A ranking U.S. official based in Okinawa made clear in 1967 that the United States did not need the island prefecture to defend Japan but rather for the security of Northeast Asia, according to Japanese diplomatic records declassified Tuesday.
The remark, made just before the government of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato launched full-fledged negotiations with the United States for Okinawa’s reversion, suggests the U.S. side was focused on Okinawa’s geopolitical importance.
That stands in contrast with the long-held position of the Japanese government, which has viewed U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa as a necessary deterrent for this country’s defense.
The line of thinking put forward by the U.S. official underlies Washington’s current strategy as the military proceeds to deploy the MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft at the Futenma base in Okinawa with possible confrontations with China and North Korea in mind.
The remark was made by minister-counselor James Martin, a political adviser to the high commissioner for Okinawa who wielded strong authority over the prefecture during U.S. military rule, in a meeting with Fumihiko Togo, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau, according to the top secret ministry document dated Jan. 22, 1967.
The U.S. diplomat went as far as to say he thought Okinawa could be returned completely at any time as long as the United States reserved the right to use bases there freely.
Martin also stressed that Okinawa might be returned as long as the United States did not need “prior consultation” with Japan to use bases there, a requirement stipulated for U.S. military emergencies under the bilateral security treaty.
In a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Alexis Johnson on July 19 in the same year, right after the two governments began reversion talks, Togo suggested it would be “difficult” to allow the U.S. military to use bases in Okinawa with complete freedom due to public opinion, according to the diplomatic records.
Johnson warned that the United States would withdraw from Okinawa if the use of bases was subject to “prior consultation” conditions applied to those in Honshu, according to the records.
In the end, Japan effectively allowed the United States, which was prosecuting the Vietnam War at the time, to use the bases in Okinawa freely. The agreement to return Okinawa to Japanese control in 1972 was signed in 1969.