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From the secret "Korean Minute" to the open "Korea Clause": the United States and Japan and the security of the Republic of Korea.

Throughout the postwar and Cold War eras, the security issues concerning the Republic of Korea (ROK) have figured prominently in US geostrategic thinking. In particular, the US base structure in Japan was tailored to provide logistical support for US military operations in the event of a Korean crisis ("Interview with Walter L. Sharp" 2011). The US military's role was underwritten by both tacit and formal agreements with Japan. This article explores the correlation between the "open" and "secret" agreements on the security of the ROK in the US-Japan alliance.

The so-called Kishi Minute (or Korean Minute) of 1960, recently declassified by the Japanese government, is a typical secret agreement showing the US-Japan-ROK military connection. According to this document, at the first meeting of the Security Consultative Committee on January 6, 1960, Douglas MacArthur II, the US ambassador to Japan and a nephew of General Douglas MacArthur, asked about Japanese views regarding the operational use of bases in Japan in the event of an emergency on the Korean peninsula. Japanese foreign minister Fujiyama Aiichiro answered as follows:
   I have been authorized by Prime Minister Kishi to state that it is
   the view of the Japanese government that, as an exceptional measure
   in the event of an emergency resulting from an attack against the
   United Nations forces in Korea, facilities and areas in Japan may
   be used for such military combat operations as need be undertaken
   immediately by the United States armed forces in Japan under the
   Unified Command of the United Nations. (1)

This secret treaty (2) actually gave the United States a free hand to use its forces and bases in Japan in case of a Korean crisis. Of course, the treaty was a special exemption to the system of prior consultation that was prescribed in the "Exchanged Notes Concerning the Implementation of Article 6" of the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States. On this point, the Japanese Foreign Ministry Expert Panel on the so-called mitsuyaku (secret treaty) between Tokyo and Washington gave a definition of the Korean Minute as "a narrowly defined secret treaty" in its report, on the grounds that the minute was a definitive document. (3)

However, in a joint US-Japan communique of November 1969, Japanese prime minister Sato Eisaku stated that the security of the ROK was "essential to Japan's own security." The so-called Korea Clause was the first public acknowledgment by Japan of an inseparable security relationship between Japan and South Korea. In a later speech, Sato also noted that Japan would "positively and promptly" respond to prior consultation with the United States for the use of the US bases in Japan in the event of emergencies on the Korean peninsula (Sato 1970, 32-38). Although presupposing prior consultation, Sato in fact openly reconfirmed the core content of the aforementioned secret Korean Minute (Murata 1998, 11).

In short, the Korean Minute of 1960 is the hidden side, while the Korea Clause of 1969 is the open side of the US-Japan agreements concerning deployment of US forces on the Korean peninsula. If so, we are faced with several important historical and conceptual questions. Why did the United States and Japan exchange dual agreements, secret and open, at intervals? What commonalities or contradictions existed between the two agreements? What happened to the Korean Minute after it was unilaterally declassified by Japan?

The US-Japan-ROK Security Complex

The Japan-ROK axis is one of the most complex, critical, and yet understudied elements of the US-Japan-ROK security triangle. While much attention has focused on the Korea Clause as an important factor for explaining Japan-ROK security relations, the secret Korean Minute has loomed as a new explanatory variable. This article introduces a different perspective to the conventional wisdom. First, despite some disagreement, most scholars concede that the Korea Clause has a symbolic significance in revealing the Japan-ROK security relationship (Lee Chong-Sik 1985, chap. 4; Mendl 1995, 64, 72; Oberdorfer and Izumi 1997; Iokibe 2010, 140, 155). However, I argue that the Korea Clause was merely political rhetoric unilaterally announced by Japan for the purpose of neutralizing the written "Korean Minute." Japan had tried to nullify the Korean Minute as an unequal treaty by politicizing it. This assessment derives from the historical analysis of newly declassified materials as well as specific policies enacted by Tokyo and Washington. Second, the Korean Minute and Korea Clause were not simple bilateral agreements but were part of a legally coordinated system in which the authority of the United Nations and US strategic thinking were deeply interposed. In particular, the validity of the two agreements is closely connected with the United Nations Command (UNC). Therefore, I begin with a discussion of the UN-related US-Japan-ROK security triangle and then explore the historical correlation between the open and secret agreements.

Meanwhile, South Korea has considered the above two agreements very important inasmuch as their contents directly affect the security of the ROK for preparing for emergencies, such as an invasion from North Korea. The agreements' importance is apparent in two ways--first, because the agreements prescribe the immediate enhanced deployment of US forces in Japan to the Korean peninsula, and second, because they provide for Japan's rear-guard support (especially logistically) of the US forces. Accordingly, the two agreements exactly meet the ROK's security requirements and also prove the legal reality of the US-Japan-ROK security regime.

The Legal Structure of the US-Japan-ROK Security Triangle

The Korean Minute specified that US forces in Japan "under the Unified Command of the United Nations" could be dispatched immediately in the event of a Korean crisis. This legal limit suggests that the US-Japan alliance concerning the security of the ROK is closely related to the UNC system. Actually, the United States and Japan have built a bilateral legal foundation for intervening in Korean security issues by utilizing UN authority.

As is well known, the United States justified military intervention in the Korean War on the basis of several UN Security Council resolutions, especially S/1511 and S/1588. Following these resolutions, General MacArthur, the commander of the US Far East Command who was appointed commander of the UN forces, dispatched the US 8th Army stationed in Japan in July 1950. US forces then carried out operations on the Korean peninsula under the status of the UN forces. Naturally, the role of Japan as a rear base for supporting the UN forces was magnified.

As the Korean War was in full swing, the security treaty between the United States and Japan signed on September 8, 1951, became the definitive document to prove that US policy in Northeast Asia was based on UN authority. The treaty dictated that Japan grant the United States territory to establish a military presence in the Far East (Article 1). The preamble situated this grant in the UN Charter, which recognizes that all nations possess the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense. Moreover, the treaty stated that during the exercise of its self-defense, Japan was prohibited, without the prior consent of the United States, from providing any bases or military-related rights to a third power (Article 2) (Kajima Institute of International Peace 1983, 444-445). In other words, Japan was firmly positioned as the logistical and launching point of the US forces under UN authority.

At the time of the signing of the security treaty, the United States and Japan also exchanged diplomatic notes regarding Japan's cooperation with the UNC's military operations on the Korean peninsula. According to the so-called Exchanged Notes Between Yoshida and Acheson, US secretary of state Dean Acheson demanded that Japan give "every assistance" to "any" UN military action in the Far East, emphasizing Article 2 of the UN Charter, which requires "every assistance in any action" of the United Nations (Kajima Institute of International Peace 1983, 446-448). Japanese prime minister Yoshida Shigeru accepted Acheson's request by acknowledging the receipt of this note. Recalling that at that time the US Far East Command controlled the UNC, and that US forces made up the main elements of the UNC, Japan was required to support the US forces in Japan and in Korea.

This situation begs the question: why did the United States call for Japan's additional commitment to support the UNC's military action despite having already obtained basing rights in Japan through the bilateral security treaty? Above all, the answer is that the additional commitment was in order to strengthen the justification for the use of US forces and bases in Japan. In a word, the United States was given a free hand by virtue of being able to act under UN authority. Its forces in Japan could now, with the Yoshida-Acheson notes, be considered to have the status of UN forces as well. That would enable the US forces to utilize their basing rights in Japan more openly and directly and could guarantee more firmly Japan's commitment to rear assistance to the US forces.

This note was succeeded by the Exchanged Notes, Regarding Exchanged Notes Between Yoshida and Acheson, signed between Japanese prime minister Kishi Nobusuke and US secretary of state ChristianA. Herter on January 19,1960, when the US-Japan Security Treaty was revised (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 1960, 242243). There was no further discussion of this commitment, and Japan has never denied the validity of the notes, thus revealing the continued Japanese obligation to the rear support of the US/UN forces.

However, because the Exchanged Notes Between Yoshida and Acheson only covered the US forces, legal limits existed on the use of bases in Japan by the armies of third states participating in the UNC. The United States wanted to maintain the UNC system even after the Korean War. Accordingly, on February 19, 1954, after the signing of the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War on July 27, 1953, the Agreement Regarding the Status of the United Nations Forces in Japan (abbreviated as UN SOFA) was concluded between Japan and "the governments of States sending forces to Korea pursuant to the UN Resolutions": the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the Philippines, France, and Italy. These states were also entitled to unlimited use of seven military bases in Japan under UN SOFA: Camp Zama, Yokota Air Base, Yokosuka Naval Base, Sasebo Naval Base, Kadena Air Base, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, and White Beach Naval Base (Kajima Institute of International Peace 1983, 614-626).

As a natural consequence, UN SOFA is closely correlated with the Exchanged Notes Between Yoshida and Acheson in terms of its validity period. Exchanged Notes, Regarding Exchanged Notes Between Yoshida and Acheson provides in section 1 that the initial Yoshida-Acheson notes "will continue to be in force so long as UN SOFA remains in force." In conjunction with this clause, UN SOFA states that the agreement itself "shall terminate on the date by which all the UN forces shall be withdrawn from Japan" (Article 25), on the assumption that "All the UN forces shall be withdrawn from Japan within 90 days after the date by which all the UN forces shall have been withdrawn from Korea" (Article 24). In short, if the UN forces withdrew from the ROK and Japan, UN SOFA and the Exchanged Notes Between Yoshida and Acheson would be invalidated. In the same context, the US forces would also be deprived of their qualification as UN forces, while Japan would be exempt from the responsibility of "every assistance" to "any" UN forces' military action on the Korean peninsula.

Consequently, the UNC has substantial importance for US military interests, especially for guaranteeing a free hand for the US forces and bases in Japan. Therefore, the United States made great efforts to maintain the legal functioning of the UNC, despite the fact that the forces of all the other countries under the UNC withdrew from the ROK after the end of the Korean War. For example, the United States required the departing militaries to retain at least a liaison officer in the UNC. (4) Moreover, in July 1957, when the UNC in Japan moved to Seoul, the United States installed a UNC Rear in Japan expressly to prevent any perception that UN authority there no longer existed. UNC Rear continues to function to the present day as a legal symbol of the presence of the United Nations in Japan, despite the fact that its role is limited to communication among the UNC members. (5)

Revision of the US-Japan Security Treaty and Conclusion of the Korean Minute

Japan's Efforts to Rewrite the Security Treaty

Part of the understanding that lay behind the earlier US-Japan Security Treaty of 1951 was that Japan would gain access to the US market in exchange for maintaining the US bases in Japan. However, many Japanese believed that the treaty did not treat Japan as an equal sovereign state. In fact, under the treaty, the United States could use the bases in Japan freely on the pretext of "the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East" and could even intervene in "large-scale internal riots and disturbances in Japan." Accordingly, following the accession to power by Hatoyama Ichiro, who had severely criticized the Yoshida Doctrine of a lightly armed Japan as being too US-oriented, Japan's top diplomatic goal was to amend the treaty (Kono 2010).

The first attempt to rewrite the security treaty was made in August 1955 by Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru. In a personal letter to US secretary of state John F. Dulles, Shigemitsu proposed a mutual defense treaty, which would have eradicated the perceived inequality and led to demands for the withdrawal of US forces in Japan. Dulles reacted bluntly that Japan had neither the capacity nor the power to conclude a mutual defense treaty. Thus, the first Japanese attempt did not produce any tangible result (Togo 2005, 56).

Nevertheless, the focus of political relations between the United States and Japan gradually shifted to revising the security treaty. There were three reasons for this development. First, in November 1955 the Japanese internal political scene underwent an important power shift. The two most influential conservative parties, the Liberal Party--to which Yoshida belonged--and the Japan Democratic Party--to which Hatoyama and Shigemitsu belonged--merged into a single conservative party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which came to be called the Coalition of Conservatives. Domestic political stability then gave rise to more diplomatic power. Second, Japan by then had resumed diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1956 and joined the United Nations in the same year. Japan's international status no longer warranted an "unequal" security treaty. Third, the anti-bases movement took serious shape from 1956 onward. In particular, the 1957 "Girard Incident," in which a US soldier shot a Japanese farmer woman, fueled anger toward the US military presence.

Reflecting this change of situation, especially Japan's reemergence as a respected member of the international community, Kishi, who succeeded Hatoyama as prime minister in February 1957, showed sensitivity and motivation toward the creation of a more equal security treaty. He visited Washington in June and proposed that Japan and the United States should enter into a "new era of relations," by which, of course, he meant revision of the security treaty. This time the United States welcomed the Japanese approach, and a basic agreement to prepare a revision of the treaty was concluded between Kishi and President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Eisenhower 2005, 113-116).

The New Treaty Emerges, Fitfully

The negotiations proceeded rapidly, and by the end of 1958 the basic structure of the revised treaty had taken shape. The new Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, as it was renamed, amended practically all the aforementioned critical issues. The exception was Article 6, which granted the United States the use of bases in Japan for the purpose of the security of Japan and the Far East.

What the Japanese government demanded in applying Article 6 was none other than the prior consultation formula. Japan looked upon the system of prior consultation as "a minimum requirement" to ensure its dignity as a sovereign state (Sakamoto 2000, chap. 5). (6)

While acknowledging the necessity of providing bases for its own security, Japan wanted to recover a little reciprocity in the treaty by exercising some right of control or at least consultation over the activity of the US forces. On the other hand, Kishi said that Japan's goal in the revision negotiations was "at least to avoid increasing the risk of being drawn into war." (7) In short, Japan wanted to minimize its "entrapment fears" in the alliance by introducing prior consultation (Snyder 1997, 446-447; Cha 1999, 36-58).

The initial US response to the prior consultation idea was surprisingly positive. The first draft presented by Douglas MacArthur II, the US ambassador to Japan, on October 4, 1958, stated as follows: "The deployment of the US forces and their equipment to bases in Japan, and the operational use of these bases in an emergency would be a matter for joint consultation ... in the light of circumstances prevailing at the time." (8) Notwithstanding this conditionality, along with US rejection of Japan's proposal for the signing of a related protocol on the grounds that congressional ratification would be problematic, (9) the United States did not object to the notion of prior consultation itself.

Eventually, the new security treaty was supplemented by Exchanged Notes Concerning the Implementation of Article 6, which stated that "the use of facilities and areas in Japan as bases for military combat operations ... shall be the subject of prior consultation." Application of this proviso would have constrained the military dispatch of US forces in Japan, since consultations with the Japanese government might have led to breakdown or objections. Naturally, the US military authorities raised concerns over this constraint from the beginning of the negotiations on the treaty revision. For example, John M. Steeves, then political adviser to the commander in chief of the Pacific Command, wrote on July 18, 1958, to Walter S. Robertson, the assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, as follows:

Most important for the military ... is the question of the area within which we would be permitted to operate from Japanese bases. Obviously, any restriction against the use of Japanese bases for "hot" defense of Korea ... would change our entire strategic defensive position in Asia and would place severe limitations on the value of Japanese bases. (Department of State 1994, 40-19)

In view of the military's anxiety about the reversion of the treaty, the US State Department additionally demanded that Japan sign the Exchanged Notes, Regarding the Exchanged Notes Between Yoshida and Acheson and the Korean Minute. This raises the question why the United States wanted to make two separate agreements. According to Ambassador MacArthur, the former was to reaffirm the Japanese obligation to support the UN forces in Korea, whereas the latter was to enable immediate sorties of the UN forces in Japan without prior consultation in times of a Korean crisis. Therefore, each belonged to a completely different category. (10) In essence, the United States wanted to maintain all the autonomy that it had enjoyed until then and demanded Japan's "every support" to US military operations on the Korean peninsula.

The Limits of Prior Consultation

Recently declassified materials by the Japanese government show that Japan strongly resisted the US request on separate agreements up to the point of avoiding any need to rewrite the treaty itself. Regarding the issues related to the reconfirmation of Exchanged Notes Between Yoshida and Acheson, Japan originally argued that this agreement should be terminated because the main treaty would be revised. (11) When this attempt was thwarted by the hard-line stance of the United States, HujiyamaAiichiro, Japan's foreign minister, attempted to limit the scope of "every assistance" for "any" UN military action in Korea to "supplying activities." (12) The United States did not make any substantial concessions, however, except to clarify that the range of activity of UN forces that Japan would support would be "an emergency resulting from an attack against the UN forces in Korea." (13)

More difficult was the case of the Korean Minute. From the beginning, Japan had strongly opposed the conclusion of the secret treaty itself. (14) Japan complained especially that the Korean Minute could directly clash with the open Exchange of Notes Concerning the Implementation of Article 6, which prescribed the full application of prior consultation. Declassified US documents also indicate that Japan accepted this secret treaty, "albeit reluctantly." (15) Finally, the Korean Minute was established exactly as the United States demanded, other than that the expression "facilities and areas in Japan may be used" was adopted as a euphemism for Japan's acquiescence (Japanese Foreign Ministry Expert Panel 2010, 53; emphasis added).

Meanwhile, the United States also maximized its utilization of the United Nations at this time. For example, Ambassador MacArthur emphasized repeatedly in meetings with Kishi that the agreements would be in accord with Japan's obligations to the United Nations. (16) In short, the United States could maintain a free hand in Japan by exerting the authority of the United Nations, which could not be easily ensured under the bilateral security treaty.

On June 11, 1960, after the signing of the new treaty, the Eisenhower administration set the guideline for prior consultation in National Security Council (NSC) paper 6008/1. Paragraph 41 reads in part:

b. Consult with the Japanese Government prior to (1) major changes in the deployment into Japan of US armed forces, (2) the introduction into Japan of nuclear weapons and intermediate and long-range missiles, and (3) the launching of US military combat operations from bases in Japan against areas outside Japan when Japan is not a party to the conflict, other than those operations outlined in subparagraph c below.

c. In the event of an emergency resulting from an attack against the UN Forces in Korea, use the facilities and areas in Japan for such military combat operations as need be undertaken immediately by the US armed forces in Japan under the unified command of the UN as the response to such an armed attack in order to enable the UN Forces in Korea to repel an armed attack made in violation of the Korean Armistice. (Hosoya et al. 1999, 515; emphasis added)

The Korea Clause of 1969: A Case of Political Rhetoric

But the new security treaty introduced another crucial problem. For instance, the careful wording of Article 5, which obliged the United States to react to "an armed attack against Japan in the territories under the administration of Japan," excluded Okinawa. The prior-consultation formula in the treaty therefore could not be applied in Okinawa. However, after Sato Eisaku, younger brother to Kishi, became prime minister in November 1964 and made reversion of Okinawa to Japan a cabinet priority, the problem of prior consultation reemerged as a critical issue in the US-Japan alliance.

As is well known, in the Okinawa reversion negotiations, Japan set a goal of accomplishing Kakunuki (nonnuclear weapons) and Hondonami (at least mainland level). The core issue of Hondonami was the problem of prior consultation. Under its basic position that "Japan, as a sovereign state, should exercise her right to speak about the US forces' military operations," Japan claimed the full application of the prior-consultation formula to Okinawa. (17) As an extension of this purpose, Japan attempted to neutralize the secret Korean Minute of 1960, suggesting that it be replaced with a political commitment. In other words, Japan intended to paralyze the legal effect of the Korean Minute by revealing it. Japanese foreign minister Aichi Kiichi presented a position paper containing such a proposal on July 17, 1969, and promised the US side that Japan would guarantee de facto exemption of prior consultation through Prime Minister Sato's statements. However, Armin Meyer, then ambassador to Japan, immediately rejected this proposal on the grounds that the United States could not accept anything below the level of the Korean Minute. (18)

By placing high value on the Japanese suggestion, the United States could not cast away doubts about Japan's real intention. This can be seen in the reaction of the Department of State to the draft communique presented by Japan before the US-Japan summit of November 1969:

b. The draft communique states Japan's basic recognition that an armed attack against Korea would seriously affect the security of Japan. What is meant by saying that "such recognition would form the basis on which the Government of Japan would determine its position vis-a-vis prior consultation"? We require assurance that in event of an armed attack on S. Korea, prior consultation would be waived or be a mere formality.

c. What is the relationship between the communique language and the 1960 Korean Minute? We consider this Minute important and of binding legal effect, and would not want to give it up without satisfactory substitute. (19)

In this context, the United States rejected having to give any clear commitment to the termination of the Korean Minute. US policymakers had unshakable faith that unrestricted use of bases in Okinawa was

indispensable for implementing US military strategy in East Asia, especially for assuring the security of the ROK. National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM) 13 of May 28, 1969, required "maximum free conventional use of the military bases, particularly with respect to Korea" as a minimum goal in the Okinawa reversion talks with Japan. (20) In fact, U. Alexis Johnson, then undersecretary of state for political affairs, stated this goal more plainly: "Our position in our facilities and bases in Japan, as well as in Okinawa, is not so much related directly to the defense of Japan and Okinawa, but rather to our ability to support our commitments elsewhere ... in Korea." (21)

Interestingly, despite the failure to neutralize the Korean Minute, the original Japanese plan to rely on Sato's statements was nevertheless activated. This is none other than the Korea Clause, quoted in the introduction of this article.

Previous research has generally emphasized that the Korea Clause was the price that Japan had to pay for the reversion of Okinawa, and that it was also an essential element for the United States to return Okinawato Japan (Kamiya 1989, 136-137; Kamiya 2000, 242). However, the following three facts are worthy of notice. First, as it related to the process of Okinawa reversion negotiations between the United States and Japan, the Korea Clause was merely a statement pronounced voluntarily by Japan for the purpose of neutralizing the Korean Minute. Second, the United States was remarkably well informed of Japanese intentions and did not accede to the termination of the Korean Minute. Third, the most important fact is that the Korea Clause was merely political rhetoric, different from the Korean Minute, which was a codified legal agreement.

Between the Open and Secret Agreements

The Troubling Korea Clause

The wide discrepancies between the Japanese and US attitudes toward the two open and secret agreements continued after the reversion of Okinawa. First, the Korea Clause as political rhetoric stirred trouble in Japanese political circles. Even Matsumoto Shunichi, former vice minister of foreign affairs, thought the Korea Clause went too far. He said that "[i]f a threat to the security of Korea means that to the security of Japan, then, logically speaking, the Self-Defense Force should be dispatched" to the Korean peninsula (Lee and Sato 1982, 41). Logical or not, the Japanese public considered it psychologically difficult to admit the existence of a security connection between Japan and the ROK.

Second, the Japanese attitude toward the Korea Clause remained very volatile afterward. For instance, Sato himself in effect renounced the Korea Clause after the summit with President Richard M. Nixon in February 1972, saying, "I don't think the expression at that time [November 1969] is necessarily responsive to the current situation ... because the joint statement is not the treaty." Furthermore, he reinterpreted the expression of "positively and promptly," arguing that "there can be 'Yes' or 'No' in the result of prior consultations. We'll decide that in light of our national interests." (22) Japanese negation of the Korea Clause as such was conspicuous in the detente era of the early 1970s.

However, following the fall of South Vietnam, Japan returned to its original political rhetoric. In early August 1975, Prime Minister Miki Takeo reaffirmed the essence of the Korea Clause. During a visit to Washington, Miki stated in a joint communique with US president Gerald Ford that the peace and security of the ROK were essential to the peace and security of East Asia, including Japan. The statement became known as the New Korea Clause (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 1976, 93-96). (23) On the other hand, the US government still regarded the Korean Minute as an essential part of its own military strategy, especially for the security of the ROK, while acknowledging the importance of the Korea Clause itself as a unilateral Japanese political commitment.

Covering for the Loss of the UNC Rationale

However, the changing strategic environment in the early 1970s obliged the US government to prepare a countermeasure to cover the prospect of a "without the UNC" situation. Under the influence of detente, the possibility of dissolving the UNC was explored among the states involved. The US-China rapprochement in particular required the eradication of the UN's authority as a remnant of the Korean War, since the United Nations had labeled China the "belligerent party," and the US forces fought with China under the UN flag.

As mentioned above, the UNC was the key organization that enabled the US forces to make sorties from bases in Japan to the Korean peninsula without prior consultation, and that guaranteed the Japanese commitment to providing rear-area assistance to UN forces in Korea. In the US view, therefore, operating "without the UNC" was a condition that had to be avoided as much as possible. Nevertheless, the United States had to provide for that situation to advance detente, especially for achieving a strategic relationship with China. (24) While assuming the dissolution of the UNC, Nixon ordered the following negotiation guideline with Japan through NSDM-251:

(a) seek an explicit agreement from the Japanese Government which would extend the secret 1961 Kishi Minute to the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty following termination of the UNC, but (b) not seek any extension in Japan of third country basing rights under the UN Status of Forces Agreement following termination of the UNC. (25)

In the event of dissolution of the UNC, one could logically conclude that the Korean Minute, as well as the UN SOFA and the Exchanged Note Between Yoshida and Acheson, would lose their validity. Therefore, the above paragraph (b) of NSDM-251 presented a natural conclusion. Yet in paragraph (a), the United States demanded the extension of the Korean Minute, despite assuming the dissolution of the UNC. This indicates how determined the United States was to maintain a free hand militarily in Japan. However, because paragraph (a) explicitly ignored the correlation of related legal arrangements, the US government had to amend it. The following is NSDM-262, the revised policy decision that Nixon issued on July 29, 1974:

With the purpose of retaining at least the effect of the Korean Minute without seeking an explicit, formal extension of the Minute, we should:

* Not raise the question of the Korean Minute itself directly with the Japanese Government.

* Rather, during discussion with the Japanese Government on the future of the UNC, take the position that we are confident that termination of the UNC will not adversely affect our ability to deter a North Korean attack, even though the UN cover and the UN SOFA for Japan are terminated, and that no further formal U.S.-Japanese actions are required. (26)

The aim of NSDM-262 was not to terminate the Korean Minute but to "[retain] at least the effect" of it, and with this goal, the United States attempted to avoid negotiating with Japan even if the UNC was dissolved. At best, this was a policy of benign neglect, and at worst, of willful neglect.

On this point, quoting the same NSDM-262, the Japanese Expert Panel on the secret treaty concluded that the United States de facto accepted the Japanese request to neutralize the Korean Minute by leaving it unsettled (Japanese Foreign Ministry Expert Panel 2010, 56). However, this conclusion is questionable because many of the basic facts supporting that view do not stand up to scrutiny. First, the United States never considered the Korean Minute an unsolved problem; NSDM-262 was a kind of extemporaneous measure to maintain the validity of the Korean Minute under the assumption that the UNC would be dissolved. The United States did not have any intention of giving up the Korean Minute and, in fact, sought to force Japan to accept it.

Second, and more important, the UNC was not disbanded at that time and continues to perform its function to this day as a linkage in the US-Japan-ROK security triangle. As Richard Sneider, deputy assistant secretary of state, further contended at a meeting of the NSC on June 15, 1973, "Regardless of what happens to the UNC, any resumption of hostilities in Korea would be a violation of the Charter of the UN, and the Japanese should support us." (27) This comment indicates that the United States would under no circumstances give up the presumed rights of its forces and bases in Japan for the purpose of ensuring the ROK's security.


In a realist world, security agreements between states can be rendered mere scraps of paper at any time by the unilateral act of annulment by any party. This signifies the greater importance of political will compared to other factors for maintaining security cooperation between states. Conversely, the presence of a trusting and profit-sharing relationship between states would avoid the necessity of concluding a written treaty for cooperation. In this context, the secret Korean Minute was, in a sense, a necessary evil, revealing the existence of a security dilemma or a measure of distrust in the US-Japan alliance.

The United States put more emphasis on the written Korean Minute than on the oral Korea Clause, while Japan attempted to nullify the Korean Minute by politicizing it. This raises the question of the status of the Korean Minute after Japan's recent unilateral declassification of it.

On this point, the Japanese Foreign Ministry Expert Panel argued that although a concrete document could verify a secret treaty to allow the US forces to operate freely from Japanese bases to cope with a Korean crisis, the treaty was invalidated by the publication of its contents by Prime Minister Sato (Japanese Foreign Ministry Expert Panel 2010, 56). In other words, the Japanese expert panel concluded that the Korean Minute of 1960 was neutralized by the Korea Clause of 1969. Based on this view, Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya cleverly replaced Sato's "positively and swiftly" phrasing in the Korea Clause with "appropriately and swiftly," thereby denying the very existence of the secret Korean Minute. The following is Okada's remark of June 15,2010:

We believe that subsequently, Prime Minister Sato replaced this [Korean Minute] with the phrase "positively and swiftly." ... We have now confirmed that the secret agreement was not that prior consultation would not be necessary in the case of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula. There is a high probability [however] that a major change on the Korean Peninsula would have an extremely large impact on the peace and stability of Japan, so Japan confirmed with the US Government that it would respond appropriately and swiftly to prior consultation ... which in this sense means "neutral." (Okada 2010; emphasis added)

On the other hand, notwithstanding Japan's unilateral declassification and reinterpretation of the Korean Minute, the US government avoided official comment and retained a decorous silence about the

issue. But according to Japanese newspapers, quoting information revealed by WikiLeaks, the United States has repeatedly complained and warned Japan through diplomatic channels that unilateral Japanese action could adversely affect the US-Japan alliance itself. (28) This suggests that the United States still desires "prior notification" rather than prior consultation, and for this reason continues to maintain a stance of benign neglect. Evidently, Washington considers "no comment" the best option for maintaining the validity of the agreement without offending the Japanese public.

Although the United States and Japan are even now in a tug-of-war over the Japanese commitment to the security of the ROK, I think the Korean Minute itself remains in effect, not only legally but also practically. First, this secret treaty is only one of seventeen treaties that were signed simultaneously with the revision of the US-Japan Security Treaty of 1960 and that are closely related as a whole. As mentioned above, the Korean Minute covers the case of immediate deployment of US forces in Japan without prior consultation during a Korean crisis, whereas UN SOFA and Exchanged Notes Between Yoshida and Acheson reaffirm Japan's obligation to support the UN forces (i.e., US forces) from the rear. These three agreements constitute a legal mechanism that enables the US forces in Japan to engage militarily in the Korean peninsula. Furthermore, the UNC, which provides a legal basis for these three agreements, is still legally functioning, albeit only nominally. Therefore, Japan's unilateral declassification of the Korean Minute was more of a political than a legal action to undermine its validity.

Second, in terms of its actual implementation, the US-Japan cooperation system concerning the security of the ROK has been strengthened to the extent that negated any need for the Korean Minute. For example, the United States and Japan adopted the New Guideline for Defense Cooperation in September 1997, and Japan enacted the necessary internal legislation in 1999 via the Law Concerning Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan in Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan (US-Japan Security Consultative Committee 1997). Regarding such "surrounding" situations (shuhen jitai), although the Japanese government softened the meaning to "not geographical but situational," the phrase clearly covers an emergency on the Korean peninsula (National Institute for Defense Studies of Japan 2011, chap. 8).

However, despite the similarities between the issues related to the Japanese commitment to the security of the ROK in the 1960s and those in the US-Japan alliance today, the continuing differences should be noted and hopefully instructive. One of the most conspicuous differences in the modern politics of the alliance is the much greater level of transparency. Although Japan unilaterally disclosed the long-pending secret agreement, I consider this to be a facet of twenty-first-century democratic politics. The US-Japan-ROK security triangle will continue to evolve through the development of open and trusting relationships, rather than hidden and tacit agreements.


Dong-jun Lee is Humanities Korea research professor at the Asiatic Research Institute (ARI) at Korea University in Seoul. Previously, he was a staff reporter for the Hankook-Ilbo. His research interests include Northeast Asian international relations and Cold War history, with a particular focus on Korea. His most recent publication (in Japanese) is Incomplete Peace: Sino-American Rapprochement and the Transformation of the Korean Problems, 1969-75 (2010). He can be reached at Research for this article was supported by a Korea Research Foundation Grant (KRF-2008-362-A00001).

(1.) Documents in Report No. 2-2, "Minutes for First Meeting of Security Consultative Committee, January 6, 1960," Iwayuru Mitsuyaku Ni Kansuru Bunsho (declassified in March 2010). Emphasis added.

(2.) According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969, Article 2, "treaty" means an international agreement concluded between states in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation.

(3.) In addition, the expert panel concluded that there were two more secret deals between the United States and Japan, one involving "bringing in" US nuclear weapons to Japan and the other involving cost burdens shouldered by Japan in the 1972 reversion of Okinawa (Japanese Foreign Ministry Expert Panel 2010).

(4.) For example, see telegram 1914 from Tokyo, "Thai Forces in Korea and Japan under UN Command," February 25, 1972; Department of State (DOS) telegram 208406 to Amembassy [American Embassy] Ankara, "Turkish Withdrawal from UNC," December 23, 1970; DOS telegram 8698 to Amembassy Bangkok, "Thai Forces in Korea," January 18, 1971, Box 2423, SN 1970-73, RG 59, all in National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD.

(5.) In 2007 UNC Rear was relocated from Camp Zama to Yokota Air Base as part of the realignment of US military bases overseas.

(6.) In addition, see documents related to Report No. 2-15, "Anzen-Hosho Chosei Ni Kansuru Kihon-Hoshin" (The Basic Policy for the Adjustment of Security), October 2, 1958 (Iwayuru Mitsuyaku Ni Kansuru Bunsho).

(7.) Documents related to Report No. 2-17, "Sori, Gaimu-Daijin, ZaikyoBeitaishi Kaidanrok" (Meeting Records Among Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, US Ambassador to Japan), October 4, 1958 (Iwayuru Mitsuyaku Ni Kansuru Bunsho).

(8.) Documents related to Report No. 2-17, "Formula (Presented by US on October 4, 1958)" (Iwayuru Mitsuyaku Ni Kansuru Bunsho), emphasis added.

(9.) Documents related to Report No. 2-31, "Hujiyama-Daijin ZaikyoBeitaishi Kaidanroku" (Meeting Records Between Foreign Minister Hujiyama and US Ambassador to Japan), November 26, 1958 (Iwayuru Mitsuyaku Ni Kansuru Bunsho).

(10.) Documents in Report No. 2-1, "Sori, Gaimu-Daijin, Zaikyo-Beitaishi Kaidanroku" (Meeting Records Among the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and US Ambassador to Japan), July 6, 1959 (Iwayuru Mitsuyaku Ni Kansuru Bunsho).

(11.) Ibid.

(12.) Documents related to Report No. 2-55, "Hujiyama-Daijin, ZaikyoBeitaishi Kaidanroku" (Meeting Records Between Foreign Minister Hujiyama and US Ambassador to Japan), May 8, 1959 (Iwayuru Mitsuyaku Ni Kansuru Bunsho).

(13.) Documents in Report No. 2-1, "Sori, Gaimu-Daijin, Zaikyo-Beitaishi Kaidanroku" (Meeting Records among the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and US Ambassador to Japan), July 6, 1959 (Iwayuru Mitsuyaku Ni Kansuru Bunsho).

(14.) Documents in Report No. 1-2, "Nichibei Sogo-Kyoryoku Oyobi AnzenHosho-Joyaku Kosho Keii" (History of Japan-US Negotiations on the Mutual Cooperation and Security Treaty), June 1960; Documents in Report No. 2-1, "Sori, Gaimu-Daijin, Zaikyo-Beitaishi Kaidanroku" (Meeting Records among the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and US Ambassador to Japan), July 6, 1959 (Iwayuru Mitsuyaku Ni Kansuru Bunsho).

(15.) For example, NSDM-262: Use of US Bases in Japan in the Event of Aggression Against South Korea, Memorandum from the Deputy Secretary of State to the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, April 27, 1974, Box 53 (Gerald R. Ford Library).

(16.) Documents in Report No. 2-1, "Sori, Gaimu-Daijin, Zaikyo-Beitaishi Kaidanroku" (Meeting Records Among the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and US Ambassador to Japan), July 6, 1959 (Iwayuru Mitsuyaku Ni Kansuru Bunsho).

(17.) Documents related to Report No. 2-142, "Okinawa Henkan Mondai" (Problem of Okinawa Reversion), April 22, 1969; Documents related to Report No. 2-31, "Hujiyama-Daijin Zaikyo-Beitaishi Kaidanroku" (Meeting Records Between Foreign Minister Hujiyama and US Ambassador to Japan), November 26, 1958 (Iwayuru Mitsuyaku Ni Kansuru Bunsho).

(18.) Documents from Report No. 2-5, "Okinawa Henkan Mondai Ni Kansuru Aichi-Daijin, Meyer Beitaishi Kaidan" (Talks About Okinawa Reversion Between Aichi and Meyer), July 17, 1969; Documents related to Report No. 2-31, "Hujiyama-Daijin Zaikyo-Beitaishi Kaidanroku" (Meeting Records Between Foreign Minister Hujiyama and US Ambassador to Japan), November 26, 1958 (Iwayuru Mitsuyaku Ni Kansuru Bunsho).

(19.) NSSM-5: Japan Policy, Annexed Paper Tab C, DOS draft telegram to Amembassy Tokyo, "Okinawa Negotiations," undated, Nixon Presidential Library, Nixon Presidential Materials (NPM), NSC Institutional Files, Box H-128, emphasis added.

(20.) NSDM 13: Policy Toward Japan, May 28, 1969, Box 1, NSDM Files, RG 273 (NARA).

(21.) Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo), November 24, 1969.

(22.) Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo), January 21, 1972.

(23.) Japan consistently expressed a political commitment to the security of ROK similar to the Korea Clause thereafter. For example, see section 5 of the Carter-Hukuda Joint Communique (March 22, 1977), section 6 of the Carter-Ohira Joint Communique (May 2, 1979), section 3 of the Reagan-Suzuki Joint Communique (May 8, 1981), and the Reagan-Nakasone Joint Announcement (November 10, 1983). Available at indices/JPUS/index61-70.html.

(24.) Henry A. Kissinger, then secretary of state, promised China that the UNC would be dissolved. For more concrete information, see Lee 2010, chaps. 5-6.

(25.) NSDM 251: Termination of the UN Command in Korea, March 29, 1974, Box 3, NSDM Files, RG 273, emphasis added (NARA).

(26.) NSDM 262: Use of US Bases in Japan in the Event of Aggression Against South Korea, July 29, 1974, Box 3, NSDM Files, RG 273, emphasis added (NARA).

(27.) Memorandum for Kissinger, "Minutes of the Senior Review Group Meeting of June 15, 1973," June 18, 1973, KT 00758 (National Security Archives).

(28.) Yomiuri Shimbun (Tokyo), May 8, 2011; Kyodo Tsushin (Tokyo), May 8, 2011.


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