Don’t waste good intentions

July 29, 2009

When I read former Vice Foreign Minister Ryohei Murata’s remarks in the newspaper, disclosing a secret agreement on port visits by U.S. ships carrying nuclear weapons, I was excited and hopeful that there would be new developments on this issue.

Although I have not contacted Murata, it is obvious that he sacrificed his own interest in making those remarks. Civil servants are legally obliged to maintain the secrecy of information they have obtained in the course of performing their duties and this rule applies even after retirement. Penalties of up to one year’s imprisonment can be imposed for violating this rule. It is evident that he chose to take the risk and tell the truth.

While such self-sacrifice is perhaps needed to change the government’s rigid position over the years, I am disappointed that nothing has happened since the remarks were made.

Certainly the government is taking a “safe” position to make sure that nobody gets hurt. If the secret agreement does not really exist, there is no secret to keep, so no one has the obligation to keep the information secret. Everything will vanish into oblivion once again. However, such oblivion takes place only on the part of Japan. This does not hold water at all in the international community because the whole affair is like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand to flee from a hunter.

When I met the late Dr. Edwin Reischauer (former U.S. ambassador to Japan), he referred to “Foreign Minister Ohira’s explicit promise” but was not exactly indignant but rather exasperated by the absurdity of the situation. Furthermore, the meeting between Reischauer and Ohira in April 1963 has been confirmed by U.S. diplomatic documents subsequently. What I am worried about is that if Japan continues to carry on like this, it will be unable to engage in strategic dialogue with the United States to reinforce the bilateral alliance.

In another article I wrote previously for this column, I mentioned that the Japan-U.S. strategic dialogue proposed by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage came to nothing while the U.S.-China strategic dialogue conducted under his successor Robert Zoellick was very successful. The U.S. side showed great enthusiasm for both dialogues. So the U.S. should not be blamed for the failure of the Japan-U.S. talks.

Many people say that China is now more important for the U.S., so Japan will be abandoned. Such worries are completely unnecessary under the present situation as far as the U.S. side is concerned. Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has said to the effect: “The best way to deal with China is to strengthen U.S. partnership with Japan as much as possible. That is the only option. Without such a foundation, nothing can be accomplished in Asia.”

Here, what I am worried about is that Japan, due to its incompetence in strategic dialogue, may not be in a position to respond to the U.S.’ good intentions.

In light of North Korea’s nuclear armament, there have been noisy discussions on the effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear umbrella — the so-called extended deterrence — for Japan. A discussion on nuclear strategy is inevitable between allies when they discuss military strategy. As a matter of fact, NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) regularly discusses nuclear strategy.

Needless to say, it is also desirable to have a similar venue for consultation and planning between Japan and the U.S. But how can common strategy be discussed when Japan continues to deny even something it once promised?

Whether Murata’s remarks constitute a violation of his confidentiality obligation may be a trivial matter to him, but I think this is not a violation. If this case is brought to court, the substance of the secret — whether it is indeed a matter that needs to be kept confidential — will be examined. Blowing the whistle on wrongdoings in the bureaucracy does not violate the confidentiality obligation. In this case, the secret agreement has already been disclosed in U.S. diplomatic documents, so unless there are very special or overriding reasons, it does not need to be kept confidential.

What I had hoped after the Murata remarks was that the government would stop its temporizing responses soon and revert to intellectual integrity.

With the subsequent advancement in military technology, the impact of this issue on reality has diminished. The issue here is intellectual integrity that forms the foundation of the relationship of trust between allies and strategic dialogue between them. If Japan engages in honest strategic dialogue now, the conclusion may well be that unless there is a major change in the situation, port calls by U.S. ships carrying nuclear weapons will be unnecessary.

I look forward to a change in the Liberal Democratic Party government’s position in the future.

In case a Democratic Party of Japan administration comes into being, I pray that it will break away from the inertia of the LDP era, acknowledge the existence of the international commitment between Ohira and Reischauer, and show its intellectual integrity in creating a new venue for Japan-U.S. strategic consultations.

Soon after the inauguration of Japan’s new administration, the mass media will probably try to press the government to reconfirm the positions it has upheld until now, including the interpretation of the three-point nonnuclear principle. I hope the DPJ will say without being bound by the preconceptions of the LDP era that it will make a comprehensive review of all the related matters as the need arises and avoid making any premature commitment. Unless it is able to do so, the two-party system will be meaningless; and if it is able to do so, the DPJ’s victory will have historical significance.

I hope that people of intellectual integrity liberated from past positions, regardless of whether they are rightist or leftist in ideology, will no longer say things like “Japan has the right to collective self-defense but is unable to exercise it.”