Editorial: Probe into the Japan-U.S. secret pacts should serve as a step toward nuclear abolition

While the United States has admitted to its part in the "secret nuclear pacts" and has declassified related documents, the government of Japan has denied even the existence of these agreements.

The long-awaited opportunity has come, after a change in government, to shed light on a furtive episode that is tantamount to a deception of the public. The new administration has taken a commendable first step toward restoring trust in Japanese diplomacy.

An investigation panel, established by the Foreign Ministry and comprised of experts, has begun its probe of these agreements, including a secret pact that gave tacit approval for stopovers in Japan by U.S. military vessels carrying nuclear weapons. Tokyo University professor Shinichi Kitaoka, chair of the panel, stressed, "Confidential information is an inherent part of diplomacy. But continuing this fictitious scenario is no longer desirable."

The probe was initiated at the strong behest of Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. A team of six experts in the field of Japan-U.S. diplomatic history will confirm the facts of the allegations, taking into account the historical background, and compile its report by January of next year.

The objects of the investigations include: stopovers in Japan by U.S. vessels carrying nuclear weapons; combat operations in the event of a crisis on the Korean Peninsula; the costs involved in restoring the lands used by the U.S. military to their original condition after reversion of Okinawa to Japan; and nuclear weapons to be brought into Okinawa in the event of a crisis.

Among these secret agreements, it is believed the pact concerning the stopovers of U.S. vessels was concluded at the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960. The secret pact is alleged to include the provision that even if a vessel carrying nuclear weapons should make a stopover in Japan, this would not be considered the entry of nuclear weapons into the country and so prior consultation would not be required. It is believed that an in-house investigation has already uncovered related documents which confirm the existence of the secret deal.

A basic principle involving diplomatic documents stipulates that they be declassified after 30 years. But in many cases, upon the judgment of the Foreign Ministry, certain documents have been kept classified. As long as fundamental matters of national security have been kept concealed, the understanding and trust of the public will never be gained. Disclosing all information after a set period of time is vital in order to expose and confirm the facts of such matters.

Japan, the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack, has upheld as its national credo the nation's three non-nuclear principles of "not possessing, producing or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory." But against the backdrop of the nuclear threat posed by such nations as North Korea, the idea of vessels carrying nuclear weapons into Japan has been condoned, thus diluting the three non-nuclear principles to "the two and a half non-nuclear principles."  

The United States, however, withdrew its nuclear weapons from U.S. aircraft carriers and destroyers in the 1990s. Currently, U.S. nuclear weapons are carried only in the nuclear-powered submarines which can fire ballistic missiles. Therefore, no conditions now exist under which Japan should be bound by the secret nuclear pact. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has pledged his commitment to the three non-nuclear principles before the international community. Upholding these principles is indeed a matter of course.

It is high time for Japan to explore a national security framework that does not rely on the U.S. "nuclear umbrella" as well as pursue the denuclearization of Northeast Asia to advance the aim of eliminating all nuclear weapons. Confirming the facts of the secret agreements should be considered a first step toward this goal.

(Originally published on November 29, 2009)

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