125. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of the Army (McGiffert) to the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Vance)1


  • B–52 Sortie Rate
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In JCSM–333–682 the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the ARC LIGHT sortie rate be continued at 1800 per month through December 1968, and that in accomplishing this B–52s continue to be stationed at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. It is noted that a rate of 1710 sorties could be sustained without basing on Okinawa. This is offered as a possibility if the “Korean contingency” is resolved and if the political impact of basing on Okinawa “becomes overriding.”

I remain persuaded, as I have stated in previous memoranda to you,3 that the continued basing of B–52s on Okinawa has a potential political impact which could seriously affect our administration of the Ryukyus and our relationship with Japan. I have particularly in mind the effect which this situation might have on the November 1968 elections for the legislature and the Chief Executive of the Government of the Ryukyu Islands. If that election comes out unfavorably to us we face the prospect of greatly increased pressure on our administration and bases in Okinawa.

The administration elected in the Ryukyus this November will be in office from 1969 through 1972. In those years we can expect that we will have to reach some accommodation with the Government of Japan regarding the return of Okinawa to Japanese administration and the future of our bases there. Those negotiations promise to be most difficult. Our position, and the position of the Government of Japan, will be made much more difficult if there is conflict between our administration on Okinawa and the local government there.

My Deputy for International Affairs recently returned from a trip to Japan and Okinawa, where he discussed the election prospects at length with knowledgeable political observers in both areas. To a man these observers, who are favorably disposed to our policies and who desire to see the election come out in a manner satisfactory to us, indicated that the continued presence of the B–52s on Okinawa is a substantial liability to the United States and to the conservative party which we hope will win the election. At Tab A is a recent report from Okinawa, noting that the incumbent Chief Executive continues to press this view.4 At Tab B5 is an excerpt from an April 1968 poll, conducted by a responsible organization in Okinawa, which notes that 86% of the residents there are apprehensive due to the stationing of B–52s at Kadena.

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We could also have a problem in Japan itself. At Tab C6 is a paper which the State Department Country Director for Japan recently sent to Bill Bundy, assessing the Japanese political situation and our relations with Japan. As noted there (page 4) the issue of Okinawa is perhaps the major outstanding problem in U.S./Japanese relations, and an incident involving the B–52s might precipitate a crisis within the governing party of Japan, which has thus far behaved most responsibly with respect to this problem.

Insofar as my particular concerns are involved, in question now at most are 90 sorties or 15 missions a month, a 5% reduction. I believe that carefully weighed against the potential cost to our position in Okinawa and our relations with Japan such a reduction should be directed. I understand that in fact it may well be that 1800 sorties a month could be sustained from basing at U Tapao and Guam only, by launching more sorties per aircraft per month from U Tapao than are projected in the Joint Staff discussion of alternatives. If this is correct, and if you decide to approve the continued rate of 1800 sorties, I can certainly see no justification for continued basing at Kadena which would override the political price we are paying.

Assuming that a decision is made which permits withdrawal of the B–52s from Kadena prior to the Okinawan election, the timing of that withdrawal should be as soon as possible.7 At the moment, the B–52 issue has been temporarily overshadowed by the nuclear submarine-atomic waste issue flowing from the Swordfish’s visit to Sasebo and reflected concern in Okinawa.8 But as the election comes closer, Ryukyuan pressures for B–52 withdrawal will certainly be reasserted and will continue to rise. We do not want to appear to be withdrawing under this kind of pressure any more than can be helped. Hence the sooner the withdrawal, the better.9

David E. McGiffert
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD/OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, Okinawa 452. Secret.
  2. Not printed. (Ibid., Viet 385.1 ARC LIGHT)
  3. Among which was McGiffert’s memorandum of April 15 containing the same argument. (Washington National Records Center, OSD/OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, Okinawa 452)
  4. Not further identified. The sentiments of Chief Executive Matsuoka on the issue, however, are briefly reported in telegram HC–LN 814404 from the High Commissioner, May 23. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 19 RYU IS)
  5. Not attached.
  6. Document 120.
  7. Although the High Commissioner appeared to support restricting or removing the B–52s for political reasons, CINCPAC was strongly opposed to any such move, believing that only “free and unrestricted use of these facilities for B–52 and other forces in the general defense of the Pacific area and in pursuance of our strategy” would allow U.S. forces to carry out its missions in the region. (Telegram 161430Z from CINCPAC, June 16; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 15 RYU IS–US)
  8. Newspaper articles seeming to confirm officially and for the first time that the planes stationed at Kadena were used to bomb North Vietnam further inflamed opposition to the B–52s. (Telegram HC–LN 816605 from the High Commissioner, June 14; ibid.)
  9. Despite similar recommendations from other quarters, the planes were still based on Okinawa at the end of 1968. (Memorandum to Bundy, September 11; ibid., DEF 12 US; letter to Nitze, October 3; Washington National Records Center, OSD/OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, Okinawa 452)