In December 1967, the Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato proclaimed his three anti-nuclear principles: Japan, devastated in body and conscience by the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, would choose "not to possess, not to build and not to introduce" nuclear weapons within its borders. This pacifist policy would earn Sato the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974. Now, news has leaked out that a secret pact between the United States and Japan has long made the total ban on nuclear weapons somewhat less total.
Actually, it has been known for quite some time that Japan was never totally denuclearised. In his book of memoires published in 1994, the Japanese diplomat Kei Wakaizumi had included a minute listing a secret pact signed by Sato and Nixon on 21 November 1969 which admitted the use of nuclear weapons in certain circumstances. Subsequently, in October 2009, the national security archive in Washington declassified a series of top-secret documents that corroborated Wakaizumi's version. Up until then, all Japanese governments had denied the existence of any secret agreements on nuclear weapons.
Now confirmation comes from Tokyo itself, where the Democratic Party government has just declassified various documents from 1967 (the year of the three non-nuclear principles) from which it emerges clearly that in exchange for the restitution of Okinawa and the Ogasawara Islands to the land of the Rising Sun, the US insisted that nuclear weapons could be reintroduced onto Japanese soil in certain "unforeseen circumstances". This covered both the presence of such weapons in US bases on the mainland and their passage through Japanese territorial waters on US ships (and their eventual unloading in Japanese military ports).
The presence of nuclear weapons on the Ogasawara islands between 1956 and 1965, when the archipelago was controlled directly by the US, is fully documented. Before they were returned to Japan in 1968, in line with Sato's three principles, such weapons were removed. However, it turns out that, under the table, the two countries had agreed on a formula sanctioning an eventual reintroduction "after due consultation". According to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, Washington interpreted this secret pact as a green light giving it total discretional freedom on the issue, with Tokyo's tacit approval.
Various Japanese commentators are convinced that this secret pact was later automatically extended to cover Okinawa as well, when it was returned to Japanese jurisdiction in 1972. This news is bound to intensify the current controversy surrounding the US base in Futenma, which the citizens of Okinawa and the local government would like to see shifted off the island altogether, while Washington - with the rather embarrassed support of Tokyo - intends to transfer it only as far as Henoko, still on Okinawa. The discovery of a deception that has been going on for over forty years can only increase the local protests and the central government's embarrassment.
The nuclear issue also has repercussions on the recent much trumpeted revision of Japan's national defence programme, baptised its "dynamic defence capability" and adopted in December 2010. In a first draft, the previous July, this suggested a reconsideration of at least one of the three pillars of the non-nuclear principle, namely the banning of any introduction of US nuclear weapons on Japanese soil even in the case of military emergencies. An official renunciation of this principle would have publically legitimised the contents of the secret agreements, but the final version adopted in December dropped all references to nuclear weapons. For the moment!