55. Memorandum From the Ambassador to Japan (Reischauer) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • Our Relations with Japan


It is obviously of vital importance to the United States that the relationship with Japan be maintained and strengthened so that (a) the [Page 105] Japanese industrial potential does not drift to the Communist side or into a position of neutrality, (b) our bases in Japan and the Ryukyus and Japan’s industrial back-up facilities continue to contribute to the defenses of the Far East, and (c) Japan plays a growing role in the economic development of the free countries of East and South Asia and eventually contributes to their political stability and security. It seems equally obvious that it is in Japan’s economic and security interests to maintain a close relationship with us and to contribute to the stability and economic development of the free nations of Asia.

This is realized by the leadership of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party, but the relationship with us and Japan’s contribution to the free countries of Asia have hitherto been limited by the violent opposition of determined Communist and fellow-traveler elements, by a strong Marxist tinge to all Japanese intellectual life, and by prevailing tendencies toward pacifism, neutralism and isolationism, resulting from Japan’s bitter experiences in the Second World War. Over the years there has been a slow but steady growth in the voting strength of the Left and a corresponding erosion of the position of the Liberal-Democratic Party. The Left has counted on this to bring them in time to political power and has aimed specifically at 1970 (the first year that the United States-Japan Security Treaty can be denounced by either side) as the time to break Japan’s defense relationship with the United States. The Left has also counted on mounting nationalistic concern over the American administration of the Ryukyus as a major weapon with which to attack the ruling party and break the special Japanese relationship with the United States.

Basic trends over the past few years, however, have indicated that the Left would probably be frustrated in these intentions. Galloping economic growth, relaxing political tensions, growing understanding of the realities of the world situation, and declining confidence in the validity of Marxist dogma all have served to stem the erosion of the position of the Liberal-Democratic Party and to strengthen the relationship with the United States. Until this past January it appeared that these favorable trends would have so progressed by 1970 that the threat of the Left would have faded and the problem of the Ryukyus could be held to managable levels until public opinion in Japan was ready for a fuller military alliance with the United States that would obviate the necessity for the special status of the Ryukyus. It therefore seemed a safe policy for the United States to drift with the favorable currents, encouraging their flow to the extent that this could be done without running the risk of stirring up counter currents.

The Problem

The violent popular reaction in Japan since January to the Vietnamese situation has invalidated these earlier optimistic estimates. [Page 106] Even conservatives in Japan are much worried about the possibility of a major U.S. defeat in Southeast Asia and many of them entertain serious doubts about the wisdom of American policies. The general public has tended to be strongly critical of American policies in Viet-Nam and as a result has become much less friendly toward the United States than before. The extreme left, encouraged by this general atmosphere, has returned to the attack on the American-Japanese relationship with renewed rigor. The favorable trends of preceding years were reversed between February and May of this year, and considerable ground was lost in U.S.-Japan relations. Since then the ebb tide seems to have been at least temporarily stemmed, but we cannot expect a restoration of the earlier favorable currents so long as the Viet-Nam situation remains unsettled, and a worsening of the situation (either through a major escalation of the risks of an expanded war or through a serious deterioration of the U.S. position) would unquestionably mean a further loss of valuable ground.

Under these circumstances we can no longer count on favorable long-term trends making the U.S.-Japan relationship fully secure by 1970. Nor can we assume that the Ryukyu problem will remain manageable even that long.2 This is the most vulnerable point in the U.S.-Japanese relationship, since it brings together the rapidly rising nationalistic feelings of conservative Japanese with the anti-Americanism of the Left. The conservative government recognizes the importance of our Ryukyu bases for the defense of Japan and the stability of the Far East, but if it finds cooperation with us over the Ryukyus too great a liability in domestic politics, it may place the party’s political interests over Japan’s defense needs. Without the full cooperation of the Japanese Government, the U.S. position in the Ryukyus would probably become untenable, not so much because of local unrest, which probably would be severe, as because of the international repercussions if Japan were to refer the problem to the United Nations or some other international forum. A U.S.-Japan confrontation over the Ryukyus would do incalculable damage to all other aspects of our relationship.


Our basic strategy of riding passively with the favorable currents in our relations with Japan is no longer valid, since these currents have [Page 107] weakened or even reversed themselves and time is beginning to run out. We need to move forward with the Japanese to a new relationship which will be viable for a longer period of time. Such a new relationship would have to be based squarely on a recognition of resurgent Japanese nationalism, which makes the Japanese public and government increasingly desirous of a more positive role in international affairs and less willing to tolerate any affront to Japanese national consciousness, such as is inherent in American administrative control over the 900,000 Japanese inhabitants of the Ryukyus.

The Japanese Government and the Liberal-Democratic Party are likely to prove responsive to an effort on our part to move ahead to a new relationship. They have witnessed a further erosion of their position this past spring and may feel that they cannot afford much longer to remain passively on the defensive against the renewed attacks of the Left on foreign policy. Hitherto in times of crisis they have sought to minimize their losses by remaining as aloof as possible both from the crisis itself and from the American role in the crisis. But such a policy does no more than slow down the rate of loss of popular support for the party in power. The government may be beginning to realize that the resurgence of nationalistic feeling in the past few years and growing public awareness of the realities of international politics now make possible a more positive and successful answer to the attacks of the Left. A larger and more prominent role in the Free World alliance, particularly if coupled with the elimination of slights to Japanese nationalistic sentiments, could give the Liberal Democratic Party much sounder political footing in its fight with the Left than does its present half-hearted alliance with us and its timid participation in Free World strategy.


Three things are needed if we are to develop this new relationship with Japan:

We must take whatever steps we can to lessen present friction with Japan and thus give ourselves further time to work out this sounder new relationship. For this purpose we should pay particular attention to the following points:
Insofar as possible, we should take Japanese reactions into consideration in determining our policies in Viet-Nam. For example, we should not forget that the bombing of civilian populations would produce particularly adverse reactions in Japan, whereas our emphasis on negotiations and our willingness to accept a multi-national solution have desirable effects. In particular, it would be helpful if Japan itself could somehow be involved in any international decisions on Viet-Nam.
We should minimize our irritants in our relations, such as those in the fields of international air routes, North Pacific fisheries, and trade matters.
We should continue to take the greatest precautions to minimize irritations over our military bases in Japan.
We should minimize irritations over the Ryukyus by continuing the present policy if increasing local autonomy and by greatly expanding economic aid to the islands. If the Ryukyus were a Japanese prefecture, they would be receiving as aid from the central government something like $50,000,000 over and above the taxes paid to the central government. Combined aid from the United States and Japan at present amounts to less than half of this sum. As a result, educational and social security standards in the Ryukyus fall well below those of Japan. A joint United States-Japan effort to make up this deficiency is imperative. The Japanese Government appears ready to provide its share of the expanded aid program, but, for the United States to provide its part, it will be necessary to revise the so-called Price Amendment, which limits the United States aid figure to $12,000,000.3
We should make careful preparations for talks with the Japanese Government leading to the new relationship. For this purpose we should pay particular attention to the following points:
We should study the possibilities for a new long-term defense relationship with Japan, defining more clearly the defense needs in and around Japan and determining more clearly what the respective roles of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the American military should be. In this connection, thought should be given to reducing the frictions of the American military presence in Japan and also to the maintenance in Japan of clearly defensive American units (such as interceptor squadrons) to help justify in the minds of the Japanese public the presence of elements with broader strategic missions (such as support facilities for the Seventh Fleet, attack squadrons, and facilities for electronic intelligence).
We should study the possibilities for a closer and more fruitful over-all strategic relationship with Japan. A major element of this relationship [Page 109] should be fuller cooperation in the economic development of the free countries of East and South Asia and a consciously achieved balance between United States and Japanese roles in the economic and military fields. In other words, we might give thought to encouraging the Japanese to make up for the limitations to their military role by an expansion of their economic role. At the same time we should be ready to let the Japanese Government take initiatives in the political field which would be helpful to it in its domestic political relations and which might lead, even for us, to useful understandings with the Soviet Union and possibly to some relaxation of tensions with Communist China. In particular we should encourage Japan to take a leading political role in behalf of the free world throughout East and South Asia.
We should decide as soon as possible exactly what continuing use we need to make of the bases in Okinawa, just what rights will be necessary for such use, and, in the light of these decisions, what special treaty provisions will be necessary when administrative rights over the island revert to Japan.
We should begin to engage the Japanese Government in conversations leading to the creation of the new relationship. These efforts will at first have to be both cautious and tentative, until we are sure of the Japanese response. The following specific steps should be taken:
At the next meeting of the United States-Japan Security Consultative Committee, Admiral Sharp and I should present papers on the military and political situation in the Far East which are as frank and meaningful as possible, within security limitations. These should be so framed as to constitute an invitation to the Japanese Government to engage with us in a deeper and more meaningful dialogue on these problems.4
The same invitation should be conveyed by Secretary Rusk or other appropriate persons if they should have occasion for discussions with Prime Minister Sato, Foreign Minister Shiina, or Secretary-General of the Liberal-Democratic Party Tanaka. (At this stage approaches to other Japanese leaders, many of whom are political rivals of Sato, should probably be avoided.)
After my return to Japan in mid-August5 I should discreetly sound out Sato and Tanaka, expressing myself at first in terms of personal opinions, until I have established a surer feeling for their own thinking.
If my conversations make progress, I should encourage Sato to go to the United Nations in the autumn and stop off in Washington for further talks with the President and Secretary Rusk. (I have already received an indication from Sato that he might welcome such a suggestion.)
Subsequent moves would depend on the outcome of my talks in Tokyo and Sato’s talks in Washington but might include visits to Tokyo by Under Secretary Ball or officials of comparable level who would attract less public attention than would full cabinet members.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 1 JAPAN–US. Secret. In a covering note, Reischauer stated that he wrote the memorandum at McNamara’s suggestion. Copies were sent to Ball, William Bundy, McGeorge Bundy, and Rostow. A copy of the memorandum indicating it was sent to McNamara is in the Washington National Records Center, OSD/OASD/ISA Files, FRC 330 70 A 3717, 092 Japan.
  2. In a meeting on July 16 Deputy Under Secretary of the Army for International Affairs John M. Steadman asked Reischauer “how soon a blow-up in the Ryukyus might come, whether it might be in 1970.” The latter acknowledged that “1970 was more worrisome to him than before,” and expressed his view that the U.S.-Okinawa relationship “cannot be held on present terms for more than two years.” (Memorandum of conversation, July 16; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL JAPAN–US)
  3. Secretary of the Army Stanley R. Resor supported Reischauer’s view that the U.S. must increase the amount of aid extended to the Ryukyus and believed an appropriation of $25 million would suffice for the time being. Resor and his staff viewed Watson’s hope for the removal of any ceiling on aid granted to the islands as unrealistic. (Ibid.) The Department of the Army took the initiative in early 1966 to prepare for Congressional hearings on increasing the support limit contained in the Price Act (Public Law 86–629), which provided for economic and social development of the Ryukyus. (Letter from David E. McGiffert, Under Secretary of the Army, to William P. Bundy, February 15; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 19 RYU IS)
  4. The Security Consultative Committee met at the Foreign Office in Tokyo on September 1. At that meeting Reischauer emphasized Vietnam as symptomatic of the potential situation in the Far East as a whole and the role the U.S.-Japan relationship played in maintaining the stability and security of the region. A summary of the meeting, a record of the discussions, copies of the papers exchanged, and similar information were sent to the Department of State in airgram A–291 from Tokyo; undated. (Ibid., DEF 4 JAPAN–US)
  5. After performing official duties in Washington in mid-July, Reischauer vacationed and traveled in the United States. He returned to Tokyo on August 22. (Reischauer, My Life Between Japan and America, pp. 288–289)