34. Telegram From the Embassy in Japan to the Department of State1

1724. Sea Dragon departed Sasebo at 1400 hours today2 without incident thereby bringing to successful conclusion event which is probably not without historical significance in context post-war developments Japan. While it would be premature for us, at this time, to attempt full assessment impact this event on Japanese public psychology we believe that certain encouraging tentative conclusions can already be drawn from events which have transpired over past three days.3 Foremost among these is indication that increasingly mature and sophisticated Japanese public no longer willing respond willy nilly to leftist and extremist alarmism and demands for show of mass force [Page 45] and even violence in demonstrating opposition even though this has admittedly been a major public issue over past 20 months.4 Despite strong, even frantic efforts of the JSP, JCP, Sohyo, Zengakuren, and other protest groups, Japanese public simply refused to support such action. Opposition confidence in “nuclear-phobia” as sure-fire issue has proved unwarranted in this instance. Possibly left’s long-standing belief in political value of demonstrations in streets has been seriously weakened by the obvious fizzling their efforts this time.

This is not to say that there does not exist among large segments Japanese public a basic or latent resentment against call of Sea Dragon. In this connection, should be noted that comment in major newspapers continues cool at best to idea of SSN visit. This in part reflects political predilections of large part of newspaper staffs, but it also appears reflect feeling, clearly implicit in several articles and in comments of DSPG Diet members, that either U.S. not telling truth about reasons for port calls as set forth aide-mémoire given GOJ or alternatively U.S. unreasonably risking trouble and public unrest in Japan by sending subs here for trivial causes. Nevertheless, complete failure of opposition attempts mount massive protest demonstrations and rallies throughout Japan against calls SSNs while Sea Dragon was moored Sasebo marks welcome turning point in Japanese public thinking, indicative of considerably more progress toward public acceptance of “things nuclear” than heretofore had generally been expected. It is probable that this reflects in large degree U.S./GOJ success in securing public acceptance idea that SSN nuclear propulsion falls within category of “peaceful” (i.e. non-weapons) use of nuclear power, but this of itself cannot be interpreted at this time as reflecting any greater willingness on part Japanese public accept nuclear weapons.

There remains, of course, the problem of a first call at the port of Yokosuka with its closer proximity to large population concentrations. We would not, of course, want proceed with scheduling of next SSN call at either Yokosuka, or Sasebo, until after both GOJ and ourselves have had opportunity to fully assess and study where we now stand as result Sea Dragon visit. We will want consult with GOJ and work out general timing with them. At same time we see very little possibility of opposition success in mounting meaningful expressions of protest [Page 46] in connection with visit to Yokosuka which we feel is further bridge we should cross near future. In the interim, we can expect further public debate on SSN issue, with JSP and JCP doing their best embarrass Sato on issue when extraordinary Diet session reconvened later this month. But here again we feel that general lack public support for attitude and tactics these opposition elements, as demonstrated prior to and during call Sea Dragon, will cause this issue collapse in Diet, and that Japanese people will move along rather quickly toward routine acceptance of future calls by nuclear powered submarines.

One related issue will bear watching. Controversy over whether SSNs carry Subroc is likely to keep opposition attention focused on armament of SSNs visiting Japan in future, and perhaps increase their interest in armament of other U.S. Navy ships.5 Also we can expect opposition to place more emphasis on attempt exploit strategic implications calls SSN to Japanese ports in context CCNE and U.S. plans contain ChiComs.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 7 JAPAN–US. Secret. Repeated to CINCPAC, COMSEVENTHFLT, COMNAVFORJAPAN, COMSUBFLOT, CINCPACFLT, COMUSJAPAN, and Fukuoka.
  2. The Sea Dragon arrived at Sasebo on November 12, three days after the resignation of Ikeda for health reasons and the election by the Lower House of the Diet of Sato as his successor on November 9. Sato wanted to proceed with the first SSN entry as quickly as possible and to time its arrival during the Diet’s post-election recess expected to last from one week to ten days. (Telegram 1648 from Tokyo, November 9; ibid.)
  3. On December 11 the Embassy provided the Department of State with an in-depth analysis of the effects of the first SSN visit on Japanese leftist movements. (Airgram A–7 from Fukuoka, December 11; ibid., OS 7 US) On January 5, 1965, Bundy sent Rusk a memorandum in which he assessed the positive and negative effects of SSN visits to Japan. (Ibid.)
  4. On November 16 Takeuchi discussed the visit with Harriman. Takeuchi pointed out that in the period leading up to the arrival of the SSN “the Sino-Soviet conflict had become exacerbated, leftist opinion in Japan argued at cross purposes, and the visit just now completed could be seen as not such a bad thing.” He also pointed out that press coverage had been generally positive, and the media had urged that demonstrations remain orderly. Takeuchi believed the visit had the positive result of raising public awareness of nuclear issues and, perhaps, opening a debate on Japan’s national interests and security issues. (Memorandum of conversation; ibid., DEF 7 JAPAN–US)
  5. The Departments of State and Defense instructed the Embassy that responses to media questions about SSN weaponry were to include two basic components: “(1) it is invariable US policy neither to confirm nor deny presence of nuclear weapons on warships anywhere in world, and (2) (if necessary) US has no intention of violating commitments to Japan under 1960 arrangements.” Replies to questions pertaining to the subrocs were to be nonspecific. (Telegram 1282 to Tokyo, November 10; ibid.)