80. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon 1


  • Trip to Japan

General. It was my privilege to represent you, and to be the official guest of the Japanese Government, during the period July 4–11. During my stay in Japan, I had discussions with key Japanese officials, as well as top US civilian and military leadership. I also visited installations and units of the Japanese Self Defense Forces.

Among the Japanese officials with whom I talked were Prime Minister Sato; the outgoing Director General (Nakasone) of the Japanese Defense Agency; and the newly appointed Director General (Masuhara). As you know, PM Sato appointed a new cabinet on 5 July, the day after I arrived in Japan. The new Foreign Minister, and former Finance Minister, Fukuda had to cancel our scheduled appointment because of recurring medical problems and imminent surgery.

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I went to Japan mindful of the four basic tenets of your policy towards Japan (NSDM 13),2 viz:

—We shall basically pursue our current relationships with Japan as our major partner in Asia, seeking ways to improve this relationship from the viewpoint of US national interests and to seek an increasingly larger Japanese role in Asia.

—We shall allow the present Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security to continue . . . .

—We shall continue to make gradual alterations in our base structure and base utilization in Japan to reduce major irritants while retaining essential base functions.

—We shall continue . . . (the) policy of encouraging moderate increases and qualitative improvement in Japan’s defense efforts, while avoiding any pressure on her to develop substantially larger forces or to play a larger national security role.

The Department of Defense has been endeavoring, since NSDM 13 was published in May 1969, to implement your policies towards Japan, especially in the area of altering our base structure. During my recent visit I tried to advance your policies even further. Special attention was given (a) to confirming our Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security; (b) to encouraging increased effectiveness, through qualitative improvements, in the Japanese Self Defense Forces; and (c) to soliciting a larger Japanese role in Asia, especially through economic and supporting assistance. As I shall explain later, I believe there are reason and opportunity to ask Japan to play a more effective—if not a larger—national security role.

In this report, I shall outline my discussions and activities, provide my principal impressions, and indicate some conclusions.

Discussions and Activities.

As I noted earlier, I talked at some length with PM Sato and the outgoing and incoming Directors General of the Self Defense Forces (SDF). While the gist of these conversations has been reported separately from the US Embassy, Tokyo,3 I should like to recount the discussions briefly.

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Prime Minister Sato.

The Prime Minister was obviously pleased by your congratulatory note on the Okinawa reversion agreement.4 He showed it to Ambassador Meyer and me with considerable relish. I relayed your personal best wishes to Sato, plus your hope for the success of the newly appointed cabinet.

Sato was relaxed and seemingly enjoying the conversation as much as I. He was forthright on a number of what I considered to be key points. He said, for example, that the essential pillars of your foreign policy—strength, partnership, and a willingness to negotiate—were fully understood at the top levels in Japan. They were not fully understood at lower functioning levels, however. He observed, without coaxing, that Japan needed to do more in the security and foreign policy arena. At one point, he stated explicitly that the Self Defense Forces should be modernizing at a more accelerated and meaningful pace. At another point, he said Japan was considering an economic stabilization fund to help stem the inflationary tide in Southeast Asia.

With reference to Japanese/US relationships, Sato said he had specifically instructed his newly appointed Foreign Minister, Minister of International Trade and Finance [Industry], and Finance Minister on the need for mutual cooperation and trust. He indicated his cabinet should, and must, grasp the significance of the US/Japan relationship. Sato said he and his cabinet would work closely with us on a “coherent” trade policy. I pressed hard on the need for more Japanese purchases from the US, particularly in the Defense area. The current annual level of $95 million is not representative of Japan’s needs, its ability to buy, or bilateral trade situation. A Sato comment that I considered especially intriguing (though the US Embassy representatives did not) was, in essence, that “in case of emergency, the Japanese industrial might will be at the disposal of the US.” I did not press Sato on the precise meaning or implications of the remark. Potentially, however, the implications are substantial and important for the US.

On Defense relations, I told Sato that the US Congress consistently pressed the Administration on whether there was true partnership in our security relations with other Free World nations. Specifically, I said, there was Congressional reference to the 7 percent, or more, of Gross National Product (GNP) the US devoted to national security as opposed to the 1 percent or less provided by Japan. I tried to impress on Sato that despite the $16.6 billion to be dedicated to defense in [Page 216] Japan’s current (i.e., the 4th) five-year plan, such expenditures were still inadequate. I told Sato that I had had the privilege of visiting selected Ground Self Defense Force and Air Self Defense Force units. I had been struck by the facts that (a) much of their equipment was old and no match for that of other Asian powers, and (b) attempts to retain adequate numbers of trained personnel and attract new ones to the Japanese all-volunteer forces were not universally successful. The clear need, if Japan was to fulfill even a modest foreign policy role—and with no increases in the size of the forces—was for increased defense spending. More specifically, I told Sato that in my judgment, Japan needed to:

—Replace obsolete equipment in all of its branches with more modern weapons.

—Flesh out its forces and retain its trained people through more adequate incentives and compensation.

—Improve the effectiveness of its forces through regional joint training exercises, particularly in air defense and anti-submarine warfare.

—Adapt to Asian security needs, especially through providing economic and supporting assistance to those Free World Asian nations in dire need of such support.

Sato said he did not [?] intend to improve the quality of the Self Defense Forces. He did not believe, as some Japanese did, that it was feasible to have a fully-independent Japanese defense industry. He hoped the US would lend some assistance, particularly with regard to advanced technology.

The Prime Minister repeated a theme consistent among Japanese officials, viz., the importance of the US nuclear shield and the hope the US would maintain a sufficient nuclear deterrent. Japan worries about how long it can defense [defend] itself against aggression without the nuclear shield. Sato expressed doubt regarding the ability to deter war with conventional weapons, but he agreed Japan should not be too dependent on us in the conventional field and needed to improve its conventional strength. I emphasized (a) the US and the USSR had achieved strategic nuclear parity; (b) conventional forces will take on added importance in the 1970’s; and (c) the Free World nations need an effective conventional deterrent. Unlike the strategic nuclear area, all Free World nations can and must join in partnership to muster the strength needed for adequate conventional deterrence.

Sato was especially interested in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and, more specifically, any key intelligence we might be able to share with him. I outlined in broad terms the recent PRC developments in aircraft, conventional ground force equipment, and the strategic field. I also indicated we would share additional information with him on a close-hold, confidential basis. I shall, at your convenience, discuss that with you privately.

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Sato commended our Vietnamization policies and commented on the much lower recent levels of US casualties. I observed that if there were a weak element in the Vietnamization program, it was in the economic area. That is where Japan can help now and over the near-term future. It was at this point Sato told me he was studying the possibility of an economic stabilization fund for Southeast Asia (SEA). Such a fund, if correctly conceived and prudently administered, could help in the universal fight against SEA inflation and balance of payments disequilibriums.

Again, the meeting with Sato was congenial, yet forthright. He impressed me as a man who, though faced with many troublesome and delicate issues is definitely in charge.

Director General Nakasone.

The meeting with Nakasone was unusual in a sense. He literally had only hours—if not minutes—left in office when I talked with him on 5 July. He will remain influential in the Liberal Democratic Party, however. It is conventional wisdom to suggest we shall see and hear more of Nakasone over the coming years.

Nakasone covered a number of the same topics outlined in the Sato discussion. I did have to spend more time with Nakasone than with the Prime Minister explaining your foreign policy and the Administration’s national security strategy for the 1970’s. Nakasone was particularly interested in the concept of Total Force Planning. I had the feeling, based on subsequent discussions, it was good for some of our own people to hear the US policies and programs enunciated. (Our Ambassador and his politico-military counsellor accompanied me to each of the meetings.)

Turning to the list of items we had discussed in September 1970, when Nakasone was my guest in the United States,5 the outgoing Director General expressed gratification for a number of actions. Significant among the actions had been realignments of the US basing structure in Japan and, of course, the perpetuation of our Mutual Security Treaty.

Nakasone expressed the conviction that future US/Japanese problems could be handled effectively. He referred especially, as did other top Japanese officials, to economic and trade issues. On defense matters, Nakasone felt the treaty could be managed to maintain the vital ties between the US and Japan. Nakasone also described the 4th Defense [Page 218] Buildup Plan, which is currently underway. While the $16.6 billion five-year program is better than previous plans (more than twice the most recent plan), Nakasone did not make a convincing case (a) that the current plan was enough, (b) that the plan represented coherent outlays in conjunction with a realistic security strategy, or (c) that Japan could not afford to do much more.

As with Sato, Nakasone was vitally interested in US policy toward the People’s Republic of China. I told Nakasone we were proceeding cautiously and that, from a military standpoint, I could see no imminent fundamental changes on either side. Again, Nakasone expressed intense interest in any military intelligence the US could share with Japan on the PRC. I had the feeling that Nakasone was skeptical and even somewhat cynical about recent PRC foreign policy activities—actions which Nakasone characterized as “a policy with a smile.”

[4 lines not declassified] The real reason for such a plan was to provide Sato’s party with political ammunition. The four points Nakasone made were:

—[1 paragraph (1½ lines) not declassified]

—[1 paragraph (1½ lines) not declassified]

—[1 paragraph (3 lines) not declassified]

—The Japanese team would then report to the Director General, who, in turn, would report to the Diet.

Nakasone, with an obliging air, told me I need not answer him at the time of our meeting.

I told Nakasone I would look at his proposition. But, I referred him to your communiqué with Prime Minister Sato and the express call for mutual trust.6 I suggested the effectiveness of the nuclear umbrella, as a deterrent, was based on mutual awareness and mutual trust. [1 line not declassified] Moreover, I commented that those who enjoy the fruits of our nuclear deterrent should be willing to help us to help them. (I was referring, of course, not only to the Okinawa issue but also to the recurring problems caused for our forces by the Japanese sensitivity to the real or imagined presence of nuclear weapons in their immediate proximity.) [3 lines not declassified] I was impressed by the fact a senior Japanese official would make such a statement, though our Embassy people commented later it was not particularly new or noteworthy. I believe, whatever the vintage of the idea, it has considerable potential significance.

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Though newly appointed as Director General when I met with him, Masuhara is no newcomer to the defense field. As you know, he held the post now called Director General when the function was created in the early 1950’s. My initial assessment is that he will bring depth, maturity, and considerable practical savvy to the position.

As with the Prime Minister, I met with Masuhara after I had had the opportunity to visit Self Defense units and installations and to talk with senior US and Japanese military officials. That experience helped me. I could express with more conviction the fact that Japan could do more to further its own security interests, particularly in the area of making more effective the forces in its current and projected plans.

I explored with Masuhara the prospects for modernizing and increasing the effectiveness of all its Service elements—ground, sea, and air. I also raised the prospect for making more effective—as opposed to enlarging—its regional security role. Participation in joint training exercises—particularly air, sea, and command post maneuvers—with US and ROK forces is a logical area to explore. Officer exchange programs and periodic top-level discussions among key civilian and military officials are other areas which, if managed correctly, could add immeasurably to more effective regional security.

Otherwise, in the discussions with Masuhara, the points covered were duplicative of the conversations with Sato and Nakasone. The Masuhara meeting was considerably more narrow in scope than either of the other two talks. The one point raised with Masuhara that did not come up otherwise was my request for consideration of pre-positioning the families for 6 US destroyers and one US aircraft carrier in Japan. Actually, the 6 destroyers can and will be considered separately from the carrier. The DDs constitute a relatively benign issue. The carrier involves political sensitivities for the Japanese. I did not make a formal request at the time of our meeting but did ask for Japanese thinking on the subject. Masuhara said he understood the proposal, and would communicate, after study, Japan’s official views through our Embassy.

As with the other senior Japanese officials, the talk with Masuhara was warm and friendly. Harmony and commonality of Free World interests were at all times evident.

Main Impressions.

The main impressions I carried away from Japan are as follows:

—The main elements of NSDM 13, i.e., your policies toward Japan, are being carried out.

—Japan is intent on preserving and strengthening its security relationships with the US. I was particularly impressed by Sato’s reference [Page 220] to making Japan’s industrial might available in emergencies [2½ lines not declassified]

—Japanese officials at the top understand—at least since my trip—the basic tenets of your foreign and national security policies.

—Japan is reaping substantial benefits from the security provided by other major and developed Free World nations. Japan is not sharing proportionately in assuming the cost and burden of that security.

—Japan wants the US to maintain an effective strategic nuclear deterrent and to provide Japan the opportunity to maintain a position under that so-called “nuclear umbrella.”

—In the conventional area, Japan’s forces are markedly obsolescent. It is not clear what threat, other than internal disturbances, the current Self Defense Forces could handle.

—Japanese officials understand and at least give lip-service to the need for modernizing and making more effective its Defense establishment. The modernization would be limited solely to conventional weapons.

—While there are many areas in which Japan could and should bolster its conventional deterrent, there is no prospective role for Japanese nuclear weapons. Such use of Japanese resources would, in fact, be a gross political, economic, and military mistake.

—The Japanese are deeply interested in activities of the PRC and in evolving US policy towards the PRC.

—US/Japanese relations on all major issues are harmonious. There is no reason to believe they cannot continue to be so.

Conclusions and Recommendations.

1. NSDM 13 can continue to serve as a sufficient basic guideline for US policies toward Japan. More specifically, however:

a. There may be ways to improve our basic relationships from the viewpoint of US national interests and to provide for an increasingly larger Japanese role in Asia. On the former point, regularized personal consultations between top US and Japanese officials in the military, economic, and diplomatic arena would be in my judgment productive. On the latter point, cultivation of such ideas as the Japanese stabilization fund for SEA and vastly expanded supporting assistance throughout the other free nations of Asia would be helpful.

b. The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security can be continued. It should not be taken for granted, however.

c. Our base structure and base utilization in Japan have been effectively realigned. We should not be hesitant, however, to ask for further realignments in our behalf, particularly where such realignments directly help to facilitate the US nuclear and conventional deterrents which benefit Japan directly.

d. We should not only encourage but virtually insist on qualitative improvements and increased effectiveness in Japan’s Self Defense Forces. While we need not modify NSDM 13 to suggest substantially large forces or a larger regional security role, we should emphasize [Page 221] the theme of quantum jumps in effectiveness in both Japan’s forces and its regional security posture.

2. Japan has no need for developing or otherwise obtaining any nuclear weapons. In fact, given the many higher priority prospective uses for Japanese resources, we should openly oppose any such contemplation by Japan if it were to occur.

3. Japan, despite its acceptance of the principle of force modernization, shows no immediate prospects of increasing its annual outlays for security. We should take every feasible step to encourage Japan to do so. Resources should be used within the policy guidelines of NSDM 13, to (a) modernize their forces, (b) acquire in full measure the planned SDF manpower levels, (c) insure that current SDF units are effective and well trained, (d) participate in joint exercises to accentuate further the force effectiveness, and (e) help to provide the supporting assistance needed elsewhere throughout Asia. Japan may be tempted to use arguments of convenience to avoid assuming its equitable share of the Free World Security burden. Avoidance of rising or resurgent Japanese militarism is one such argument. The economic needs of the Japanese people (redistributing income) who have not yet shared fully in the fruits of its miraculous post-World War II growth is another such argument. We should, in my judgment, not allow such arguments to gain undue currency. Japan can and should—within your conceptually and practically sound policy guidelines—do more.

Mel Laird 7
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 330–76–197, Box 67, Japan, 333 Laird. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. Document 13.
  3. Telegrams 6719 and 6720 from Tokyo, both July 11, describe Laird’s meetings with Sato and Masuhara. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 536, Country Files, Japan, Vol. V, 1 Jul–Sep 71)
  4. Laird is probably referring to Nixon’s June 26 message to Sato, which addressed the Okinawa reversion agreement. (Ibid., Box 757, Presidential Correspondence File, 1969–1974, Japan (Sato Corr) 1969–8 Jul 1972)
  5. Laird met with Nakasone in the Pentagon from 10 until 11:45 a.m. on September 9, 1970. (Memorandum of conversation; Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 330–76–67, Box 74, Japan 091.112) A second conversation between them occurred at the Pentagon on September 14, 1970, from 10 until 10:40 a.m. (Ibid.)
  6. See Document 28.
  7. Printed from a copy that indicates Laird signed the original.