U.S. pressured Japan on territorial waters to allow passage of nukes

U.S. pressure was behind Japan's decision in the 1970s to set narrow territorial sea limits in its five key straits so as to enable the passage of U.S. warships carrying nuclear weapons, U.S. archives showed Sunday.

The declassified U.S. documents suggests that the U.S. government, pressed by the military, requested Tokyo not to extend its territorial waters in the five straits, including Soya and Tsugaru, fearing this could hinder Washington's strategy for nuclear war.

The documents were found at the U.S. National Archives and Records by Shoji Niihara, a Japanese expert on the history of Japan-U.S. relations.

The documents show that the Japanese government, in a rare move, voluntarily chose to set narrow territorial sea limits in the five strategically important straits, even though it was legally entitled to extend its territorial waters further, apparently yielding to pressure from its most important ally.

Former vice foreign ministers told Kyodo News in June that the Japanese government set narrow territorial waters in its five key straits to avoid political issues arising from the passage of U.S. warships carrying nuclear weapons.

The government set its territorial waters along the Soya, Tsugaru, Osumi, Tsushima and Korea straits at 3 nautical miles (5.6 kilometers) from shore, instead of the maximum allowable limit of 12 nautical miles (22 km), citing the need to ensure free passage of vessels in the areas.

According to a 1972 document titled ''Commander in Chief Pacific Command History,'' the commander said five straits in Asia, including Soya and Tsugaru of Japan, are ''considered to be essential to U.S. interests.''

Inability to utilize these key straits ''could increase significantly the time required to introduce, reinforce, and support logistically U.S. Forces committed in the execution of contingency and other operation plans,'' the document said.

It also cited the adverse impact on U.S. submarine operations in support of its nuclear war scenario if the passage of nuclear-carrying vessels was restricted.

U.S. official telegrams in the 1970s also indicate that U.S. pressure was behind Japan's decision to narrow its territorial waters.

The U.S. State Department asked the U.S. Embassy in Japan in a letter to warn Tokyo that unilaterally restricting the passage of U.S. military vessels in the key straits could damage bilateral security by hindering the Navy's Seventh Fleet.

On Dec. 19, 1975, a top State Department official voiced grave concern to then Japanese Ambassador to the United States Takeshi Yasukawa and told him that unilateral action by Japan could complicate Japan-U.S. relations.

On Dec. 29 the same year, U.S. Ambassador to Japan James Hodgson conveyed to Japanese Foreign Minister Kiichi Miyazawa his opposition to the widening of Japan's territorial waters in the straits and Miyazawa told the envoy that Tokyo is considering allowing the passage of U.S. military vessels in some designated straits.

The Foreign Ministry formed a team last month to look into purported Japan-U.S. secret pacts on the instructions of Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada.

A total of four secret pacts are subject to investigation -- two related to the revision of the Japan-U.S. security treaty in 1960 and two related to the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty from U.S. control. Official U.S. documents and testimony from people involved in the issue have already confirmed their existence.

Under an alleged nuclear deal that the two countries agreed on when revising the Japan-U.S. security treaty in 1960, Tokyo would allow stopovers of U.S. military vessels or aircraft carrying nuclear weapons, though the treaty requires Washington to hold prior consultations with Tokyo before bringing nuclear weapons into Japan.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on Oct. 11, 2009)