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President Reagan and Japanese Emperor Hirohito, November 9, 1983 - larger version

U.S.-Japan Relations

New Web Publication Documents Secret History of Recent U.S.-Japan Ties, 1977-1992

More Than 1,750 Former Secrets Obtained through the Freedom of Information Act Cover the Carter, Reagan, Bush I Administrations

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 175

For more information contact
Dr. Robert Wampler - wampler@gwu.edu

Posted - December 14, 2005


President Reagan with Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone, November 11, 1983 - larger version
Washington, D.C., December 14, 2005 - Secretary of State James Baker warned in 1991 that Japan's "bitter history" with the Koreas would "inhibit policy coordination," even though "Japan has important economic leverage on the North which the South will want to see used effectively" - according to a declassified cable posted today on the Web by the National Security Archive.

Marking the Web publication by ProQuest of the massive indexed reference collection on U.S.-Japan relations from 1977-1992 compiled by the National Security Archive, today's posting includes:

Comprising more than 1,750 documents and 8,000 pages obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, this publication is the most important collection of former secrets available on U.S. ties with Japan during the Carter, Reagan, and Bush I presidencies. During that critical period spanning the final phase of the Cold War, the United States struggled to develop a new global strategy -- one that included Washington's most important Asian ally more closely on central issues ranging from the Gulf War to nuclear issues to trade and finance policies. The publication, Japan and the United States: Diplomatic, Security, and Economic Relations, Part II: 1977-1992, complements the first collection in this series, which dealt with the period 1960-1976.

Also being published in the Digital Archive today is the Archive's second collection on the Vietnam War, a groundbreaking compilation based on the most recent declassifications of Nixon and Ford administration documents, with detailed coverage of the Paris Peace negotiations, the Vietnamization program, the war in Cambodia, the 1972 Christmas Bombing, and the fall of South Vietnam. Highlights of the new Vietnam collection include:

  • Kissinger-Thieu meeting transcripts, August 1972 (including discussions in which Kissinger tells Thieu the U.S. will stand aside while he invades North Vietnam)
  • Nixon-Thieu memoranda of conversation
  • Kissinger-Xuan Thuy transcript, Paris Aug. 4, 1969
  • Planning documents for Operation PRUNING KNIFE (DUCK HOOK) from 1969, contemplating massive bombings of North Vietnam
  • NSC meeting memoranda
  • Histories of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

The Digital National Security Archive offers some 500,000 pages of declassified U.S. government documents focusing on the most controversial subjects of U.S. foreign policy. University libraries and research institutes may subscribe by contacting ProQuest/Chadwyck-Healey, at www.proquest.com.

"Specialists in US national security policy, both scholars and journalists, will find the research collections of the Digital National Security Archive quite valuable. But anybody interested in revelations of government secrets and the prospects for future releases of official documents can use these sites with profit."
-- Chester Pach, Ohio University, in Journal of American History

The National Security Archive is pleased to announce the addition of Japan and the United States: Diplomatic, Security, and Economic Relations, Part II: 1977-1992, collected and edited by Dr. Robert A. Wampler, to the collection of major document collections available on the Digital National Security Archive. This is the most important compilation of formerly classified documents publicly available on relations between the United States and Japan during the Carter, Reagan and Bush I presidencies. This was the period when the Cold War drew to a close and U.S. policy-makers strove to develop a new global strategy. Incorporating the latest U.S. government releases, obtained largely through the Freedom of Information Act, this collection significantly enriches the historical record. White House, State Department, Pentagon, Commerce Department, CIA and other documents, virtually all of them previously classified, cover all the major issues from this critical period, including high-level diplomatic, military and economic relations. Topics covered in detail include summit meetings during all three presidential administrations, U.S. objectives in major trade negotiations on such items as automobiles and semiconductors, the Structural Dialogue talks on trade, U.S. efforts to guide Japanese defense policy, and the impact of the first Persian Gulf conflict on U.S.-Japan relations. The collection also incorporates new material from 1960-1976 released since the publication of Japan and the United States: Diplomatic, Security, and Economic Relations, 1960-1976.

President Carter with Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda, March 21, 1977 - larger version
Published here for the first time are previously classified documents dealing with the full range of major policy issues in U.S.-Japan relations, including such important items as the following:

Document 1. Memorandum of Conversation (S), between Vice President Mondale and Prime Minister Fukuda, February 1, 1977

This document recounts the first official meeting between the newly-inaugurated Carter administration and the Japanese government of Prime Minister Fukuda, as Vice President Mondale visited several key U.S. allies in East Asia soon after the inauguration. Wide ranging in scope, the conversation highlighted a number of issues that would put stress on U.S.-Japan relations in the coming years, in particular Carter's desire to scale down the U.S. troop presence in South Korea and Japan's fear this was the precursor to a major American withdrawal from Asia, relations with China and Taiwan, and U.S.-Japan trade issues.

Document 2. Memorandum of Conversation (S), between Defense Secretary Brown and Foreign Minister Sonoda November 9, 1978

Here again Korea and China are at the forefront of the issues discussed, as Brown and Sonoda discuss the uncertainties surrounding Beijing's intentions regarding Taiwan and how this issue complicated moves towards normalization of U.S.-China relations as well as those surrounding South Korea's future economic development

Document 3. Memorandum of Conversation (classification unknown), Treasury Secretary Regan, Japanese Finance Minister Watanabe, et al., c. January 22, 1981

This meeting, one of the first between the newly-elected Reagan administration and the Japanese government, reveals two issues that the U.S. would be pressing Japan to address: increased Japanese defense expenditures, and action to tackle the growing influx of Japanese automobiles in the U.S.

Document 4. Memorandum of Conversation (S), Secretary of State Haig, Foreign Minister Ito, et al., Subject: General Foreign Policy, Automobiles, Defense, North South, March 23, 1981

Another early encounter between the Reagan administration and the Japanese government, this time a meeting between Secretary of State Haig and two key Japanese officials, Foreign Minister Ito and Ambassador Okawara. Here again, a major topic of concern was the growing American domestic political pressures on the government to do something about the increasing number of Japanese automobile imports; much of the talk centered on how the two governments could best address this issue. Interestingly, both Haig and Ito agreed that Japanese imports were not the cause of the U.S. car industry's problems, but steps still needed to be taken that could be seen as actively attacking the problem.

Document 5. Memorandum (S), Secretary of Defense Weinberger to President Reagan, Subject: Japanese Defense Efforts, April 20, 1981

In this document, Defense Secretary Weinberger lays out for President Reagan the administration's line of argument for pressing on visiting Japanese Prime Minister Suzuki the U.S. goals for increased Japanese defense spending. Weinberger argues that the U.S. has failed in past efforts because, according to the Japanese, it never spelled out what specifically the U.S. wanted Japan to do. To begin this process of educating the Japanese, Weinberger provided Reagan with talking points for his upcoming meeting with Suzuki.

Document 6. Memorandum for the President (no classification), from USTR Brock, Subject: Japanese Trade Barriers, December 18, 1981

Here, U.S. Trade Representative William Brock provides the president with his office's analysis of Japanese trade barriers, their impact upon U.S. trade and the economy, and how the U.S. should begin to address this problem. Brock concluded there were two basic problems that needed to be solved: how to change fundamental Japanese structural and attitudinal approaches to trade, and overcoming Japanese resistance to any move toward increased imports that they see as endangering full employment and the development of knowledge-intensive industries.

Document 7. Memorandum (C), Thorne to Armacost, Subject: Growing Entanglement of U.S.-Japan Trade and Defense Issues, July 26, 1985

This memorandum underscores the way in which persistent U.S.-Japan trade conflicts were threatening to undermine continued cooperation on defense issues, in particular the U.S. push for increased Japanese defense spending. A common problem for both governments was growing problems with legislators, in Congress and the Diet, who were creating domestic political obstacles for Reagan and Prime Minister Nakasone over trade issues. For Nakasone, this was a particular problem, given his efforts to overturn the existing limits on Japanese defense spending.

Document 8. Briefing Memorandum (S), Assistant Secretary Sigur to Secretary of State Shultz, Subject: Your Meeting with Prime Minister Nakasone, 5:30 pm-6:00 p.m., Friday, March 6; c. March 6, 1987

This memorandum surveys the key issues surrounding the upcoming summit meeting between Reagan and Nakasone in April 1987. Among the key issues surveyed are the persistent trade friction and resulting protectionist mood in Congress, the slow pace of structural economic reform in Japan, and the potential risk that the planned Japanese fighter plane, the FSX, and agreements between the two nations on its development might link defense and trade in a damaging way (a prescient observation).

Document 9. Memorandum (S), from Secretary of State Shultz to the President, Subject: Visit of Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone, April 29-May 2, April 21, 1987

Here, Shultz provides Reagan with his bullet points on the key issues and objectives sought by each side during Reagan's meetings with Prime Minister Nakasone. Trade tensions continue to bedevil the relationship, as seen in U.S. disappointment over slow moves to open Japan to imports, Congress' frustrations and concerns over Japan's high-tech competitive challenge, and trade sanctions over alleged dumping of Japanese semiconductors in the U.S. market. Nakasone is still seen as America's key ally in seeking the desired political, security and economic objectives in Japan, so the meeting is intended to bolster the Prime Minister for his struggles with the Diet, while making clear the need for more effective actions by Japan to meet U.S. concerns if this vital relationship is to continue.

Document 10. Briefing Memorandum (S), Assistant Secretary Sigur to Secretary of State Shultz, Subject: Scope Paper - Prime Minister Takeshita's Visit, January 12-15, 1988; c. January 1988

This detailed memorandum prepared for Secretary of State Shultz's participation in meetings with visiting new Japanese Prime Minister Takeshita shows, as the Reagan administration neared its end, that the record of accomplishments with Japan remained mixed. While under former Prime Minister Nakasone Japan had been a strong backer of U.S. security objectives, the pace of desired change and reform in the economic and trade spheres had remained slow and unsteady. Structural reform of the Japanese economy still lagged, while trade issues continued to fester. The U.S. felt it held a strong hand, based on the assumption that Takeshita, as other prime ministers, needed to show he could successfully manage U.S.-Japan relations in order to secure his political future. The memorandum goes on to itemize the lengthy list of issues facing Reagan and Takeshita in their talks.

Document 11. Talking Points (S), The President's July 8th Meeting with Prime Minister Kaifu, c. July 8, 1990

These talking points outline the major issues surrounding President Bush and Prime Minister Kaifu's meeting prior to the G-7 meeting, so economic and financial subjects take prominence. Compared to earlier such memoranda, this one paints a relatively rosier picture of the state of U.S.-Japan economic and trade relations, based on the perceived success of the Structural Impediments Initiative that targeted areas for reform in each nation's economic and financial policies. Perhaps basking in the positive glow of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe, the hope is expressed that the two countries can build on these steps to work in partnership on a range of global economic issues, as well as on issues of joint concern, such as promoting political and economic reform in China. A new issue that appears on the agenda that will explode in importance a decade later is tackling terrorism

Document 12. Cable (S), Ambassador Armacost to Department of State, Subject: GOJ Contributions and Gulf Crisis, January 16, 1991

A half year after Bush and Kaifu met to discuss possible new avenues for global cooperation in the post-Cold War era, the U.S.-Japan relationship finds itself once more defined in terms of defense and security issues in the wake of the first Gulf Crisis with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. This cable reports on U.S. Ambassador Armacost's talks with the Japanese government about securing a significant contribution from Japan towards meeting the Gulf Crisis, with Armacost expressing the hope that Japan would find a way to share both the risks as well as the financial costs. Securing either would prove to be a challenging problem.

Document 13. Cable (S), Ambassador Armacost to Department of State, Subject: The Gulf War: Impact on Japan and U.S.-Japan Relations, March 14, 1991

In this cable Ambassador Armacost provides his sober assessment of Japan's response to the challenges posed by the first Gulf Crisis. Stressing Japan's essentially "passive" approach to the Gulf War, the debate over Japan's post-Cold War role in the world, and the still unanswered question of whether Japan's political and bureaucratic system can handle new challenges, Armacost rates Japan's response as "not unsuccessful by the standards of Japan's foreign policy of the last forty five years" - not exactly a ringing endorsement. He feels the crisis did serve to highlight the obstacles to a mature Japanese foreign policy, as well as the inadequacy of limiting Japan's role to sending money without taking on the risks and responsibilities associated with being a great power.

Document 14. Cable (S), Secretary of State Baker to Department of Defense, Subject: Dealing with the North Korean Nuclear Problem: Impressions from My Asia Trip, November 18, 1991

This cable provides Secretary of State Baker's views on the positions being taken in Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo on dealing with the problem of the DPRK nuclear program. It is marked by a clear sense of the interplay of different perspectives and concerns motivating the three governments. The delicate nature of this diplomatic maneuvering was made clear in Baker's report that South Korean President Roh's national security advisor had spelled out that Koreans did not want Japan or Russia involved in the politics of the Korean peninsula. The South Koreans acknowledged that Japan had important economic leverage on the North that should be used effectively in bringing Pyongyang to the bargaining table, but Baker noted that the South Koreans' "own bitter history with the Japanese will inhibit policy coordination." Tokyo's position, for its part, seems to Baker to be hardening and moving closer to the U.S. with regard to the commitments Pyongyang had to make before normalization of relations and economic aid could be provided to North Korea.

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