Reading Packard on the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty

On my way back to Japan, I began reading Protest in Tokyo, a classic account of the crisis surrounding the approval of the 1960 revision of the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty by George Packard, president of the United States-Japan Foundation.
As Prime Minister Abe forges ahead in his campaign to abandon the postwar regime, I think it’s worthwhile to look back at how exactly the postwar regime came to be. How did Japan shape its future in the years after independence was restored, when Japan became the anchor of US policy in the Asia-Pacific region? Arguably the cleavages rent during those formative years of Japan’s postwar democracy were the fundamental battle lines in Japanese politics throughout the cold war, and while the end of the cold war deprived those cleavages of some of their potency, the debates of the 1950s and early 1960s remain relevant to understanding Japan today — both in terms of the unresolved questions about Japan’s place in the world, and the impact they’ve had on Japan’s current leaders.

Consider what Prime Minister Abe wrote about the anti-treaty demonstrations in 1960 (forgive my rough translation):

The encircling of my grandfather’s house by demonstrators

On June 18, 1960, the day before the automatic passage of the US-Japan Security Treaty, the Diet and the Kantei were surrounded by demonstrators whose numbers approached 330,000.

My grandfather, confined at the Kantei, was conscious of death, but said while drinking wine with my great uncle (Sato Eisaku, at that time finance minister), “I am by no means mistaken. Even if it kills me, I am satisfied.” Immediately after signing to begin the work of revision, forces of opposition around the Socialist Party intensified conflict inside and outside the Diet.

At that time, I was still six years old, and it was before I had entered primary school. To my grandfather, I was, together with my older brother, who was two years older, very cute. We would always go to play at my grandfather’s home in Shibuya’s Nanpeidai district.

But, there too was often surrounded by demonstrators. “Ampo, hantai!” was shouted in unison repeatedly, and stones, screws, and burning newspaper were thrown at the house. At that time, my father, who was a member of the House of Representatives, was also confined there, and my grandfather, who could not go outside and was bored, summoned us.

My brother and I, with our mother, boarded a newspaper company’s car flying the company flag and went to my grandfather’s house.

My brother and I, as children, heard the voices of the demonstrators from afar, and thought that it sounded like the band at a festival. We stamped out, as a joke, before my grandfather and father, “Ampo, hantai, ampo, hantai!,” to which my father and mother joked, “You should say, ‘Ampo sansei.'” My grandfather, while smiling at that, seemed happy.

I asked my grandfather, “What’s ampo?” I dimly remember that thereupon he answered, “The Mutual Security Treaty [ampo] is a treaty so that Japan will receive protection from America. Why everyone is opposed to it, I don’t understand.”

(Utsukushii kuni e, pp. 21-23)

For the prime minister, for all Japanese politicians, the questions surrounding the constitution and the alliance are fundamental to their identities as politicians, not to mention Japan’s identity as a nation. It is a mistake for Japan to rush into revision — and for the US and foreign observers to urge Japan on — without a clear sense of what’s a stake and what the participants bring to the table.

One point that comes out early in Packard’s book, in his discussion of the 1951 ratification of the initial US-Japan treaty and the debates on Japan’s foreign policy that followed, is that the pursuit of independence was the fundamental goal shared by all participants in the debate, even as they differed tactically. (Conservatives, whether of a pragmatic or revisionist variety, felt that independence could be achieved via alliance with the US; socialists sought de jure independence via unarmed neutrality and rapprochement with Beijing and Moscow.)

While the rhetoric might lead observers to think otherwise, I think there’s good reason to think that independence has been the consistent goal of all Japanese governments throughout the postwar era right up to today, even as successive prime ministers have talked about how valuable the US-Japan alliance is to Japan. While Japan has evinced fears of abandonment often and continues to do so today, fears of entrapment, if voiced less frequently, are just as real and are perhaps more important as a determinant of Japanese alliance policy over the long term.

All of which goes to say that American alliance managers should approach revision with a sense of caveat emptor: alliance managers may think that a Japan that has accepted collective self-defense via revision of article 9 will result in a kind of “roles-and-missions plus” arrangement (roles and missions being the new ideas about an alliance division of labor pushed in the early Reagan administration), but the US may be getting an ally that is eager to break out of the old framework and flex its muscles. That need not be a disaster for the alliance, if the US is prepared for a Japan that might become more like De Gaulle’s France after revision. If the US is unprepared for a more independent Japan, however, the alliance could break at the first sign of a crisis during which the US expects Japanese support — which Tokyo fails to provide.

I will be writing more about this as I read through Packard, especially his notes about Prime Minister Kishi.

2 thoughts on “Reading Packard on the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty

  1. Remember, some conservatives, most notably Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama, sought independence throught rapproachment with Russia, while many nationalists allied with socialists and other leftists in 1960 in opposition to the amendment of the mutual security treaty. Another trans-ideological coalition could emerge that sees our national security interests in a way that is incompatible with the Japan-US alliance as it is now configured.


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