A Response to Roberts and Payne

, China project manager and senior analyst | May 18, 2018, 5:52 pm EST
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A recent letter by Bradley Roberts and Keith Payne responds to a Japanese press account of a blog post that discussed Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba’s 25 February 2009 presentation to a US congressional commission on US nuclear weapons policy. Reports of Mr. Akiba’s presentation created some controversy in the Japanese Diet, since he may have made statements that contradict the spirit, if not the letter, of a long-standing Diet resolution. That resolution, adopted decades ago and reaffirmed many times since, prohibits any transportation of US nuclear weapons into Japanese territory.

The 1969 US-Japan agreement granting the United States “standby retention and activation” of nuclear weapons storage sites on US military bases in Okinawa.

Roberts and Payne mistakenly claim the document on which the post was based does not exist, despite the fact that it was published on the website of a non-governmental Japanese arms control expert more than a month before their letter appeared in the Japan Times.

The document exists.

Roberts and Payne also claimed that because the Japanese participants were “off-the-record” no records were kept. This too is incorrect. There may be no transcript of Mr. Akiba’s presentation, but an April 10 reply by the cabinet to questions from Rep. Seiji Osaka confirmed that the Foreign Ministry kept records on the proceedings of the US commission where representatives of the ministry were present. The same reply was repeated in a document issued on April 13 by the Security Treaty Division of the North American Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) also archived documents that describe the discussions between the commissioners and the Japanese officials.

Records were kept.

Meetings are often held “off the record” to allow public officials to express their personal opinions. Rep. Osaka asked the Abe government whether the Foreign Ministry officials who participated in the proceedings of the US commission were acting in a personal or an official capacity. The April 10 reply by the cabinet confirmed that all of the Japanese officials who participated in the proceedings were acting in an official capacity under the direction of Foreign Minister Nakasone.

The three-page document Akiba presented to the US commission is therefore an official record of the Japanese government’s views on the role of US nuclear weapons in the defense of Japan. So are any oral statements Akiba and the other Japanese officials gave to the commission.

Some of those oral statements were recorded in hand-written notes on the margins of the document. Those notes contain an abbreviated rendition of a conversation between Akiba and James Schlesinger in which the Japanese minister gives a favorable response to Schlesinger’s question about building nuclear weapons storage facilities in Okinawa. Roberts and Payne recall the conversation. They note that Akiba “clearly set out the three non-nuclear principles,” which the Japanese official does in the hand-written notes on his conversation with Schlesinger. Yet Roberts and Payne neglected to mention Mr. Akiba also said that “some quarters talk about revising the third principle,” which would be necessary if the United States were to bring nuclear weapons into Japan or prepare to store them in Okinawa.

The language in the hand-written notes makes it difficult to assess whether Mr. Akiba is among those who want to revise the third principle. But his favorable response to Schlesinger’s proposal to construct nuclear weapons storage sites in Okinawa deserves more careful scrutiny.

Notes are often incomplete and sometimes inaccurate. Memories, especially of a conversation that took place nine years ago, can be faulty. One way to help clarify this matter is for the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) to release the Foreign Ministry from its promise of confidentiality and encourage the ministry to respond to Diet requests for access to its records. USIP should also grant the Diet access to all materials on the proceedings of the commission it may hold in its archives. Greater transparency, from both sides, is the best way to set the record straight.

Posted in: Japan, Nuclear Weapons

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