Altered States: The United States and Japan since the Occupation

By Michael Schaller | Go to book overview

12
THE "NIXON SHOCKS" AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF JAPANESE-AMERICAN RELATIONS, 1969-74

IN a somber speech to the Diet in January 1972, Prime Minister Sato declared that "drastic changes in world conditions" during 1971 had "put Japan in a difficult international situation." A sense of "uneasiness and "irritation" were "pervasive among the Japanese people." Given Sato's normal reserve, this had to be counted as a blunt, emotional statement. 1

What Sato lamented were several shocks -- shokku, in Japanese -- administered by Richard Nixon challenging the strategic and economic relationship that prevailed between the United States and Japan since the Occupation. The American commitment to the containment of China (and, by extension, Vietnam), a strong dollar, and liberal trade had long served as pillars of security and an engine driving Japan's economic growth.

The 1971 jolts culminated a process begun when Johnson capped escalation of the Vietnam War in 1968. Nixon continued the changes by reducing the American military presence in Asia, pulling back from Vietnam, opening ties with China, cutting the dollar's link to gold, and imposing restrictions on imports. His pursuit of a new structure of peace stemmed from the fact that the United States could no longer afford the old structure. When Nixon took office, not only had the Soviets achieved a rough strategic parity with the United States, but the economic policies of European allies and Japan threatened American prosperity. As the trade deficit grew and the dollar weakened, Washington's global influence waned.

Nixon and his advisers used a military lexicon to describe the economic threat to America. In the spring of 1971, Secretary of Commerce Maurice Stans reportedly declared that "the Japanese are still fighting the war. Their immediate intention is to try to dominate the Pacific and then

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