23. Memorandum From James C. Thomson, Jr., of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • Okinawa

Here are my preliminary thoughts on the present situation with regard to Okinawa and the Ryukyus:

Okinawa remains a simmering and potentially dangerous issue in terms of U.S. relations with Japan. The Japanese Left embarrasses the Government, and the Government presses the U.S.; public feeling is temporarily quiescent but can easily become enflamed. The political situation in Okinawa itself is unstable. We are also vulnerable, to a lesser degree, to the trouble-making possibilities of the Ryukyu issue in the United Nations.
Despite the good work of the Kaysen task force,2 and despite President Kennedy’s statement and amendment to Executive Order 10713 of March 19, 1962, we have made little progress toward implementing the key directives of that statement: that we carry on a “continuous review of governmental functions … to determine when and under what circumstances additional functions that need not be reserved to the U.S. as administering authority can be delegated to the GRI”, and also a “continuous review of such controls as may be thought to limit unnecessarily the private freedoms of inhabitants … with a view to eliminating all controls which are not essential to the maintenance of the security of the U.S. military installations … or of the islands themselves.”
Ikeda made a strong pitch to Reischauer on July 7 (Tokyo’s 77).3 At present, the Japanese Government is reportedly pushing for a September meeting of the newly established Japan-U.S. Consultative Committee on Okinawa; although we view this committee solely as a vehicle for joint economic planning, the Japanese apparently desire to discuss political problems “including the return of administrative rights” in this forum.4
Meanwhile, on Okinawa, an incipient political crisis has been percolating since June. Because of a split in the Okinawa Liberal Democratic Party (OLDP) caused by dissatisfaction with the rate of progress toward “autonomy,” the Legislature has refused to nominate a new Chief Executive (for appointment by the High Commissioner); a lame duck government is serving ad interim with no solution in sight.5
The prime causes of our general inaction since March 1962 have been two-fold: first, the personality and outlook of the outgoing High Commissioner, General Caraway, who left office in early August; second, and more fundamentally, a continuing divergence of views between State and Defense.
As for the first of these causes, there is considerable hope that General Watson, who took over from Caraway earlier this month, may [Page 34]ease some of the difficulties that have arisen through developing good relations with Ed Reischauer and Amembassy Tokyo, with appropriate Japanese officials, and with the Okinawan leadership. This may prove to be a vain hope, but the first indications are promising, and State is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for the next few months.
The more basic difference between State and Defense is, however, more difficult to bridge. In essence, State accepts the concept of indefinite American occupation of the Ryukyus but recognizes that the political cost of such occupation in terms of relations with Japan may at some point face us with a hard choice between our military bases on Okinawa and our strategic alliance with Japan. State therefore believes that our military interests will be best served by continued motion towards meeting Japanese and Okinawan demands that do not impair our security interests.
On the other hand, Defense appears to regard the March 1962 statement as primarily a public relations gesture rather than a statement of continuing U.S. policy, to be implemented phase by phase.
I would conclude at this point that our short-term course of action should involve continued pressure on the new High Commissioner to establish good relations with the Okinawan Liberal Democratic party (now dangerously torn by factionalism), with Amembassy Tokyo, and with appropriate Japanese officials. We should also move to appoint a strong Civil Administration to succeed the present FSO interim appointee in order to rectify the imbalance between civil and military rule.
In addition, there are a number of specific items on which we should be able to move without damage to our security interests. For instance, among the present slogans of “autonomy” are demands for popular election of the island’s Chief Executive and for Diet representation for the Ryukyus on an observer basis in Tokyo. This latter item seems to me reasonably justifiable in terms of our recognition of residual Japanese sovereignty.6 Also advisable would be actions by the High Commissioner to expedite travel to and from the islands by Japanese, and to permit greater access to the Okinawan economy by Japanese businessmen. (The ACLU drew up a list of similar conciliatory moves last January.)
In the longer run, however, there are two basic questions that must be faced. Their answers would require a major analysis effort at a high level of this Government.
How great is the present and future value of our Ryukyuan bases in terms of our up-dated military capabilities in the Pacific region? (The absolute value of these bases continues to be assumed, regardless of major changes that have taken place since the Japanese Peace Treaty; it was also assumed by the Kaysen task force.)
If the answer to the first question is affirmative, do our base and facility rights necessarily preclude reversion of the islands to some form of Japanese administrative control? (Here again our unchallenged assumption is that no form of Japanese administration is compatible with our military security.)
Presumably U.S. domestic political reasons make movement on this problem undesirable before 3 November.7 However, what seems called for after that is a high level review of U.S. policy with an eye to a further Presidential directive telling State/DoD the direction in which he wants to move, and laying out a detailed action program—all this with an eye to an early gesture when Ikeda visits the U.S. in late November.8
James C. Thomson, Jr. 9
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security Files, Files of Robert Komer, Japan, January 1964 to March 1966. Secret. Also sent to Komer.
  2. President Kennedy created the Ryukyu Task Force headed by Carl Kaysen to review U.S. policy in the Ryukyus. Its work formed the foundation for the President’s subsequent statement and Executive Order. Documentation pertaining to the work of the Kaysen Task Force September 1961–March 1962 is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1961–63, 794C.0221, and Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Ryukyu Islands.
  3. Document 17.
  4. The role of the Japan-U.S. Consultative Committee on Okinawa was expanded as a result of the meeting between President Johnson and Prime Minister Sato in January 1965. Documentation on the Committee and related matters is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1961–63, Central Files, POL 19 RYU IS.
  5. Chief Executive Seisaku Ota submitted his resignation to the High Commissioner on June 16, after losing the support of OLDP members. At the same time Department Directors within the Ryukyu Island Government submitted their resignations to Ota. (Telegram 42 from Naha, June 17; ibid.)
  6. In early February, the Embassy and the Department of State considered the issue of residual seats for the Ryukyus in the Japanese Diet. On February 10 the Department notified Reischauer of its acceptance of his proposals to discourage adoption of the policy. The Ambassador was also instructed not to oppose the matter so strongly as to increase sentiment for reversion of the Ryukyus to Japan or seriously to weaken Ikeda’s political position. If legislation could not be avoided, the Department indicated it was to “include provision that if residual seats established they would be filled only after full sovereignty in Ryukyus returns to Japan.” (Telegram 2336 from Tokyo, February 5, and Telegram 2065 to Tokyo, February 10; ibid., POL 15–2 JAPAN)
  7. The date of the U.S. Presidential election.
  8. In the fall of 1964 Ikeda was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the throat, causing him to withdraw from office on November 9. On the same day Sato was elected Prime Minister; he visited the United States in January 1965.
  9. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.