86. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara1



  • Military Utility of the Bonins (U)
(S) Reference is made to your memorandum, dated 3 June 1967, subject as above, which requested the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the military utility of the Bonins at the present time.2
(S) The Joint Chiefs of Staff have studied this matter and view the military utility of the Bonin, Volcano, and Marcus Islands as follows:
General Assessment
Because of the instability of long-term security relationships in the Pacific, these islands represent an important strategic asset which should be retained by the United States. The strategic value of these islands must be judged in the context of long-term US national security interests as a Pacific power rather than current US regional defense commitments.
Under the current US western Pacific military posture (dependent upon Japanese and Okinawan basing), the value of these islands is less apparent; however, with the increasing political limitations affecting military operations from these forward bases, the strategic value of the Bonin, Volcano, and Marcus Islands becomes more evident.
Loss of direct US control of these islands would deny the United States an important potential for meeting a wide range of military requirements that could develop under various contingencies.
If the islands are to be available for military requirements in the future, the very limited usable land cannot be returned to civilian use.
The Bonin–Volcano–Marcus Islands, which also are administered by the United States under Article 3 of the Treaty of Peace with Japan, should be considered a separate military entity and not be made a part of any Ryukyuan reversion negotiations. Although not considered an alternative to the Ryukyus, retention of the Bonin–Volcano– Marcus Islands would enable the United States to salvage a measure of flexibility in the western Pacific, should satisfactory base rights in the Ryukyus and Japan fail to endure.
Any change in status should be deferred pending attainment of US sovereign control in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
Current Utilization. Strategically, these islands are important as a backup for US bases in Japan, the Ryukyus, and the Philippines. They currently function as bases for navigation aids, weather stations, standby/dispersal airfields, and seadromes and provide a capability for storage of conventional and nuclear weapons. The islands occupy important positions with regard to surveillance and defense of major [Page 174] sea lanes. Their availability for support of air and naval operations is a continuing requirement. (For detailed discussion, see Appendices A and B hereto.)3
Planned and Potential Utilization. In the 1969–1970 time frame, the US Navy plans to utilize Chichi Jima to construct northeastward-looking underwater surveillance station to monitor Soviet/Chinese submarine activities.
The islands contain attractive sites for additional military functions such as missile sites, communication facilities, and SIGINT sites, as well as air and naval facilities which can be expanded without consultation with Japan in the event that requirements so dictate.
The fact that these islands provide backup bases for our forward line of defense gains added significance as the era approaches (1970) when US-Japanese defense arrangements become subject to alteration with a one-year notification. Even partial loss of forward bases in Japan and Okinawa could necessitate reliance on bases in Marcus Island, the Marianas, and the Bonin–Volcano chain in support of the US forward defense posture. Moreover, base dispersal and the requirement for military options in the Pacific are becoming more significant as China develops a missile capability. The strategic value of US options, rather than current level of activity, is the key to the issue.
Impact of Repatriation and Reversion
In effect, permitting return of residents to the islands and island reversion pose similar problems. In either situation, an influx of former residents would seriously impede the freedom of the US military in effective exploitation of the islands in the event of major military operations. Basically, this was the reason underlying the original evacuation by the Japanese military during World War II. The intervening years have not altered the situation. If the former islanders are permitted to reacquire the limited real estate, the United States would lose the land resources necessary to build airfields, depots, and other military facilities. Political and civil problems would preclude the United States from regaining these resources.
The Foreign Minister of Japan recently has indicated that Japan desires to pursue the Bonin Islands question, first in terms of repatriation and later reversion. In this regard, repatriation could not occur without an extensive capital improvement program and substantial expansion of public services.
(S) In view of the foregoing, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider the Bonin–Volcano–Marcus Islands to be of considerable strategic value [Page 175] to US security and that exclusive US control should be continued. They recommended that:
The United States retain its present position, which is essentially to fend off repatriation and reestablishment of commercial ties between Japan and the Bonin–Volcano–Marcus Islands.
The current level of military activity in the islands not be used as the only basis for assessing their value. The instability of Asian security does not permit at this time restoration of Japanese administration of these islands.
No further commitment for repatriation or reversion of the Bonin, Volcano, and Marcus Islands be made until such time as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands is brought under full US sovereignty.
As part of its strategic posture in the Asian-Pacific area, the United States preserve its control of the Bonin, Volcano, and Marcus Islands under present arrangements or other suitable arrangements such as outright purchase or long-term lease.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Earle G. Wheeler
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD/OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330 72 A 2468, Okinawa 323.3. Secret. The memorandum indicates McNamara saw it.
  2. McNamara’s June 3 memorandum is ibid., 092 Bonin Islands. His request resulted from a Japanese request during the SCC Subcommittee meeting in late May for an assessment of the military value of the Bonin Islands. (Memorandum from McNaughton to McNamara, June 1; ibid.) The Japanese request anticipated a discussion of that question at the second Subcommittee Meeting, scheduled for August 22 and 23 in Tokyo. Documents pertaining to that meeting, including a transcript of the discussions among the participants, are in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23 JAPAN–US and DEF 1 JAPAN–US.
  3. Attached but not printed.