Michita Sakata Oral History Interview

Conducted by Takeshi Igarashi (University of Tokyo)

Igarashi: Today I would like to ask you about when you were director of the Japan Defense Agency.

Sakata: Looking back, that period was a time of change, an interesting time. With that I mean that the Nixon Doctrine was a bold proposition. At the time, though, it didn't have that feeling.

Igarashi: Among postwar directors, I don't think there are many that left a name for themselves, but the very first defense plan agenda you made was very important. Looking at the various writings of Mr. Takuya Kubo, there are some admirable strategies, and passing the conversion point of the 1970s, I think there are a number of problems we have to think about again today.

Sakata: I became director of the JDA by chance, as I had thought little about the security treaty and defense. I was supposed to become Justice Minister. By justice I mean law issues. But I don't know about the law, either. However, I had been doing education related issues, so for example, if the education of Self Defense Force members was involved, I could more or less consider it. With those light-hearted kind of feelings I took the job.

Moreover, it was just when Nicaragua's president was being inaugurated, so I was told to go to the inauguration ceremony. Mr. Tanaka said, "I am quitting as Prime Minister. We're good friends, but there's nothing you can do. At the very least, take your wife abroad as a special envoy." When we arrived in London, we were immediately told to return to Japan. The reason for this was that Miki had been made president [of the LDP?].

There was nothing that could be done about that. I thought as long as I'm here with my wife, we can tour France and Germany, but we weren't able to do so. I told my wife, at a Paris hotel. Then I immediately boarded a plane and returned to Japan. The next day, the Diet session that nominated Miki opened. In the new Cabinet, I was appointed as director of the JDA. Those are the circumstances to serve as a starting point.

However, because I had been in politics for a long time, that may mean looking at defense as a novice. That would be fine.

I want to say this later as well, but up until now, what was the method of deciding policy?

Speaking from long experience I've had in the Ministry of Education, it is secretism. Solidify policy on the inside, then announce it. After announcing it, it would be suddenly awash in controversy, and would all come to an end. Even after leaving the Diet, there's nothing that can be done. That process of it being stopped was repeated over and over.

Things like that are no good, are they. Especially on the defense issue, the consensus of the citizenry must be obtained. The support of only one political party is no good. A plurality of parties must give their support or the consensus of the people cannot be obtained, and a defense policy that doesn't have the consent of the citizenry does not have fundamental meaning. For that reason, I thought that a defense policy that in some way obtained a consensus of the people couldn't be done.

With that, I heard from various people. For example, I created a 'Defense Thinking Meeting', but I seriously struggled with the way to choose its members. I'll omit the details, but for example former Ambassador to the U.S.[ ]

This is something I came up with.

I wrestled with that approach with a great deal of interest. A new method of deciding policy gradually came out, opening up the conventional secretism. Doing that, the newspapers would listen. Then many people would read about it. Opposition would arise. Public opinion would raise it as an issue. Then the original bill would be amended. Doing this over and over, a consensus could be created.

I will speak in more detail later, but when there was some concern over uniforms, it really wasn't a big deal among problems on the inside. Actually, presenting the agenda took two years, but when the plan was sent to the Diet, it wasn't really a problem. Conventionally, when submitting a bill, just talking about it is no good. It was that way with Nakasone. The defense problem was taboo.

However, as for U.S.-Japan security cooperation, its a problem derived from a sudden question, but it isn't good to do that just for uniforms. However, the matter of civilian control is quite a discussion, and it took the opposite side. It didn't intend to take the opposite side, but that's how the results ended up. It wasn't really a problem. More than not becoming a problem, the opposition posed a question, and in answering it showed before everyone the introduction part of the national defense problem with Schlesinger. So, discussions with Schlesinger were held in a natural form. And, U.S.-Japan defense cooperation was realized.

Until this point Nakasone had issued a defense white paper, but it did not continue. If you ask me, they were discontinued because there were no ideas about defense. There was nothing to argue for. I think it is strange to think why there was no such approach for an extremely important international issue like that. One way to do it was the 'Defense Thinking Meeting' I introduced. After that, the defense white paper has continued to be announced, hasn't it? This is a big thing. And, I said at that time we should have released an English copy.

When I was Education Minister it was the same, but when officials wrote in the official report, I get the impression that the information was widely known at every level. It was unbelievable. Around one or two thousand things, it wasn't that kind of thing. More than that, because all the newspapers write it, bear in mind[ ]. So, when its all over with, every paper had written the same thing over and over. While doing this, a consensus had been reached, so when the report reached the Diet, it was smoothly approved. This is something we don't have today. On that point, I introduced a new policy decision making method. That is the first thing that I want to say.

Another principle is the limitation of war in the nuclear age. Purpose, means, methods, time, and place are all limited. On that premise, there is a power balance between the U.S. and the USSR. In life or death places, the littlest thing comes to nothing, so one can't make a move. However, in other places, a small military force can pass. In Angola, there is an understanding between the U.S. and USSR. However, on the European continent, with the U.S.-USSR confrontation and the U.S., British, French and German opposition, there is such a firm power balance, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Negotiations were lined up in order. First, the 1972 SALT I Agreement was signed, and then the 1973 the Nuclear War Prevention Agreement was completed.

In this kind of nuclear age, small conflicts and wars will continue to occur, but they will be restrictive. Purpose, means, methods, time and place are limited. The Korean War was that way, in the end. The East China War was also that way. It might spread, but it is small military power. But the thinking is, through the skillful use of this, an outline can be made. With that also as a background, beginning with the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, small Japan's military force can have meaning. Thus, a way of thinking that U.S.-Japan security may have an important meaning above what has been thought until now may come about from now on. So, at that time I said "Small but high quality and large role." That means, "Small, but a large role to fulfill."

Also, if Japan only has a small military force, it would lessen to a degree the concern in the rest of Asia that Japan will again become militaristic. In that respect, doesn't U.S.-Japan Security have a meaning toward the rest of Asia? Also, if you take the position of those countries, be it on account of U.S.-Japan security, or the U.S. adding to it, it has the meaning of giving a sense of reassurance that Japan is being pressed upon. In this way, in the nuclear age a small military force has come to have meaning is one way to look at it, and is an important principle in my general policy outline.

Another principle is basic defense power. I've been thinking about this since last night, and I might say too much, but its called [ flexible basic defense mechanism ]. I don't know how much of that you understand, but in times of peace, that's all there is. At the same time, when a tense situation arose, in other words in time of war, this basic plan will widen. The word "basic defense" was originally "key defense." I don't really know myself, but these were words that the Uniforms used a lot, words used within the defense agency. Mr. Kubo was also definitely using the term basic defense, but whether that was Mr. Kubo's conception, that is unclear.

Igarashi: In Mr. Kubo's report of February 20, 1971, it is used, isn't it.

Sakata: If that's right, yes, it is. I think that idea was put in by Mr. Kubo. There is a gap in time there, so thinking at this point in time, if it isn't something of that time, it doesn't have meaning.

For example, something I wanted to talk about was in 1975, America had a free hand due to the pullout of Vietnam. Specter (?) (Time Magazine) and Novak (American columnist) talked about this. In 1973 when the Paris peace agreement was made, already as part of America's supreme policy, it had been decided to pull out of the continent. That was something that would've happened sooner or later.

Its just that the finishing touches didn't really go that well. The next year was 1976, right when America was coming to the 200 year mark of the War of Independence. As a country approaching a 200 year celebration, America probably would've wanted to hang in there one more year. But, Saigon fell. Things in this world are not 100% certain to go right.