35+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

The U.S.-Japan Military Alliance: A Documents Primer

President Clinton and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto

President Clinton and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto sign the Japan-U.S. Declaration on Security at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Japan; Date: April 17th, 1996. Courtesy: William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Published: Jun 28, 2019
Briefing Book #676

Edited by Dr. Robert A. Wampler

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

Declassified U.S. Record Describes Benefits from Mutual Security Treaty in Effect since 1960

Previous Debates over Balance of Contributions Also Discussed

Washington, D.C., June 28, 2019 - A long-standing mutual security treaty between Japan and the United States commits each country to undertake significant military and additional obligations for the benefit of the other, according to declassified records posted today by the nongovernmental National Security Archive as the G-20 meets in Osaka, Japan. The documents provide background for understanding the current U.S.-Japan security alliance, long seen by politicians on all sides in the U.S. as a mainstay in America’s Cold War and post-Cold War strategic commitment to East Asian security and stability.  

Today’s posting consists of materials culled from a series of earlier National Security Archive e-books detailing the policy context for U.S.-Japanese security relations.  The Archive is reposting them because they are pertinent to comments by President Donald Trump as he left for the economic summit in Japan earlier this week. The president complained that commitments under the alliance were terribly out of balance. “If Japan is attacked ... we will fight with our lives and with our treasure ... But if we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch it on a Sony television, the attack.”[1]

(Meeting in Osaka, President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly agreed to reinforce the “unwavering Japan-U.S. alliance,” according to a Japanese official today, but the official admitted Abe and Trump did not directly address the meaning behind the president’s critical remarks.[2])

The documents posted below present a very different picture of the bilateral arrangement, highlighting the mutual security benefits both Washington and Tokyo saw in agreeing to the defense treaty of 1960, which has been repeatedly reaffirmed. The records also describe earlier U.S. efforts to secure a greater defense contribution from Japan, predating President Trump’s push toward that goal. However, previous administrations always pursued that effort within the larger framework of an alliance that sought to align diplomatic, military, and economic efforts to advance mutual security interests in the region and elsewhere, as the documents show, and never at the expense of these wider goals.

Dating from the signing of the 1960 treaty to security consultations in 2000, the documents posted here provide an important window into U.S. reasons for placing a high value on the security relationship with Japan, despite differences over specific policies and priorities, and the advantages the relationship has provided to both parties. Among the topics covered by the documents are:

  • The important role U.S. bases in Japan have played in U.S. defense planning for Asia and the Pacific, particularly during the Cold War with respect to the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
  • The importance of security consultations with Japan, both at the highest levels and in regular security consultative meetings.
  • U.S. efforts to secure a greater Japanese contribution to mutual defense efforts, both as a general policy and in connection with the first Gulf War.




[1] “Trump Renews Criticism of Japan-US Alliance Before G20 Summit,” The New York Times, June 26, 2019.

[2] “Japan, U.S. affirm alliance after Trump revives security treaty criticism,” Japan Today, June 28, 2019.