58. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Bundy) to the Deputy Under Secretary for Political Affairs (Thompson)1


  • Japanese Defense Policy
One of the follow-up actions called for under “The Future of Japan,” a Basic National Security Policy paper approved by the Secretary in June 1964,2 is the preparation of a joint State-Defense study “to define more precisely the appropriate missions of the Japanese armed forces which the U.S. should seek”. A first draft of such a study prepared in Defense proved to be little more than a compilation of factual material which failed to focus the issues.3 The need for the study, embracing the size and composition as well as the missions of the Japanese forces, has recently become increasingly clear with the mounting Communist threat in Southeast Asia, the approach of the time when the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty will become subject to termination, and increasing indications that the Japanese Government would welcome, and may by the end of the year itself propose, confidential, high-level discussions of our mutual security interests.
We have accordingly prepared in FE the attached paper which analyzes the problem and arrives at a number of conclusions on the position the U.S. should adopt toward the Japanese defense forces. The paper embodies Embassy Tokyo and G/PM staff comments and suggestions and was further reviewed and concurred in by Ambassador Reischauer when he was here August 11–12. If on reading it you agree that the paper represents a sound approach, I suggest that you present it in the Thompson Strategy Group with the recommendation that, after consideration by the Group, the JCS be asked to comment on it preliminary to the development, by a fall deadline, of an agreed U.S. definition of the most desirable (from the U.S. point of view) missions, size and composition of the Japanese defense forces over the next 5–7 years. I suggest that the JCS also be asked to comment, in light of paragraph 19 of the paper, on the desirability and feasibility of enlarging the defensive role of U.S. forces based in Japan.



1. It has been the U.S. official as well as public view since soon after the Korean War that the Japanese forces buildup has been too limited and too slow; that the U.S. should seek to persuade the Japanese to accelerate the development of more modern and larger forces for more complete and effective home defense and the assumption by Japan of its proper share of regional security responsibilities; and that with the growth of national pride and ambition the Japanese would probably themselves increasingly desire larger forces and a more active military role.

2. The Japanese defense forces have developed steadily in recent years but remain very small in comparison with those of other major powers. Reawakening Japanese national pride and desire for international status appear not to have significantly increased Japanese interest in larger forces or a Japanese overseas military role. If U.S. policies toward Japan’s defense effort have been sound, they have at the least been of limited effectiveness. Perhaps the policies themselves have been too much based on longstanding habits of thought within the U.S. Government, resentment over the small proportion of GNP increasingly prosperous Japan devotes to the common defense, and desire to sell military equipment to Japan. A new look at the matter seems in order as the requirements of the Southeast Asian situation mount and the [Page 115]date when the U.S. and Japan must reconfirm, alter or terminate their Security Treaty relationship approaches.

[Omitted here are sections A. “Buildup of Japanese Home Defense Forces” and B. “Adequacy of Japanese Forces in the Face of Current and Prospective Threats.”]

C. Japanese Attitudes on Defense Questions

12. These continue to be mainly governed by (a) lingering antimilitary sentiments growing out of Japan’s disastrous war experiences; (b) doubt of the practical value of large Japanese forces—in view of the lack of any clear threat to Japanese territory, U.S. treaty commitments to Japan, and the desire to build friendly relations with neighboring, formerly occupied countries; and (c) reluctance to accept the cost of sizeable forces. With the passage of time, initial suspicion and disapproval of the small, slowly growing Self-Defense Forces has given way to acquiescence and grudging approval but little active pride or enthusiasm.

13. For some time it has been expected that growing national consciousness and desire for international status would render the Japanese increasingly reluctant to rely on the U.S. for their security, and more disposed to build up their own forces. It is becoming increasingly clear that this is not happening. The JFY 1965–66 defense budget, submitted by the reputedly more defense-minded Sato and approved last March by the Diet, barely covers rising costs of the existing establishment, with minimum amounts for force improvement, as in JFY 1965 and 1964. While there is evidence that anti-military sentiments are continuing gradually to decline, there appears to be no greater disposition than in the past to replace or supplement the U.S. deterrent with expanded Japanese forces. Public attention remains firmly fixed on economic gains. Developing national pride has led to increased demands for “independent” Japanese foreign policies, but neither this desired independence, the mounting scale of Communist aggression in Viet-Nam or the deteriorating situation in Indonesia has significantly altered Japanese defense policy, which remains basically unchanged from the Fifties.

14. The CCNEs have had limited impact in Japan, long accustomed to the nuclear weapons of its traditional enemy, the USSR. Some Japanese have been influenced by them to favor an expanded Japanese defense effort including nuclear weapons. Sato has privately expressed such views and the JFY 1966–67 defense budget, the first prepared by a cabinet of Sato’s own choosing, may noticeably reflect them. But the general reaction has been largely undisturbed, with no disposition to turn from butter to guns. With their strong cultural affinity for Mainland China; knowing that for better or worse Mainland China’s [Page 116]vast population will be only a few hundred miles away forever; doubting that Peking, whatever its political ambitions, intends to attack Japan; and hoping still that Japan can some day play a leading role in the development of Mainland China, most Japanese are determined to avoid the development of a confirmedly hostile attitude between Japan and China. A picture of China and Japan pointing nuclear missiles at each other, against which neither (but especially confined Japan) could effectively defend, has no appeal. This attitude could change as the Chicom nuclear capability and Japanese nationalism grow; but the prospect now appears to be continuing efforts to preserve a tolerable, hopefully cooperative relation with Communist China, under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, not to build up forces against it.

15. Elements in the U.S. may at some time question the wisdom of maintaining U.S. defense commitments to a Japan which refuses to view the Chicom aggressive threat in the terms we do. If Japan, even while continuing to withhold diplomatic recognition, persists in seeking friendly, productive relations with a Communist China which has become even more hostile toward the U.S. than at present, a situation could develop comparable to the one we now face with Pakistan, whose rapprochement with Communist China is leading an increasing number of Americans to question our continued defense commitments to Pakistan. This danger is receiving and should continue to receive close U.S. and Japanese Governmental attention.

D. U.S. Fundamental Interests Respecting Japan

16. The success Japan has achieved in its concentration on economic growth and improved living standards has been a major Free World gain, both for the proof it has provided of the workability of free political and economic institutions in an Asian environment and the contribution a burgeoning Japan has made to Free World economic strength. Continued conservative, strongly Free World oriented leadership in Japan depends on the maintenance of a high growth rate and rising living standards, including costly improvement of public services (roads, parks, harbors, sanitation, etc.), neglected for decades. A substantially larger Japanese defense effort would divert resources from such politically important Japanese domestic programs and overseas (mainly SEA) non-military aid, both directly in U.S. interest.

17. With Japan’s defense effort only 1.1% of GNP, even doubling of that proportionate effort would leave substantial resources for these purposes. But as long as Japanese public attitudes on defense policy remain essentially as at present, any government which proposed a sharp expansion of defense expenditures would risk its early replacement, in all probability by a more neutralist government less likely to ensure Japan’s continued, effective Free World alignment. U.S. interest in Japan’s remaining an active political and economic Free World [Page 117]associate is far greater than our interest in the contribution expanded Japanese forces might make to Free World military strength. And while Japan’s peaceful postwar regeneration appears genuine and deep-rooted, we cannot exclude the possibility that we would live to regret the re-establishment of powerful Japanese forces at home and overseas. It is too early to conclude that a nation which has glorified war to the extent Japan has will not turn in that direction again. Nor should we overlook the fact that, seeking the most efficient and economic means to achieve powerful forces, a growing number of Japanese might be tempted by the nuclear route.

18. As earlier noted,4 the greatest threat to Japan, and thus to U.S. interests in Japan, is not that of military attack by any nation but of a deterioration in the general climate of security and economic wellbeing in the Far East which would leave Japan more and more isolated in a hostile environment, strike at its trade with other Far Eastern nations, and threaten its trade routes with the rest of the world. Faced by this threat, and considering the political obstacles at home and abroad to a much expanded Japanese military effort, Japan’s major contribution to Free World security would appear to lie in the economic area, with U.S. influence directed not to acceleration of the Japanese defense buildup but to expansion of Japanese South and Southeast Asian economic aid and investment. As the Japanese become more involved economically with other Far Eastern nations they will tend to become more involved politically, which could lead in time to defense involvement as well. But that must develop spontaneously. There is little evidence that absence of U.S. pressure would significantly reduce the pace of the Japanese defense buildup, which over the years has proceeded at its own rate, influenced much more by domestic Japanese political considerations than by our urgings. The fact that our pressure is likely to become less rather than more effective as Japanese national independence and self-determination grow is added reason for not attempting to exert it.

19. There is another reason why we should consider carefully before pressing the Japanese to accelerate their defense effort. It may not be in our interest that the Japanese become exclusively and completely responsible for home defense, leaving the U.S. with no defense role in Japan. Retention of a real defense role for our Japan-based forces is important in justifying the U.S.-Japan security relationship to Japanese skeptics, in maintaining the credibility of our strategic commitment to [Page 118]Japan, in providing cover for the counter-offensive, intelligence and other activities our Japan-based forces fulfill, and in preserving our influence in Japanese defense planning now that Japan MAP has been terminated.

20. Finally, we should stop judging the adequacy of the Japanese defense effort by the proportion it represents of GNP. This standard has no military validity; the adequacy of a defense establishment should be judged against the threat which it is meant to counter, not against the percentage of income applied to it. Moreover, the percentage of GNP standard does not have the significance in Japan which it might in a country with a relatively static GNP. Although the percentage of GNP devoted by Japan to defense has not gone up in recent years, the defense budget rose between JFY 1961 and JFY 1965 from $510 million to $860 million. This sizeable increase should not be downgraded because the economy grew during the period at so rapid a rate.

21. Looking objectively at our fundamental interests respecting Japan in the late Sixties and early Seventies one might arrive at the following conclusions:

Japan’s practical ability to act will be much greater in the economic field than in the military field. We should look to Japan for a much expanded economic contribution and worry less about its military contribution.
The Japanese defense effort will be decided by what the Japanese think they need; our ability to affect the issue will remain minimal. We should continue to seek to influence their defense planning in mutual defense consultations, once we have clarified our own ideas on the subject, but we should not make this such a major undertaking as to cut across our other interests.
If we make it plain to the Japanese that we will not exert pressure for military expansion beyond what they themselves think desirable this may give us greater leverage in encouraging them to put out greater efforts in the economic aid field.

E. Desirable Size and Structure of Japanese Forces

22. Japanese forces most in Japanese and U.S. overall interest during the remainder of the decade would seem to be high-quality air and naval units, of approximately the present total size, to deter or repel probing incursions or limited blockade or attack, supported by ground forces clearly inadequate for defense against major attack but capable of ensuring internal security, including the security of U.S. bases, and of serving as a basis for possible later expansion for an overseas role. This pattern would involve acceptance of current low army manning levels (140,000) and assignment of any resources thus saved to modernization of the ground forces, modernization and possible expansion of the air and maritime forces, and formation of organized reserves, [Page 119]now completely lacking. The objective would be Japanese forces able to deal decisively by themselves with minor encroachments or attacks; clearly dependent on U.S. forces to deter major attack; and capable of eventual expansion for overseas service, if and as political attitudes in Japan and abroad alter to permit this, almost certainly not before the next decade.

23. Such forces might include units trained for UN peacekeeping operations, the most promising initial form of Japanese overseas military activity. Japan has military attachés abroad, and the Japanese Government might even now be prepared to place at the Secretary General’s disposal such attachés located near trouble areas. This might provide the opening for dispatch, possibly as early as 1967 or 1968, of small Japanese forces to police boundaries and perform other peacekeeping functions but not, for an indefinite period ahead, to join with other Free World forces in anti-Communist, Viet-Nam-type combat operations.5

24. Due primarily to the attractions of industrial employment and the dwindling farm population (the traditional source of army manpower), the number of applicants for the GSDF fell, despite aggressive recruitment efforts, to 89,000 in 1963 and 69,000 in 1964, compared with 150,000 in 1962 and an average of 200,000 over the preceding 10 years. Because of this shortfall, actual GSDF strength has remained over the past three years at about 85% of authorized strength—140,000 instead of the authorized 171,000. While the GSDF continues normally to consist of 13 divisions, some divisions are at only 50–60% of strength; available manpower is sufficient for only 9 full-strength divisions. Conscription, or even withdrawal of the right of all Japanese servicemen to leave the forces any time they wish, including time of prospective or actual combat, is politically infeasible.

25. A Japanese Government decision to stabilize the GSDF at 140,000, or even a Japanese initiative to reduce it to 130,000 or 120,000 to achieve better balanced overall forces against the threats facing Japan, would therefore be a less radical change than might at first appear. Since nearly 80% of GSDF funds go for personnel expenditures, reduction to 130,000 or 120,000 would free substantial resources for army equipment modernization and diversion to the air and maritime forces, assuming that the Government did not divert the resources to [Page 120]other purposes. It is pertinent to note that the UK, admittedly possessing a far larger navy and air force than Japan and a nuclear capability, maintains only 80,000 troops in the British homeland—though another 47,000 on the continent of course contribute, with other NATO forces, to British home defense. And not to be forgotten is the economic contribution which released GSDF personnel could make to the Japanese economy, key sectors of which are suffering labor shortages.

F. Conclusions

26. a) The experience of recent years, during which a substantial revival of Japanese national feeling and the CCNEs have occurred without significantly altering Japanese public attitudes on defense questions, indicates that Japan will not greatly expand its home defense forces during the remainder of the decade but will continue gradually to improve their qualitative capacity to deter and repel hostile incursions and limited blockade or attack.

b) The U.S. should continue to support such improvement. It should also continue to encourage Japan to rely on the U.S. deterrent for security against major attack. Additionally, it should make clear to the Japanese Government that although we remain ready and anxious to sell military equipment to Japan, and to consult with and advise the Japanese Government on defense planning questions, we consider the size and composition of Japanese forces a matter for Japanese decision free of any form of U.S. pressure.

c) Japanese public attitudes, combined with continuing fear abroad of a revived Japanese militarism, will continue at least into the early Seventies to prevent a Japanese forces contribution in Southeast Asia, Korea or the Taiwan Straits. These attitudes will alter only through the force of events and through political maturation in Japan and abroad. The U.S. should seek discreetly to foster this political maturation, recognizing that U.S. pressure, as opposed to free exchanges of information, views and experience, will slow rather than hasten the process. Japanese contributions to UN peacekeeping operations may become feasible within two or three years.

d) In discussions with the Japanese concerning the composition of their forces the U.S. should:

support modernization of all three services to give Japan high quality forces on the Swedish model with a sizeable ready reserve—a hard nut to crack by any means short of major attack and a sound base for possible later expansion for overseas service;
acquiesce in the Japanese Government’s apparent intention to maintain an active ground force of only 140,000, deferring efforts to achieve the authorized 171,000 strength until Japanese public thinking favors larger forces;
offer no objection should the Japanese Government wish to reduce the active ground force to 130,000 or even 120,000, provided [Page 121]that the resources saved are devoted to modernization of the ground forces, modernization and possible expansion of the air and maritime forces, and formation of organized reserves;
favor maintenance of the existing under-strength, 13-division army structure to facilitate possible later expansion;
emphasize Japanese air defense, minesweeping, ASW and escort capabilities, because of the importance of these capabilities to Japanese home defense (including effective U.S. wartime use of Japanese facilities) and because such forces (except air defense) are likely to constitute the most feasible initial Japanese overseas military contribution, aside from peacekeeping forces.

e) The U.S. position, in brief, should be one of readiness to consult to the limit by security considerations with the Japanese Government on defense planning questions; of welcoming larger, higher quality Japanese forces and the assumption by Japan of overseas military responsibilities as soon as public attitudes in Japan and abroad permit; of seeking discreetly to foster the necessary development of those attitudes; but of refraining from pressures of any kind on the Japanese Government to move faster in these directions than it considers feasible and desirable in Japanese national interest.

f) Every effort should be made as recommended in the Committee of Principals document “Japan’s Prospects in the Nuclear Weapons Field: Proposed U.S. Course of Action”6 to discourage Japan from attaining an independent nuclear weapons capability.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 1 JAPAN. Secret. Drafted by Fearey, cleared by Berger, and sent through Jeffrey C. Kitchen(G/PM).
  2. Document 15.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. Discussed in paragraphs 5–11 of this paper. This paragraph, as well as paragraphs 19 and 20, mirror the viewpoint of the Embassy in Japan. (Letter from Earle J. Richey, Acting Counselor of Embassy, to Fearey, June 9; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 1 JAPAN)
  5. As the Embassy pointed out in its letter to Fearey of June 9, there appeared little or no possibility of military use of Japanese troops in the foreseeable future. Not only was extensive legislation needed before Japanese troops participated in any military actions, but also “the members of the Self Defense Forces serve only under a contractual arrangement, and there is no legal way for officers to compel their men to fight; the spectre of Japanese troops politely refusing to go into battle, and turning in their resignations instead, would be too much for the government to risk!” (Ibid.)
  6. A working group within the Committee on Nuclear Non-Proliferation, chaired by Llewellyn E. Thompson and composed of members from the White House, Departments of State and Defense and CIA, completed and distributed the report on June 15. The study was commissioned to determine whether Japan would embark “quietly without public knowledge” on a program of nuclear weapons development and, if so, how the United States could intervene to prevent that action. The report concluded that Japan would be capable of producing nuclear weapons and delivery systems by the early 1970s and recommended the U.S. take steps to influence Japan’s defense policies in non-nuclear development. The report and supporting documentation are ibid., DEF 12 JAPAN and Washington National Records Center, OSD/OASD/ISA Files, FRC 330 70 A 3717, 471.6 Japan.