On June 20, I ordered the book “The Best Course Available.” The book was written by Kei Wakaizumi and describes his participation in the secret negotiations between Japan and America. The negotiations took place in 1969, the first year of the Nixon administration. The goal was the return of Okinawa to Japan. In the negotiations, Wakaizumi represented Japan while Henry Kissinger represented America. The negotiations between the two began on January 15, right before Nixon assumed power.
According to Wakaizumi, Kissinger did not know much about Japan (Kissinger had spent his career studying Europe). In addition to having a negotiator who didn’t know much about Japan, Nixon also appointed an ambassador who knew nothing about Japan – Armin Meyer. Prior to that appointment, Meyer spent his career focusing on the Middle East and South Asia. The fact that Nixon made him the ambassador to Japan absolutely flabbergasted Meyer.
As I said in one of my earlier posts, Japan and America seem to have a long history of appointing unqualified people to positions of importance. I count myself as one of these people. I believe they do this to slow things down, as it takes a while for unqualified people to get up to speed. In addition, they can use all of their old tricks on people like us, as we are unprepared for them. And by limiting what they tell us, they can get us to support whatever positions they want because we do not really understand the issues at hand.
The day before Wakaizumi met Kissinger, the Japanese prime minister, Eisaku Sato, met with his ambassador to the U.S., Takezo Shimoda. Shigeru Hori also attended the meeting. The three discussed whether or not Japan should ask America to remove her nukes from Okinawa before she returned the islands to Japan. The Japanese public wanted them removed. However, convincing America to remove her nukes from Okinawa would not be easy.
“If we argue for a ‘denuclearized reversion’ as a condition for reversion, I believe that a rapid decision will be extremely difficult to obtain, given the current international situation,” said Ambassador Shimoda.
Most likely, the ambassador was referring to the situation on the Korean peninsula. North Korea monitored the U.S. military forces located in East Asia. Any reduction in their capabilities might provoke an aggressive response from the country.
However, in spite of the problems associated with such a policy, Eisaku Sato told Ambassador Shimoda to try to convince America to remove her nukes from Okinawa.
“I had my own reservations, but it was clear that if we had been swayed by the Foreign Ministry’s line or the opinions of the Americans, the reversion that was eventually achieved would not have been possible,” said Shigeru Hori. “I realized that Sato had displayed true leadership, executing a once-in-a-lifetime decision.”
Wakaizumi never explains why this decision was so momentous. But let me take a stab at it. The decision put America in a no-win situation. On the one hand, America could remove its nukes from Okinawa and return the islands to Japan, but that would provoke a military response from North Korea. On the other hand, America could refuse to remove her nukes from Okinawa but in that case America would have to maintain her possession of the islands. Had America tried to keep Okinawa, the alliance between Japan and America would not have survived. The existing security treaty between the two countries was due to expire the next year, in 1970. If America refused to return Okinawa by then, Japan would not have agreed to extend the treaty and the alliance would be finished.
You might think that North Korea would not attack America or its allies simply because America removed her nukes from Okinawa. You would be wrong. In fact, the mere possibility that America would remove her nukes from Okinawa provoked a severe reaction from North Korea.
On June 3, the New York Times reported that America might indeed remove her nukes from Okinawa before she returned the islands to Japan. In an apparent protest of this decision, North Korea started attacking South Korea. On June 5, North Korean troops stationed near the border with South Korea started firing at the South Korean troops stationed along the other side of the border. On June 8, North Korea killed five people when one of its vessels fired on a house in Bukpyong. On June 13, the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency captured a North Korean ship carrying 15 commandos while on route to South Korea.
These aggressive acts apparently convinced America that she needed to maintain at least the possibility of a nuclear deterrent on Okinawa because on July 17, during a meeting between Wakaizumi and Morton Halperin, Halperin demanded that Japan sign a secret agreement which would allow America to move its nuclear weapons into Okinawa in the event of an emergency. For her part, Japan never even acknowledged reading the New York Times article which preceded all those North Korean attacks, according to Priscilla Clapp.
In reference to the Times article, Wakaizumi wrote this cryptic remark.
“Whatever expectations may have existed on either side of the negotiating table, the circumstances behind this intricate process demonstrate a principal lesson of diplomacy – namely, the need to acquire as much information as possible about conditions in the country with which one is negotiating,” said Wakaizumi.
Unfortunately, Wakaizumi does not explain the conditions inside either country. So again, let me take a stab at it. Ultimately, America wanted Japan to extend the security treaty and maintain the alliance. To do that, she was willing to return Okinawa to Japan and I’m sure she was hoping to get that over with as soon as possible. Of course, Japan wanted America to return Okinawa and I’m sure she didn’t mind having an alliance with America, but in addition to that Japan wanted more, and she would have to prolong the negotiations to get those things.
“One of the most serious and long-standing strains in the Japanese-American relationship has resulted from the popular feeling in Japan that, because of geographic propinquity to China, long and close cultural association, and economic interests, Japanese have much more reason than Americans to seek fuller and friendlier ties with Communist China, but are prevented from doing so by their close association with a stubborn and shortsighted America,” said Edwin Reischauer, the former U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Not coincidentally, soon after the negotiations on Okinawa began, a cross-border skirmish between the Soviet Union and China gave America an opening to repair her relationship with China. The skirmish took place on March 2 at Zhenbao Island where a group of Chinese soldiers killed 58 Soviet border guards. With the relationship between the Soviet Union and China in tatters, that gave America an opening to improve its relationship with China, something that China herself wanted. America just needed some coaxing to convince her to seize the opportunity.
Japan would provide the necessary persuasion. Over the next few years, in an effort to force America into improving her relationship with China, Japan would continually threaten to destroy her alliance with America. Initially, Japan implemented this strategy by putting America in a no-win situation on Okinawa. Faced with the potential loss of her alliance with Japan, America would slowly improve her relationship with China.
On April 21, America announced that she would try to establish a more normal relationship with Communist China. On July 21, America eased the travel and trade restrictions she imposed on China. On August 1, America asked Romania and Pakistan to discuss with China the possibility of improving relations. On November 7, America ended her patrol of the Taiwan Strait. That patrol had become a symbol of our commitment to support Nationalist China at the expense of Communist China.
With America apparently convinced that she needed to repair her relationship with China, Japan needed to do something which would allow America to return Okinawa in a way that would appease the anti-nuke sentiment in Japan while not leaving North Korea with the impression that America had gone soft.
America and Japan would secretly agree that America would remove her nukes from Okinawa but would have the right to reintroduce those weapons to Okinawa in the event of an emergency. To prevent the public from learning about this agreement, only four people would know of its existence – Richard Nixon, Eisaku Sato, Henry Kissinger, and Kei Wakaizumi.
Eisaku Sato would travel to America to sign this agreement and the agreement to return Okinawa to Japan. After signing those agreements, Japan and America would release a communique describing what both sides had agreed to. On November 6, during a meeting with Wakaizumi, Sato provided him with three different versions of that communique. One version stated unequivocally that Okinawa would have no nukes when America returned the islands to Japan. The other two versions were more ambiguous about whether or not Okinawa would contain nukes after America returned the islands. Sato wanted the communique to state as clearly as possible that America would remove her nukes from Okinawa and he instructed Wakaizumi to write the final version of the document with Kissinger.
After looking at the three draft communiqués provided by Sato, Wakaizumi came up with a few other versions on his own. To decide which version to use, Wakaizumi met with Kissinger on November 11 and presented him with five different versions of the communique. Draft 1 stated clearly that America would remove her nukes from Okinawa. Draft 5 was completely ambiguous. Drafts 2, 3, and 4 were somewhere in between in their clarity, with lower number drafts showing less ambiguity and higher number drafts showing a higher degree of ambiguity. At one point, in the negotiation, Kissinger asked Wakaizumi if he could show the secret agreement to the Secretary of State. Wakaizumi refused. Immediately after that, Kissinger replied, “Regarding the communique: we’re finding it very hard to agree to Draft 2.”
“In retrospect, I imagine that he might even been intending to go along with Draft 2 if I had agreed to ‘the secret minute’ being shown to the secretary of state,” said Wakaizumi.
Presumably, had Kissinger told Secretary of State Rogers about the secret agreement, Rogers would have leaked the contents of the agreement to the press. In that case, America would agree to adopt a communique that stated, rather clearly, that America would remove its nukes from Okinawa. Apparently, America felt that having the right to reintroduce her nukes to Okinawa would deter North Korea from any provocative behavior. However, throughout the negotiations, Wakaizumi repeatedly stated that the secret agreement must remain secret.
“Under no circumstances should this ‘small-room document’ be shown elsewhere – a point that must be fully impressed on President Nixon,” said Wakaizumi. “A leak would cause an enormous amount of trouble, and I should warn you that it might wreck the historic events that we’ve both participated in.”
In fact, to ensure that the agreement would not be leaked to the press, Wakaizumi would not even allow translators to participate in the signing of the agreement. A translator would have come in handy for Sato, as the agreement was written in English, a language that Sato did not understand. To verify that the document Sato signed was in fact the right agreement, Wakaizumi provided him with a copy of the document written in English. Before Sato signed the agreement, he compared the copy to the one America gave him to sign to verify that they were the same.
On November 19, Eisaku Sato signed the secret agreement and America agreed to return Okinawa to Japan. On that day, Nixon spoke about the significance of the alliance between America and Japan.
“Today, as we look to the future of the Pacific, we recognize that whether peace survives in the last third of the century will depend more on what happens in the Pacific than in any other area of the world,” said Nixon. “And whether we have peace and prosperity and progress in the Pacific will depend more than anything else upon the cooperation of the United States and Japan, the two strongest and the two most prosperous nations in the Pacific area.”
Nixon would later refer to his decision to return Okinawa to Japan as “among the most important decisions I have taken as President.”
“There have been many meetings between the heads of government of Japan and the United States over the past twenty-five years,” said Nixon. “I am confident that history will record that this is the most significant meeting that has occurred since the end of World War II.”
However, the agreement to return Okinawa did not, on the surface, improve relations between Japan and America. The following year, the two nations would fight each other over limiting Japanese textile exports to America, something that Nixon had wanted. The textile negotiations would reach a standstill, despite the fact that Eisaku Sato and Richard Nixon had reached a secret agreement on the issue at their meeting in November. None of the textile negotiators knew about this agreement.
According to Wakaizumi, Japan and America made the people who negotiated the textile agreement express their disappointment about the way those negotiations played out. Armin Meyer said the issue caused him the most trouble during his tenure. According to him, the negotiations damaged the relationship to an extent beyond all reason. Quite simply, the textile issue did not matter all that much.
Presumably, Japan would have used the textile issue to blow up the alliance had America not cooperated with Japan on China. In an apparent retaliation for how Japan handled this issue, America hit Japan with the so-called Nixon Shocks in 1971. America dropped the gold standard, which led to a strengthening of the yen. But on the other hand, Nixon announced he would soon visit China.
“Informed U.S. sources said this double shock was meant to penalize Japan for its breach of trust over the textile exports issue,” said Hisahiko Okazaki.
The strengthening yen plunged the Japanese economy into a recession. As for the trip to China, Japan reacted with mock horror.
“The failure of our leadership has left us exposed as a hapless small power manipulated at will by big powers,” said the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. “This is our most serious crossroads since the end of the war. We must question the American alliance and we must ask whether economic power by itself is really an effective means to insure our national interests.”
With the relationship between China and America on the mend, and with the relationship between America and Japan apparently in tatters, Japan used the Nixon Shocks as an excuse to improve her relationship with China.
“Leftists and Sinophiles have never failed to say ‘Americans betrayed us first,’” said Okazaki.
In reality, I bet Japan agreed to strengthen the yen to reward America for improving her relationship with China, and for providing Japan with an opportunity to do likewise.
And so on September 29, during a trip to China, the new Japanese prime minister, Kakuei Tanaka, and the leader of China, Mao Zedong, normalized relations between their two countries, a step that America did not take until the Carter administration.
A month before Tanaka went to China, Japan informed America that she would normalize her relations with China. Apparently, upon learning the news, Henry Kissinger, in a dramatic outburst of anger, exclaimed, “Of all the treacherous sons of bitches, the Japs take the cake!”