Skip to main content
“Otto von Bismarck, the German Chancellor, said those who like sausage and the law should never watch them being made. We might add the conduct of foreign policy in a decentralized democracy to that list.”

 Alliance in Doubt
American Reaction to the 1960
US-Japanese Security Treaty Crisis

By Nicholas Evan Sarantakes


Professor Sarantakes traces the history of U.S. and Japanese reactions to the 1960 treaty between those two nations, a pact that occasioned adverse reaction in both countries. In his view, despite political turmoil and the cancellation of a Presidential visit, the American political system “worked,” resulting in the treaty’s adoption by the Senate. ~ Ed.

"The Wave" by Yardley for Baltimore SunIn the spring of 1960, the streets of Tokyo were full of crowds protesting a new security treaty with the United States. Despite these protests, the United States Senate ratified the new agreement with a seemingly authoritative vote, 90-2. The lopsided tally, however, is misleading. The riots in Tokyo and their coverage in the American media convinced many senators that Japan was on the edge of a Marxist revolution. Given this view, replacing a treaty that allowed the United States to intervene in Japanese domestic affairs with an agreement that surrendered such a privilege seemed unwise. As a result, many members of the upper chamber were inclined to reject or, at best, table the treaty. It was only the vigorous efforts of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, with some modest support from the Eisenhower Administration, that saved the treaty.

Previous English-language works on the security treaty crisis center for understandable reasons on the events in Tokyo. George Packard’s Protest in Tokyo and a series of essays published as Creating Single-Party Democracy under the editorial supervision of Katakoa Tetsuya focus on the riots and the domestic Japanese politics that led to these confrontations.1 Investigations of the meanings of various clauses in the treaty has been another area of historical inquiry. John Welfield and Michael Schaller explore this topic as part of their book length studies on postwar Japan.2 This essay is different in that it examines the reaction of Americans to the events in Japan and shows that the protesters came close to achieving their goals in Washington.

Background: one-sided alliance
The background of the story behind of the treaty starts in 1951 when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles negotiated a peace treaty that brought the occupation of Japan to an end. While negotiating that treaty, Dulles and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru also negotiated a pact establishing an alliance between the United States and Japan. In the agreement, the United States had the right to deploy troops from bases in Japan without seeking Japanese authorization, to intervene in Japan in times of unrest if their assistance was required in efforts to reestablish order, and had no obligation to come to the defense of the archipelago if it were attacked.3 Ambassador Douglas MacArthur II, nephew and namesake of the general and the U.S. ambassador to Japan in 1960, noted that such an agreement was acceptable only in the immediate context of the war being fought in neighboring Korea. “The treaty was, in a sense, one-sided in favor of the United States, because it had to be, for this reason. At the time that treaty was negotiated, Japan did not have one single man under arms and we took on the obligation of assuring the defense of Japan.”4

Such concessions quickly became unpopular among the Japanese public once the immediate Communist threat that seemed to exist during the Korean war ended. American officials, however, were reluctant to renegotiate the treaty. In the mid-1950s, Americans suspected that the Japanese might go neutral in the Cold War, or that they might try to use their ongoing efforts to negotiate a peace treaty with the Soviet Union as a way to initiate talks with the United States on security matters. Dulles worried that the Japanese might play the two world powers off against one another. In a private meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru, Dulles used the language of the peace treaty he had helped negotiate to try to scuttle the negotiations with Russia. He warned that Article 26 of the treaty required that the United States receive terms equal to those of the Soviet Union. If the agreement Shigemitsu signed with the Russians conceded sovereignty over the disputed Kurile Islands, then the United States would insist on permanent sovereignty over Okinawa and the Ryukyus. The two archipelagos were hardly equal. The Kuriles were sparsely populated and of little strategic importance, but the Ryukyus were the home to over a million Japanese nationals. America had an important network of military bases on the main island of Okinawa and administered the entire chain as a de facto colony under the legal provision of “residual sovereignty.” The Secretary of State worried that if Japan regained some of the Soviet-occupied Kuriles, it would put political pressure on the United States to surrender the far more valuable Ryukyus. Since this issue involved public perceptions, Dulles went public with his warning at a press conference a little later.5

It was not until after the resolution of the Japanese-Soviet talks and the arrival in Tokyo of Ambassador MacArthur that the U.S. Government began to consider renegotiating the security treaty. A career Foreign Service officer, the new ambassador had no expertise on Japan to qualify him for this assignment beyond his name. He, however, had the advantage of having a good personal relationship with both Dulles and the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Prior to his arrival in Tokyo, MacArthur had served as political advisor to Eisenhower during the general’s tenure as the first commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces. Later the diplomat worked closely with Dulles as the counselor of the State Department. The Japanese appreciated these connections and his name. MacArthur presented his credentials to the Emperor in February 1957, and after a year on the job in which he assessed the status of U.S.-Japanese relations, he began lobbying Washington to revise the security treaty and return Okinawa. As a result, Dulles and Eisenhower were prepared when Japanese Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke took the initiative and informed MacArthur that he wanted to draw up a new agreement. Dulles and Eisenhower both realized that the political context of the late 1950s was different from that of the early part of the decade. On September 11, 1958, Dulles and Japanese Foreign Minister Fujiyama Aiichiro announced that their countries would begin negotiating a new agreement.6

Treaty negotiations and Japanese party politics
The negotiations in Tokyo proceeded quickly. In less than a month MacArthur and Fujiyama produced a working draft of the agreement. The Senate was kept fully informed of the progress being made on the treaty. Before and during the negotiations, Eisenhower directed MacArthur to meet with key congressional leaders. The President wanted him to make sure that there was no opposition to the revision of the treaty. The ambassador took with him a copy of the new proposed treaty. In his meetings with the Republican and Democratic members of both chambers and the senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he found that the legislators had little interest in the details, but were in general agreement with him that international events since 1951 warranted a new treaty. He also met twice with Senator J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Afterwards, during the actually negotiations he worked to keep the agreement within the parameters he had discussed with the senators.7

A number of Japanese political issues stalled further work on the document. Most of them stemmed from the organizational structure of the Liberal Democratic Party. An umbrella organization, the party was the product of a merger in 1955 between the Liberal and Democratic parties in an effort to keep the Socialists from taking control of the cabinet. This new political entity controlled a majority of seats in the Diet and did indeed keep the Socialists out of office, but few in this organization had any institutional loyalty to the party. Rather, members of the LDP belonged to a faction. A senior politician controlled these bands and junior members owed their loyalty to that individual. In return for offering their faction chief a dependable vote in intra-party confrontations, subordinates could expect their leader to act as a patron and help promote their careers. Shifting alliances among the factions, and their changing political strength, determined control of the cabinet as long as the LDP controlled a majority of the seats in the Diet. Faction leaders and their key supporters obtained ministerial appointments in return for supporting the dominate group.

The leader of this group was the president of the party and as a result of holding that office, he also served as prime minister. In the late 1950s, Kishi Nobusuke controlled one of the strongest LDP factions, even though he had little popularity in the party or among the Japanese people. A prewar bureaucrat, Kishi moved up through the Ministry of Commerce, eventually becoming the minister in the cabinet of General Tojo Hideki just before Japan declared war against the United States. During the conflict he played a key role in keeping the Japanese economy from falling apart. He spent three and a half years in prison during the allied occupation of Japan awaiting trial as a war criminal before the prosecutors dropped the charges. In 1952 he reentered public life. He completed his political resurrection in 1957 when he became Prime Minister. Despite his rapid comeback, he remained unpopular for a variety of reasons, including his association with Tojo, a tendency throughout his career to turn on his mentors, and the widespread feeling that he was not a genuine convert to democracy, but simply a crafty politician riding the wave of current events. In the fall of 1958 a number of faction leaders challenged Kishi for control of the party in the election for the presidency of the party. His opponents coalesced around a challenger at the last minute but failed to deliver enough votes.8

Kishi and Fujiyama’s success in securing U.S. consent put the prime minister’s opponents within the Liberal Democratic Party in a bind. Revision of the security treaty had been a major goal of the party for over a year and a half, and Kishi seemed to be on the verge of securing this prize; he showed every intention of using his success in an effort to extend his tenure as president of the party beyond the customary two term limit. Allowing Kishi such a victory was clearly out of the question. Yet, overt opposition would be political suicide. Instead, Kishi’s opponents raised troubling questions about the side issues, stalling progress on the agreement. What was the geographic scope of the treaty? Was U.S.-occupied Okinawa to be considered part of the national territory that Japan would be obligated to defend? The island was a Japanese prefecture, but Americans administered the territory and had built a number of important bases that might be the target of an attack in a future conflict. Another issue: under what conditions could American soldiers be deployed from bases in Japan? Could the United States station nuclear weapons in Japan? What would be the duration of the agreement? Final work on the new compact had to wait until the LDP reached a consensus on the treaty. Kishi needed LDP unity on the treaty since the other political parties would oppose any agreement that perpetuated the alliance with the United States, put Japan at risk and violated the spirit, if not the letter of the antiwar constitution.

Since MacArthur generally saw Kishi as the main force responsible for keeping the Liberal Democratic Party in power and with it democratic government in Japan, he urged Dulles to agree to terms that that the prime minister had proposed: that the Japanese would be expected to defend the home islands only; that the U.S. would seek prior approval before sending troops from bases in Japan into combat; that the treaty would have a ten year life, after which either party would have to give one year’s termination notice; and that nuclear weapons would not be stored in Japan (U.S. naval ships with such instruments of war could, however, transit the home islands). The secretary of state trusted the ambassador’s judgment and accepted his advice.9

When U.S. and Japanese diplomats reached final agreement, Prime Minister Kishi traveled to Washington for a meeting with Eisenhower and a signing ceremony at the White House. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine and was generally welcomed in the United States as the leader of a valued ally. Although some commentators marveled at the dramatic turnaround in relations between the two countries, few took note of the fact that Kishi had been one of the individuals who had signed the Japanese declaration of war in 1941. The warm reception he received was a sign of either the American ability to forgive or a total ignorance of Japanese politics.10

 Continue reading Sarantakes 1234bibliography


End Notes (Part I)1. George R. Packard, III, Protest in Tokyo: The Security Treaty Crisis of 1960 (Princeton, NJ, 1966); Katakoa Tetsuya, Protest in Tokyo: Japan’s Postwar Political System (Stanford, CA, 1992).

2. John Welfield, An Empire in Eclipse: Japan in the Postwar American Alliance System—A Study in the Interaction of Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy (Atlantic Highlands, NJ, 1988); Michael Schaller, Altered States: The United States and Japan Since the Occupation (New York, 1997).

3. Ronald W. Pruessen, John Foster Dulles: The Road to Power (New York, 1982), 450-452, 458-460, 472-476.

4. Douglas MacArthur II oral history, part three, 19-20, Foreign Service Oral History Program, Lauinger Library, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. (hereinafter cited as FS Oral History).

5. Memorandum of Conversation, August 19, 1956; Secretary of State to the Department of State, August 22, 1956, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, vol. 23, part 1, Japan, 202-204. (Hereafter referred to as FRUS with appropriate volume and page numbers).

6. New York Herald Tribune, September 11, 1958; Douglas MacArthur II oral history, part three, 1, 4, 18, 50, FS Oral History.

7. Schaller, Altered States, 138; Packard, Protest in Tokyo, 70-71; MacArthur to Acting Secretary, April 29, 1959; MacArthur to Department of State, April 29, 1959, FRUS, 1958-1960, vol. 18, Japan and Korea, 126-127, 134-139; Douglas MacArthur II oral history, part three, 24, Foreign Service Oral History Program, Lauinger Library, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

8. Packard, Protest in Tokyo, 47-54, 64-69.

9. Schaller, Altered States, 138-142; Packard, Protest in Tokyo, 69-81.

10. Time, January 25, 1960; Schaller, Altered States, 143-144; editorials noting the dramatic change that had taken place in only 15 years can be found in The Christian Science Monitor, January 21, 1960; The Washington Daily News, January 18, 20, 1960; Washington Evening Star, January 18, 1960; Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1960; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, January 20, 1960. An editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 20, 1960 did express some wariness of the Japanese, seeing them as a possible future enemy, but supported the treaty as a necessary step to take to protect the U.S. against its current enemies.

Prof. Kris SarantakesProfessor Sarantakes earned his Ph.D. at the University of Southern California. His monograph, “Keystone: The American Occupation of Okinawa and U.S.-Japanese Relations, 1945-1972,” is forthcoming. He also runs the “U.S. Diplomatic History Resources Index” website, located at
More at

Comments are closed.