4. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Okinawa

Problem[Page 18]

By far the toughest and most crucial issue we face today with Japan is reversion of Okinawa. Reduced to its most essential elements, the Okinawan problem involves

—Weighing the political costs of an effort to maintain the current status against the security costs of returning administration of the islands to Japan and thereby incurring some reduced flexibility in the use of our military bases.

—Estimating realistically the prospects for minimizing the security costs of reversion through negotiation of special arrangements with Japan regarding use of our bases.

Reversion Negotiations in 1969?: A Balance Sheet

1. The Military Costs

Okinawa is the most important U.S. military base system in the Western Pacific. The availability of the Ryukyus, close to potential theaters of operation, adds substantially to U.S. deterrence power in Asia and to overall U.S. capability and flexibility in the Pacific at all times, but especially in the early stages of an active military operation.

The value of the Ryukyu bases is enhanced by the absence of legal or foreign country restrictions on free access to or use of the facilities. The only restrictions on U.S. freedom of action in the Ryukyus are political restraints imposed by the need for local acquiescence and Japanese cooperation in continued U.S. administration of the bases.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have sent you a memorandum describing the main military purposes of our bases in Okinawa. Essentially they are:

(1) A close-in staging area and operational base permitting the maintenance of dual capable (conventional and nuclear) ground and [Page 19] air forces in readiness for swift reaction in an arc stretching from Northeast to Southeast Asia;

(2) A centrally located logistical complex and weapons storage base which has a major mission in support of land, air and naval forces operating in the Western Pacific;

(3) A hub of an extensive communications network in the region.

Reversion of Okinawa would not basically and adversely affect most of the day-to-day military activities on Okinawa since these relate to logistics and communications missions. The principal military activities directly affected by reversion, if we applied the current ground rules in Japan, are combat air sorties, such as the current B–52 operations against Vietnam, and nuclear storage on Okinawa.

The loss of Okinawan nuclear storage would degrade our nuclear capabilities in the Pacific and reduce our flexibility, points of major concern to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. [less than 3 lines not declassified] Reversion would have the following military costs in terms of the specific missions of the nuclear weapons now deployed on Okinawa:

(1) [1 paragraph (7 lines) not declassified]

(2) [1 paragraph (3 lines) not declassified]

(3) [1 paragraph (5½ lines) not declassified]

(4) [1 paragraph (3 lines) not declassified]

(5) [2 paragraphs (4 lines) not declassified]

[1 paragraph (5½ lines) not declassified]

2. The Political Costs

Effective use of Ryukyu bases has always depended on the acquiescence of both Japan and the Ryukyus to continued U.S. administration of the area. This we have had for several reasons:

(1) The commitment in principle to reversion by every American President since 1952;

(2) Until recent years the willingness of both the Ryukyuans and Japanese to accept reversion as a distant goal, and their fears to challenge the U.S. on this issue;

(3) U.S. agreement to greater self-autonomy for the Ryukyuan Government and close economic and cultural ties between Japan and the Ryukyus, measures which have staved off serious dissatisfaction with continued American administration but have also served to whet the appetite for reversion;

(4) The active cooperation of the Japanese Government in positively restraining, until recently, reversionist pressures;

(5) Acceptance by key elements of the Japanese establishment, although not the public, of the security value to Japan of a major U.S. military posture in Okinawa.

In the past two years, however, reversionist pressures have swelled. The pressure for reversion comes now from Prime Minister Sato and the local Ryukyuan leaders who are responding both to strong local [Page 20]political pressures and to their own sense of national pride. At the root of the reversion demand is the urge to conclude prolonged foreign rule.

Sato made his first effort to resolve the Okinawa issue in November 1967. During the talks at that time with President Johnson it was agreed to keep the problem under joint and continuous review and to express publicly U.S. “understanding” of the desire for reversion and Sato’s interest in reaching agreement within a few years on a date for reversion. Privately and most confidentially, the Japanese were advised that, due to the U.S. 1968 election and Vietnam, the U.S. Government was unable to give an answer on Okinawa before 1969 at the earliest and that there were both problems of military (e.g. nuclear) requirements and Congressional opposition to deal with. The Japanese Government accepted and fully understood this position.

The real push for reversion has come in the past six months, reflecting a growing public demand particularly in Okinawa but also in Japan. It is now the avowed determination of the Sato Government, supported fully both in Japan and the Ryukyus, to reach an agreement with us on the future timing of reversion within 1969. 1969 has become a key date since Sato is convinced the reversion problem must be solved before the expected 1970 confrontation over the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and a continued alliance relationship with the U.S. The pressure for reversion is even more acute in Okinawa and has been given major momentum by the election of a left-wing Chief Executive in November 1968, despite major U.S. and Japanese Government efforts to bolster up the conservative candidate. In fact, the margin of Ryukyuan acquiescence necessary for effective use of our bases has seriously eroded.

A decision not to move ahead with reversion in the near future would therefore have major political costs and risks both in Japan and in Okinawa. These costs are summed up in the latest National Intelligence Estimate, concurred in by all agencies:

“The problems relating to Okinawa are the most immediate. If Prime Minister Sato is unable to obtain an agreement in 1969 which provides for reversion of Okinawa to Japanese administration in the course of the early 1970’s, his own political position will be seriously damaged and the position of the ruling party will probably suffer to some extent. In such circumstances, Sato or any successor would take a stiffer line with the U.S. on security issues. There would be increasing pressure to reduce the U.S. base structure in Japan itself. In Okinawa, there would be a sustained and increasingly bitter local agitation against U.S. civil control and the U.S. military presence.”2

[Page 21]3. Conclusion

Reversion under the present ground rules in Japan, the “homeland level”, would definitely result in significant military costs to us. On the other hand, the political pressures for reversion have now reached a point where military costs are possible if we refuse to enter into reversion negotiations with the Japanese. A case can be made that the costs to effective use of our military bases in both Okinawa and Japan may be less over the long run if we agree to negotiate now and use this for leverage to gain special rights increasing our freedom to use our bases in both Okinawa and Japan.

Negotiating Issues: Minimizing the Military Costs of Reversion

The following negotiating issues will require resolution before we can finally agree to reversion:

1. Nuclear Storage

The toughest negotiation issue will be the right to continued nuclear storage on Okinawa. Current Japanese Government policy, supported very broadly through the country, is to bar nuclear weapons of either Japanese or U.S. origin from Japanese soil. The likelihood is that the Japanese Government will seek full withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Okinawa because the political costs of any other action would be too prohibitive to risk.

There is a slim possibility that the Japanese Government might agree to continued nuclear storage, at least for an interim period. If they did, the anticipated broad public dissatisfaction with this decision leaves very serious doubts whether the Diet will agree. Furthermore, in the very slim possibility that Japanese agreement to nuclear storage is obtained, we must recognize that the Japanese proponents of this position view this as the opening wedge for an independent Japanese nuclear force.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff currently favor seeking continued nuclear storage in Okinawa. Other agencies are not in agreement although recognizing the consequent degradation in our nuclear capabilities.

If we agree to withdraw nuclear weapons, there are several options short of full storage which are negotiable with Japan:

(1) The right to return nuclear weapons to Okinawa in the event of a major emergency. This would be helpful should there be a serious threat of nuclear hostilities in Asia but the arrangement would have to be highly secret.

(2) [1 paragraph (5 lines) not declassified]

2. Conventional Free Use

The present arrangements with Japan permit us freedom to conduct conventional military operations from Japanese bases, without first [Page 22]consulting with the Japanese Government, in the event of a resumption of UN hostilities in Korea. This right would be automatically extended to Okinawa following reversion. The U.S. military posture would clearly be strengthened to the extent we could undertake other conventional military operations without prior consultation with the Japanese Government, particularly against Vietnam as long as the hostilities continue. There are firm indications that at the present the Japanese Government is prepared to go a good distance to meet this requirement. Sustained military operations over an extended period, however, would undoubtedly necessitate consulting the Japanese Government. There are several key problems:

(1) Radius for Combat Areas—From the U.S. viewpoint, no limitation on combat areas would be preferable. At a minimum combat operations in the Taiwan area, in Vietnam as long as the hostilities continue, and Korea are desirable. [1 paragraph (5 lines) not declassified]

(2) Okinawa and/or Japan—The key question involved here is whether we should seek special rights for our Okinawan bases alone or have such rights extend to both our bases in Japan and Okinawa. Extending any special rights to both areas has preferred features for us and may well be feasible (except for B–52 operations against Vietnam) since it offers the Japanese Government the opportunity to state that the new arrangements are at the “homeland level.”

(3) [1 paragraph (11 lines) not declassified]

3. Normal Use of Bases

Our bases in Japan are currently subject to some inhibitions on which we have clear Treaty rights. Given the crowded conditions on Okinawa, such inhibitions could pose even greater problems for us there. A reversion agreement should, therefore, encompass a much more positive posture on the part of the Japanese Government to protect U.S. base rights.

4. Other Issues

In addition to the major issues discussed above, there will be several other points to be tied down before we agree to reversion. The most important of these is assurance that Japan will meet most of the foreign exchange and relocation costs of reversion and assure retention by the U.S. of VOA facilities on Okinawa presently not covered by any U.S.-Japan agreement.

Recommended Position

1. The U.S. agrees in 1969 to return Okinawa to Japanese administration within three years on the basis of mutually agreed conditions and following the completion of detailed negotiations.

2. The minimum U.S. conditions for reversion to be as follows:

(a) Emergency nuclear storage rights and full nuclear transit rights, [less than 1 line not declassified].

[Page 23](b) Freedom to undertake without prior consultation with the Japanese Government combat operations from Okinawan bases, and if at all possible, from Japanese bases in Korea, the Taiwan area, and Vietnam as long as Vietnam hostilities continue, to be embodied in a [1 line not declassified] Japanese public statement providing sufficient reassurance to our other allies.

(c) The Japanese Government assurances to support fully use of U.S. bases in Japan and Okinawa without harassment and within the base rights provided in other arrangements.

(d) Payment by Japan of all or most of the foreign exchange costs and relocation costs of reversion.

(e) The retention by the U.S. of VOA facilities on Okinawa.

(f) Assumption by Japan of complete responsibility for the ground, air and naval defense of the Japan area, including the Ryukyu Islands, except as may be mutually agreed.

Negotiating Tactics

In negotiating with Japan we have three major cards to play:

(1) The Japanese Government does not want and cannot afford to push the reversion issue to the point of a major break with the United States.

(2) Our willingness to withdraw nuclear weapons from Okinawa provides considerable bargaining leverage.

(3) Reversion, per se, particularly without nuclear weapons storage, is a considerable political plum for the conservatives.

The Japanese Government is not without its negotiating cards: The U.S. has a strong interest in maintaining the current alliance relationship; and pressures for reversion, particularly due to base incidents on Okinawa, could get out of hand by design or even accidentally. It would then be far more difficult to negotiate with an atmosphere of hostility to our bases in Okinawa.

The following negotiating tactics are proposed:

Phase 1: The new Ambassador to Japan should be instructed to inform Sato that you are not adverse to reversion but are seriously concerned about its military costs and the need to minimize the consequent concerns in the U.S. and among our other allies. The Ambassador would enumerate to Sato our reckoning of the military costs of homeland level reversion and seek Sato’s views on how these could be minimized by special arrangements, as well as the political problems he faces. No direct hint would be given of our willingness to remove the nuclear weapons.

Phase 2: Depending upon the Japanese Government reaction, we would indicate for the first time that we would be prepared to consider withdrawing nuclear weapons if other military costs were not involved. At this point we would provide our requirements in terms more sweeping than set forth above.

[Page 24]Phase 3: We would negotiate the outlines of an agreement covering conventional use of Okinawan and Japanese bases, leaving aside the final decision on nuclear storage for the meeting between you and Sato.

Phase 4: At a meeting with Sato you would play the nuclear card once all other details were wrapped up.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Kissinger Papers, RD drawer 1, Memoranda to the President, 1969–72. Top Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. On March 18, Kissinger sent this memorandum to the President under a memorandum that read: “Although Okinawa will be considered by the National Security Council shortly, I thought you would be interested in this think-piece which outlines the essential elements of the Okinawan problem.”
  2. For the full text, see Document 3.