam, balance of payments, and other issues. At Tab A is a memorandum to you from Secretary Rusk, in whose recommendation Secretary McNamara has concurred.

As for procedure, I recommend that you have a meeting with Secretaries Rusk and McNamara and General Wheeler. At that meeting you let General Wheeler present the argument of his military colleagues. And then, if you agree with Secretaries Rusk and McNamara, you could make your decision and let Buzz Wheeler report to the JCS that their argument had been heard, before you made a final decision.

What lies behind the JCS holding to what is, in fact, a marginal position, is an old view deep in the Pentagon; namely, that to make any concession to the Japanese with respect to the Ryukyus and Bonins is to put us on a slippery slope. The fact is that the old, immediately pre-war relationship is changing and must change. Our objective can only now be a gradual and judicious transition into a new relationship in which the Japanese take increased responsibility as a partner as we alter the essentially occupation status on the islands. At the moment they are assuming more partnership responsibility in aid and monetary affairs; and they should do more. The transition to military partnership will take longer.

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That, if you approve the State–Defense language in the attached draft (Tab B), you call a meeting to hear argument as suggested.




See me

Tab A

Memorandum From Secretary Rusk to President Johnson


  • United States Position on Reversion of the Bonins


That you approve Ambassador Johnson presenting to the Japanese Government language concerning the Bonin Islands in accordance with Tab B attached.5


Secretary McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I are fully agreed on the general principle that we should undertake to enter into immediate consultation with the Japanese with a view to the early return of administration of the Bonin Islands to Japan.

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In the light of the proposal of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to preserve a right to store nuclear weapons on Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima, Secretary McNamara and I have reviewed the possibility that an exception should be made, for purposes of the communiqué, regarding these two islands. We have noted that the general language in our proposal would in any event permit us to negotiate for the retention of appropriate “military facilities and areas” on these islands or any other part of the Bonins. The language on this point has been strengthened since the matter was discussed with you on October 31.6

In the light of this strengthened language, our conclusion is that the proposal fully protects whatever military needs we wish to retain. We believe that to exempt Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima from the overall principle of return of administration to Japan is not required for any foreseeable military purpose.

In reaching this conclusion we have given particular weight to the question of possible nuclear storage in the Bonins. We do not now station any nuclear weapons there, and do not have any plans to do so. We therefore do not believe that it should be necessary to press for retaining the right for nuclear storage in working out the return of administration to Japan. Nor do we believe that failure to achieve such rights would in any way prejudice our serious case for insisting, at some point, on a right of nuclear storage in the Ryukyus. Furthermore, even if we were to so conclude in the future, the general language in the attached proposal would permit us to negotiate the matter with Japan.

Secretary McNamara and I thus conclude that the language in the attached proposal fully protects our military needs and is a wise and essential move at this time in the overall framework of our relations with Japan, including our desire to obtain more firm Japanese support on Vietnam and favorable action by Japan particularly with respect to our balance of payments problems.

Dean Rusk
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Tab B7


The President and Prime Minister also reviewed the status of the Bonin Islands and agreed that the mutual security interests of Japan and the United States could be accommodated within the arrangements for the return of administration of these islands to the GOJ.

They, therefore, agreed that the two Governments will enter immediately into consultation regarding the specific arrangements for accomplishing the early restoration of these islands to Japan without detriment to the security of the area. These consultations will take into account the intention of the Japanese Government, expressed by the Prime Minister, gradually to assume much of the responsibility for defense of the area. The President and Prime Minister agreed that the United States would retain such military facilities and areas in the Bonin Islands as required in the mutual security of both countries.

The Prime Minister stated that the return of the administrative rights over the Bonin Islands would not only contribute to solidifying the ties of friendship between the two countries but would also help to reinforce the conviction of the Japanese people that the return of the administrative rights over the Ryukyu Islands will also be solved within the framework of mutual trust between the two countries.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Meeting Notes File, November 4, 1967, Meeting with Foreign Policy Advisers. Secret.
  2. According to an October 30 memorandum from Bundy to Rusk negotiations between U. Alexis Johnson and Miki on October 28 confirmed that the Japanese were willing to provide increased economic aid to Southeast Asia and balance-of-payments assistance to the United States. In addition, they intended to assume an expanded defense role over the Bonins and Western Pacific area, if the Bonins reverted back to Japan. Bundy concluded that the Japanese proposals met U.S. objectives for Japan to play a larger role in Southeast Asia and to expand their own defense efforts. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 19 RYU IS)
  3. According to a November 2 memorandum from Bundy to Rusk, the Joint Chiefs advocated complete retention of Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima by the United States. Berger, who signed the memorandum, noted in the margin that JCS resistance to reversion of the Bonins centered in the Navy, whose contingency plans foresaw using the Bonins as an “alternate base if Guam is destroyed by Chicom nuclear subs!” (Ibid.)
  4. The memorandum shows that President Johnson approved the recommendation.
  5. Both options were left blank on the memorandum. The Department of State copy indicates that the recommendation was approved. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 19 BONIN IS) On November 5 Rusk and McNamara instructed U. Alexis Johnson to present to the Japanese the U.S. position, including reserving “the right to discuss potential nuclear weapons storage in the Bonins” during consultations on reversion of those islands. (Telegrams 65117 and 65118 to Tokyo, both November 5; ibid., POL JAPAN–US; and telegram 65120 to Tokyo, November 5; ibid., POL 19 BONIN IS) Also on that day the President approved the start of Congressional consultations on the reversion issues. (Memorandum to the President, November 5; ibid., POL 19 RYU IS) Documentation regarding consultations with Members of Congress is ibid.; Washington National Records Center, OSD/OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330 71 A 4546, 333 Bonin Islands; and Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File— Addendum, Japan.
  6. The matter was discussed at the Tuesday Luncheon Meeting attended by Rusk, McNamara, Helms, Wheeler, Tom Johnson, Christian, and Rostow. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No other record of this meeting has been found.
  7. This copy of Tab B is ibid., National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Meetings with the President, July to December, 1967.