Editorial: Earn the public’s trust by shedding light on secret pacts

Long lingering suspicions by the public concerning alleged secret pacts between Japan and the United States will at last be addressed. This development marks a positive turn of events as a result of the change in government.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has ordered Mitoji Yabunaka, the vice minister of Foreign Affairs, to investigate the alleged secret agreements regarding the entry of nuclear weapons into Japanese territory and Okinawa’s reversion to Japan. In line with this “ministerial order,” a report on this investigation must be issued by the end of November.

Although the former Liberal Democratic Party administration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have consistently denied the existence of such pacts, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has stated that the truth should be made clear to the public. Mr. Yabunaka has expressed his willingness to fulfill the order, saying the investigation “should be properly carried out in accordance with the new foreign minister’s instructions.” The new administration’s prompt action should be commended.

The following four pacts are the objects of investigation: an agreement allowing U.S. military aircraft or vessels carrying nuclear weapons to make stopovers in Japan under the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960; an agreement concerning combat operations in case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula; an agreement allowing U.S. military forces to bring nuclear weapons into Okinawa after it was returned to Japan in 1972; and an agreement specifying that the Japanese government shoulder the costs involved in restoring the lands used by the U.S. military to their original conditions.

Under the revised Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, the United States must hold prior consultation with Japan when U.S. military forces seek to bring nuclear weapons into Japanese territory. However, “secret minutes” are said to have been exchanged which provide for Japan's tacit approval of stopovers by military vessels or aircraft carrying nuclear weapons.

The existence of this secret agreement has been disclosed by U.S. official documents. Former Vice Foreign Minister Ryohei Murata testified in June of this year that he took over the documents of the secret deal which enables the United States to make such stopovers in Japan of military aircraft or vessels carrying nuclear weapons without prior consultation and approval.

Bunroku Yoshino, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s American Affairs Bureau, testified to the existence of the secret deal in which Japan agreed to shoulder some $4 million in expenses to restore land used for U.S. military bases to their original conditions. A former reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun was convicted of violating the National Public Service Act for obtaining a copy of the ministry’s highly-confidential official telegram when covering the matter.

A team from the ministry will soon be created to launch the investigation. It is believed that more than 3,200 files of diplomatic documents need to be carefully examined. A committee of outside experts will be formed and interviews with former ministry officials and an investigation in the United States will also be conducted. Based on a serious review of past claims regarding this issue, vigorous efforts should be made for full disclosure of the truth.

Although confidential information is an inherent part of diplomacy, the understanding and trust of the public must not be ignored. It is essential that information be disclosed after a certain period of time for the public to examine.

While visiting Japan, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell expressed his view that the secret treaty for bringing in nuclear weapons is a “historical fact.” The United States has clear rules for the disclosure of diplomatic documents. Foreign Minister Okada has stated that the current Japanese system, in which decisions are made by the ministry, should be reviewed and a new system for information disclosure should be established.

Those secret agreements were made against the backdrop of nuclear weapons buildup by the former Soviet Union. But the Cold War has long since ended and tactical nuclear weapons are being removed from U.S. military vessels. It now makes little sense to continue denying the existence of the secret pacts.

Current international opinion is trending toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. It is now time to pass legislation to uphold the nation's three non-nuclear principles. At the same time, we must be wary of any movement that attempts to take advantage of the existence of the secret agreements and eliminate the principle of not permitting nuclear weapons to enter the country.

(Originally published on September 22, 2009)

Related articles
Okada orders thorough investigation over Japan-U.S. secret pacts (Sept. 18, 2009)
DPJ to form team to investigate purported secret Japan-U.S. pact (Sept. 14, 2009)