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U.S. Violated Nuclear Arms Pledge in Japan, Records Show

From South Asians Against Nukes.

New York Times December 12, 1999

U.S. Violated Nuclear Arms Pledge in Japan, Records Show

Newly declassified documents show that while the United States publicly vowed not to keep nuclear weapons in Japan, it secretly stored them not only on Okinawa but also on the islands of Chichi-jima and Iwo Jima and was prepared to do the same at as many as 11 other Japanese sites.

An article describing the documents and what its authors say is the first comprehensive account of the largely secret history of America's use of Japan in its nuclear-war planning is being published in the Jan uary/February issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

"Based on these documents, we now see for the first time a much fuller picture of how Japan was integrated into the U.S. nuclear system," said William M. Arkin, a nuclear-weapons analyst and a co-author of the article.

Despite its stated policy as a nonnuclear nation, Japan stored "an extensive nuclear infrastructure -- at its peak, as large as that of other American allies," the article states.

The article says that between 1956 and 1966, the United States, apparently with Japanese agreement, kept nuclear weapons and in the latter years nuclear bombs without their fissile cores on Chichi-jima, about 500 miles southeast of the Japanese mainland, and on Iwo Jima, the scene of one of the bloodiest battles in World War II, about 670 miles southeast of Tokyo.

It says that the United States also kept nuclear weapons on Okinawa until 1972, and, when the American occupation ended, also stored nuclear bombs without their fissile cores on the island and on some other islands.

Such coreless bombs and other components were also stored on the Japanese mainland at Misawa and Itazuki air bases, and possibly elsewhere, the article maintains. In addition, nuclear-armed Navy ships were stationed in Sasebo and Yokosuka.

Because Chichi-jima, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa were under American occupation at the time and the bombs kept on the mainland did not have their plutonium or uranium centers, the United States was able to maintain that it had honored its agreements with Japan and did not have nuclear weapons "in Japan." But "this elaborate stratagem," the authors assert, showed that the ostensible lack of a nuclear presence in Japan was a mere "technicality."

Nevertheless, a Defense Department spokesman noted that even the article did not accuse Washington of violating any of its legal obligations to Japan. "Our position is that there have been no violations of our obligations under the security treaty and related arrangements," Walter B. Slocombe, under secretary of defense for policy, said in an interview.

A State Department spokesman and Slocombe also reiterated the United States' traditional refusal to disclose where, and what kind of nuclear arms the administration stores or deploys overseas in keeping with long-standing American policy.

Both the Pentagon and the State Department spokesmen drew a distinction between the documents and the authors' interpretation of them. "We don't dispute the authenticity of the documents," one official said. "They are what they are. But we're not going to comment on anything about what they say."

Both Pentagon and State Department officials asserted that the United States has always been "very sensitive to the special Japanese concerns about nuclear weapons," a reference to Japan's status as the only nation to have been bombed with atomic weapons.

Arkin and his co-authors say that the "wall of silence" on such nuclear matters serves both sides well. "For the Japanese nation and Japanese political leaders, the elaborate stratagem maintained the illusion of nuclear purity," the article states. "Japanese political leaders could either deny everything or plead ignorance."

The article, which along with the supporting documentation is being posted today on the publication's Web site ( ), is the second written by the authors in what has been a protracted effort to fill in the large blanks in the history of America's nuclear weapons programs and military strategy.

In October, the authors reported that the United States had stored 12,000 nuclear weapons and components in at least 23 countries and five American territories during the cold war -- including Morocco, Japan, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

That article was based on detective work and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act as the result of a 16-year effort by the co-authors -- Arkin, assisted by Robert S. Norris, a senior research analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in Washington, and William Burr, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive and director of its nuclear-history documentation project.

A State Department spokesman and senior Pentagon officials stressed that nuclear deployment policies have significantly changed in the last decade.

"We've drastically reduced the number of nuclear weapons that are deployed overseas to 10 percent of what they were as recently as 10-15 years ago," a Defense Department official said. And as a matter of policy, the United States has not deployed nuclear weapons aboard surface ships under what the official called "normal conditions" since 1991, though it reserves the right to do so.

Link to further general information on nuclear weapons.

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