Episode 16: Standing With Japan Part I: General Wright & Ambassador Schieffer On US Military & Diplomatic Engagement With Japan & The US Response To North Korean Missile Attacks

Amb. McCarthy:            00:00                Welcome to another conversation in the Academy of Diplomacy series, The General and the Ambassador. This focuses on how our top military leaders work with our top diplomats to advance our global interests. My name is ambassador Deborah McCarthy and I am the host. Today we are going to focus on Japan. I'm delighted to welcome Ambassador Tom Schieffer and Lieutenant General Orville Wright. Ambassador Schieffer was the US Ambassador to Japan from 2005 to 2009. During the same period, General Wright was the commander of US Forces Japan and the Fifth Air Force. Gentlemen, welcome to the show and thank you for participating. I want to jump right into a hot issue. On July 4th, 2005 US time, July 5th, 2005 Japanese time, North Korea launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile and six shorter range missiles which landed in the Sea of Japan. It happened only four days after President Bush and the Prime Minister of Japan met in the US. Gentlemene, can you tell me what happened next? Who did what and how did you coordinate the US response?

Amb. Schieffer:             01:07                Orville Wright called me a few minutes after launch and I called the prime minister of Japan Prime Minister Koizumi and told him that the launch had occurred. What had happened was we had begun picking up the intelligence a couple of months out that the North Koreans might be doing something on a missile launch and General Wright and I worked hand in glove with each other to coordinate what we were doing and we had worked through it for two months as to what we were going to do and what was going to happen, what was going to be the response. In the 1990s, the North Koreans had actually launched a missile over Japan. The result was difficult for the United States and Japan because we had a couple of weeks in which we couldn't decide what had happened and who had done what and what should be done as a response. So we knew about that and we didn't want to have the same thing happen again. So we worked together closely. And that summit that you're talking about that had occurred was actually one of the most famous summits of American history because President Bush took Prime Minister Koizumi to Graceland because he was a huge Elvis Presley fan and so that had occurred and I had gone back for that summit. A.

Amb. McCarthy:            02:15                Did you also go to Graceland?

Amb. Schieffer:             02:17                I did.

Amb. McCarthy:            02:17                Ah, tell us about it.

Amb. Schieffer:             02:19                It was really unbelievable. One of the best souvenirs I've seen is a picture of Prime Minister Koizumi, Laura Bush and President Bush with Elvis glasses.

Amb. McCarthy:            02:31                Oh really?

Amb. Schieffer:             02:31                Yes. It was a limited edition I might add and not many people saw that picture, but it was an incredible time because President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi had really established a personal relationship. It was a remarkable day and we talked about, I didn't do much of the talking, but the President and the Prime Minister talked about the potential of a North Korean launch at that summit. We were all well aware of what could happen. General Wright was back in Japan taking care of the house while I was gone.

Gen. Wright:                 02:59                I think most of us know there are staffs that work for us that include lots of experience, for both the Embassy and US Forces Japan, a good deal of Japan time. My deputy, Major General Tim Larson, had multiple assignments in Japan, including Okinawa. So he had experience with that challenge. Not only did Tim understand the region, he really had been to many exercises in, on the peninsula in South Korean and really understood what was going on with our US Forces in South Korea. In the embassy, similarly, there were some terrific longtime Japan experts like Dave Shear,

Amb. McCarthy:            03:31                Oh, I know Dave.

Gen. Wright:                 03:31                And I'd known Dave back in the 1990s timeframe when I was there as Director of Operations. So those relationships and those friendships and that experience, you got to give those folks a lot of credit and I would offer them. Amb. Schieffer then took that experience in both our military headquarters and on the embassy staff and saw that opportunity to even strengthen the friendships and the relationships and some of that's social, getting together, but a lot of it's just an understanding that, you know, you can never have enough friends in a big fight. And when you put the experience in the US Embassy in Tokyo together with US Forces Japan headquarters and that experience, as well as the Army and Navy, Marine Corps leadership across Japan, that you've got a really solid, forward deployed, smart group of people to handle tough situations I think.

Amb. Schieffer:             04:16                No question about it, and Japan is also a node of American intelligence and so the intelligence agencies, they're there in force. What we tried to do was to combine the intelligence community, the diplomatic community and the military community into one unit that could act together. And so we began picking up this intelligence that there might be a missile a couple of months out and we created a task force of those three communities in which they had, it came to daily interaction. And at the time, right after General Wright called me and I talked to the Prime Minister about this before and asked if and when it came, did he want me to brief him or someone else? And he said he didn't want to decide at that point in time, but Shinzo Abe, who is the prime minister now, was the Chief Cabinet Secretary. And he, I think, wanted him to, because he was retiring, Prime Minister Koizumi would retire in September, and I think that he wanted Shinzo Abe to have the mantle of leadership, pass the baton to him. And so he said that, uh, he wanted the Defense Minister, the Foreign Minister and Chief Cabinet Secretary to be briefed. Well, the Foreign Minister at the time was Taro Aso, who later became prime minister as well. And Nukaga was the Defense Minister. And so when I called him, he said, I want you to brief the three of them. So I went over to the Kantei where, the Prime Minister's residence, and briefed the three of them, I think it was at 6:30 in the morning. I then walked out of that and there was a scrum of reporters. There must have been three or four hundred reporters at that moment. And I was on live across Japan because of the morning shows and all that kind of stuff. And the first question I had was, what should the Japanese think about the US relationship at this moment? And I said that I hoped that the Japanese people would understand that the United States stood with Japan today as it stood with Japan yesterday as it will stand with Japan tomorrow.

Amb. McCarthy:            06:13                Very important point.

Amb. Schieffer:             06:14                And that any potential enemy should understand then an attack upon Japan would be met with the full force and effect of a military response by the American government. And they understood what that meant. And the truth of the matter was, I think that really had a positive effect on the Japanese public. I think it calmed them to a certain extent because North Korea is right across the ocean there. It's close. I mean we have a tendency to think of North Korea as, it's a long way away and we're secured by two oceans and all that kind of stuff. But the Japanese don't feel that way. When I went back to the office that morning, I felt like we had done our job and that we had answered a real threat to Japan and frankly to Asia.

Amb. McCarthy:            07:00                And reassured the Japanese population.

Amb. Schieffer:             07:01                Yea, but the reason I could say that was because we had worked so closely together beforehand. Orville had called me within a few minutes and subsequent to that, the North Koreans exploded a nuclear device in October, and I called Oroville to tell him that that had occurred. And both of us, I think got more credit than we should have because it was the people that worked with us during that that really had done a terrific job. And I think that's what diplomacy and the military are all about. That's the essence of American foreign policy when they two can work together. In the morning that it happened before I went over to the Kantei to brief the three, we were hooked up with Yokota [Airbase], the Embassy, Yokota where General Wright was, Pacific Command, and the Pentagon. And we got uh, four way information. So I was able to go to brief people and I knew exactly what had happened, but actually the missiles were still being fired when I was there. And I could tell them that the ICBM had been fired and it had been a failure. But the other thing was that people didn't realize it, there were seven missiles that were fired there. Three of them were of a short range that could reach South Korea. Three of them were a range that that could reach Japan, and they all worked perfectly. The only one that didn't work was the ICBM and it went up about 48 seconds and came right back down. It didn't arch over, but had it arched over and failed a minute, two minutes, three minutes later it would have bellied right into Japan. And we recognized that and we understood it. And let me just say that we were prepared to respond to whatever had happened. And I mean prepared to respond to whatever might happen. And this was throughout the United States government. It wasn't just in Japan, it was the whole of the United States government.

Amb. McCarthy:            08:54                The system was ready.

Amb. Schieffer:             08:55                The system was ready. And then you can imagine the consequences that could have happened there if that missile had bellied in Japan that morning, instead of coming right straight back down,

Gen. Wright:                 09:05                I would also offer that the North Koreans were ready with a whole propaganda effort, we knew, to say that the ICBM had functioned perfectly and when we could immediately pin down that it had failed, it added to worldwide condemnation, really, or worldwide visibility. Even NATO came up and NATO headquarters came up within the next 24 hours and condemned North Korea for what they did. So the information fight is real and if you've got your stuff sorted together to lead turn that, you can stay ahead of the propaganda plan really that North Korea always has in place to lie or over exaggerate with their military capability.

Amb. Schieffer:             09:38                And the other part of that is, our whole government reacted, National Security Advisor, Secretary Rumsfeld, everything went back and everybody was able to call their counterparts and everybody was able to give them the up-to-date information that we had. And the only way that could've happened is if we had coordinated it together and worked it together. There were no egos here, there were no turf battles. We were representing America. And it was the whole of America and I think the response reassured people up and down the line.

Gen. Wright:                 10:10                There was a lot of work being done and it's always tough to bring together and improve the level of US Military forces in Japan and Self Defense Forces collaboration. There's politics involved. However, we saw a terrific opportunity to bring together, what we then called joint and combined command and control. The Japanese had a separate command and control system for missile launch and warning and for their air defense system, for many years. We'd been working to share information, to break through their classifications and what we're really trying to protect or not protect in terms of operational security, and we were making progress. Today, and I think it's built on the success of sharing information between the two governments and between the two militaries going all the way back to 2005, 2006 we have a combined US and Japan bilateral operations center at Yokota, Japanese sitting side by side with US military forces, sharing overhead satellite information as well as sharing the analysis, that kind of analysis that only those that have been there for a long time, US and Japanese, can understand about North Korea as well as China. And so we have now a combined bilateral command and control center that really builds upon, I think, a lot of what we did 15 years ago.

Amb. Schieffer:             11:21                I think that's a great point Orville and I want to emphasize that all the things that we talked about, about sharing amongst ourselves, we shared with the Japanese so the Japanese didn't get any surprises that morning and having an ally that understands what you know is incredibly invaluable.

Amb. McCarthy:            11:39                Absolutely.

Amb. Schieffer:             11:40                To both the relationship and the alliance, but just to getting the job done. The Japanese had confidence in us that we weren't hiding anything, that we weren't holding anything back, and that confidence builds on future relationships and I think that Orville makes an excellent point when he says that, because that's what happened.

Amb. McCarthy:            11:59                Well, I wanted to turn a little bit to the size of our military forces in Japan. Can you tell me a little bit about the size, the mission, and this renegotiation that took place in 2006?

Amb. Schieffer:             12:08                It really was born of Secretary Rumsfeld. He had a philosophical view that the reason American forces were where they were was because that's where the war ended and that he thought that there was a need for military transformation and to put the military in places that we needed to get to now that didn't exist at the end of World War II. And so that was a big philosophical change and we worked very closely together on that. You know, at the end, the Japanese agreed to assist us to the tune of 26 and a half billion dollars in that military transformation.

Amb. McCarthy:            12:42                They provided a substantial contribution. Very important.

Amb. Schieffer:             12:42                Yes. And we have over 80 military facilities in Japan. A lot of Americans don't realize that. We have 50,000 troops there. There's another 50,000 plus dependents there. That's more than anywhere else in the world. And those troops and that military are integral to keeping the peace, not only for Japan and the United States, but for Asia. And they are the thread that runs through all of our security and foreign policy in that part of the world.

Amb. McCarthy:            13:14                That's a point we try to make to our listeners, which is we have troops based, there are substantial contributions to their being based, and that our forces are not just to defend the country where they're based, but to operate globally.

Gen. Wright:                 13:27                You have it exactly right. Interestingly, here in Washington, you don't hear a lot about that reality or just the goodness of having forward deployed forces and families. It offers stability. Certainly deterrence, very credible deterrence to the bad behavior in that part of the world, wherever it might come from Russia, China or North Korea. The other value I think of that relationship is for US forces themselves and we used to always say for US forces, US military members and families, you will enjoy your time in Japan because it's such a different culture, but we have so many shared values. Our kids would get on the train and go from Yokota down to Tokyo, junior high and teenagers and we knew they were safe, even walking around a major city like downtown Tokyo. And the Japanese are great friends. Once you make friends with the Japanese, and I think again, most military families would say it the same way, the Japanese are great friends. So there's a value to that.

Amb. Schieffer:             14:18                No question about it.

Gen. Wright:                 14:19                For the good of our, both nations, for the good of the world really.

Amb. Schieffer:             14:22                And the Japanese contribute what we call host nation support. That is money to help fund the troops being there of, in excess of $4 billion. That's larger than anyone else in the world does. And those dollars are well spent by us. We wanted our forces to meld together, we wanted them to be able to perform together and we wanted to be able to trust each other. And that was a mission of more than one ambassador or one commander of US Forces in Japan.

Amb. McCarthy:            14:49                And wouldn't this have led or did this lead to the fact that at our request, Japan deployed some forces to Iraq and also to Kuwait for a period of time.

Amb. Schieffer:             14:58                And because of the constitution, which basically we wrote and that has never been amended, they are prohibited from stationing forces overseas in conflict. And so we thought that the fact that the Japanese were willing to put a deployment of engineers that were non-combat troops, but were doing things that needed to be done with water and local resources and stuff like that, this was a major step for Japan to take because they really hadn't done that before. The other part of that was because of the constitution as it was then interpreted, they could not do their own force protection. So at the beginning the Netherlands actually provided force protection for the Japanese while they were there, when the Netherlands pulled out, we had to find someone else that would do the force protection for them. And strangely enough that was the Australians. And that was the last act that I worked on in Australia.

Amb. Schieffer:             15:53                When you were Ambassador to Australia.

Amb. Schieffer:             15:54                Because I was ambassador to Australia at the time and the Australians stepped in. In things like this, people don't sometimes realize, but the war wasn't quite over in much of the Pacific when both of us were there. In Australia, it was John Howard was the Prime Minister, and he took an extraordinary risk to have the Australians provide force protection for the Japanese. And there was a reluctance in the Australian public to do that. But at the end it became a tremendous positive for the Australians. They took great pride in doing it and the Japanese appreciated it and there's a stronger relationship today between Japan and Australia because of that deployment.

Gen. Wright:                 16:35                The two militaries then can look past the real history of World War II, but look forward to stability and freedom in the region. And so we were able to make, I think, a good deal of progress on trilateral exercises. So exercises amazingly that include the South Korean military and the US military and the Japanese military. Those multilateral exercises continue to grow. Our ability to take Japan Air Self Defense Forces to our Red Flag series in Alaska or to exercises in Guam. That progress, if you will, was unprecedented. You know, the Japanese ability to deliver and practice with air to ground weapons delivered from their combat aircraft where they could use ranges in Guam for example, or use the ranges in Alaska. Those things build long standing relationships starting with young officer and enlisted members in the military. That then puts the US in the middle, if you will, as a leader to bring together the Australian military, where we have great relations...

Amb. McCarthy:            17:31                As a convener.

Gen. Wright:                 17:31                The South Korean military, we had a really good relationship between the Commander of US Forces Korea, General B.B. Bell and I, and we worked with our two counterparts who were the equivalent chairman, the most senior military officers in South Korea and Japan. I remember one night in Tokyo, we had a wonderful dinner, just the four of us. I'll often advertise that the ugly history between South Korea and Japan never came up. We talked about China and we talked about North Korea with the real experts in the room who happened to be the senior military leader in South Korea and the senior military leader in Japan. And so that's all happening, again, mil to mil relationships enabled by terrific diplomatic leadership to you know empower those kinds of relationships.

Amb. Schieffer:             18:08                And there's a now a separate exercise that the Japanese, Australians, and Americans do together that had never happened before and the Australians and the Japanese have signed additional agreements. And that's very important in Asia. It's very important around the world, but we cannot dictate to people who they will be friends with. We have to persuade people that it is in their own interest to do things. And I think that the experiences that both Orville and I had tell us how important that is. And it really does pay dividends in the long run. And you have to think about American foreign policy in the long run, not just today's events, but in the long run. Hopefully we helped do that while we were in positions of responsibility.

Gen. Wright:                 18:53                I don't know that it's common, I think successful US Ambassadors over the years have really seen sort of the national security responsibilities they have, and ambassador Schieffer did that, beyond obviously his State Department portfolio, if you will, he really saw, I think, the opportunity for international security progress. That includes obviously a strong military, a credibly deterrent force forward deployed, and how you constantly sort of adjust how that military is going to be ready to respond, and when needed in being ready, lead to a decisive win if that's what it takes. We don't ever want to be in long wars. You want to be ready and then you want to get to, if it goes to conflict, end that conflict decisively and get back to the negotiating table.

Amb. McCarthy:            19:39                Negotiating tables for our diplomats.

Gen. Wright:                 19:41                Yeah.

Amb. McCarthy:            19:42                Well your negotiating abilities on both sides have also been tested in different ways. I note that our military presence in Japan has not been welcomed by all in Japan. There's been a long and deep opposition to the presence of our Marines in Okinawa with periodic protests. What are the reasons for this opposition and how did you work together to address it in your time?

Amb. Schieffer:             20:02                I think you have to understand what would people think if we had lost World War II and there were German contingent basis in America or Japanese bases in America. I think any foreign military on someone else's soil is full of chances for irritation and problems, and that's not an exception in Japan, as good as our relationship is, there are times when it can go south on you. But in Okinawa particularly, the Okinawans were once an independent country themselves and sometimes they don't think of themselves as Japanese and sometimes other Japanese don't think of them as Japanese. So that is an irritant involved too. But you do have situations in which you will have the errant military personnel do something that you don't want them to do. Vice President Mondale used to say that people would ask him how's his day going? And he'd say, well about as well as the judgment of an 18 year old, because that's what my job sometimes hinges on. And we've all faced that and we can't deliver a perfect world as much as we would want to. But how you respond to those incidents, it goes a long way to whether you're going to be successful in the military or as an ambassador. It happened a couple of times with us and I think, I don't want to sound braggart about it, but I think we did a good job on that and the fact that we were willing to take responsibility, we were easy to find on those days when you don't want to be found. I think that went a long way to a successful stay for both of us.

Gen. Wright:                 21:34                I think Ambassador Schieffer has it exactly right. When I was there as the Director of Operations in the nineties we had a horrible rape incident in Okinawa, so I remember working through that. And so when I came back and worked with Ambassador Schieffer, we emphasized, my theme, our theme, unwavering professionalism for all US military members and families and we pounded on that. It sounds simple, but we got our enlisted force, our senior enlisted force involved. We did a lot of training. You know, it's tough when you've got a 19 year old soldier, sailor, marine, or airman who just came back from fighting the war in Iraq and now they're stationed here where their job really is to be a junior ambassador. That's their mission as well as to be, you know, obviously combat ready, but they've got to put the very best face forward for the United States of America and for the US military. So you can't measure success obviously, but I remember Ambassador Schieffer and I traveled together to Okinawa and sit down with the general officer leadership and senior officer leadership, Marine leadership, in Okinawa and talk through this challenge that we all shared. I have to believe it helped. It didn't prevent every ugly, horrible incident, but that's the approach you have to take and I think you're more effective if you work together between the State Department and the Embassy obviously, and US Forces Japan and I really appreciate Ambassador Schieffer being our lead, if you will, carrying the American flag, which is the job that the US Ambassador, the military is in support of our senior US representative in the region.

Amb. McCarthy:            22:49                One of the things we've tried to convey, also, in this series is that as military leaders, as diplomatic leaders, you're responsible for your teams 24/7, the family members, you, you've seen your share of domestic disputes, kids who get into trouble. So it also incurs on the civilian side. You have to make sure that all the junior ones, so to speak, are also ambassadors in the country.

Amb. Schieffer:             23:08                I want to give some accolades here to Orville on one particular incident that happened. There was a 38 year old Marine. He had a motorcycle and a sidecar and he persuaded a 13 year old Japanese girl in Okinawa to get in the sidecar to get a ride home. When he got to the home, the parents weren't home. He went inside and he brutally raped her. I was in the United States at that point in time. I was coming back and they called me and told me what the situation was and I said I want a meeting and asked General Wright to be there as well. And so I got off the airplane, went to the embassy and General Wright and kind of the senior staff was there and I went around the table, and asked everybody what they thought we should do and people talked about the alliance and all of this kind of stuff. And then I think it was the Defense Attache said, "I think we ought to do something for the parents, I mean, if that were my little girl, I'd want to know that something was being done". And I said, "I think that's exactly right". So what we decided to do that day was to go to Okinawa and talk to the governor there and allow everybody who felt like they needed to ask what American policy was to ask the question and General Wright said, "I got the plane, let's go tomorrow". And we went down there and we flew down there. I mean, I got advice from some that said, "Oh, don't do that because the press is going to be all of this and it's going to be unrelenting and all that kind of stuff". And I went down there and I took a handwritten letter to the parents. I didn't know what their name was because they didn't release that, but talking about, we were going to see that justice was done and all that. So we went in and it was a very hostile press corps, the two of us walked in and I thought it was very important for the two of us to walk in. I gave the letter to the governor. He didn't know whether to take it, frankly.

Amb. McCarthy:            24:49                Really?

Amb. Schieffer:             24:49                I think he realized that he had to take it and so then he gets up and leaves and normally the Japanese will always accompany you to the elevator. He didn't do that. He left us in there with the press and this was all in front of this huge press corps down there. And there were three questions that were asked. The first question was, "How does this affect the US alliance?" And I said, "I hope it doesn't affect the US alliance, but that's not the point, we have to worry about this young girl and her parents and the tragedy that has happened to them. And we'll think about that and we'll talk about that on another day." The second question was, "What was in the letter?" And I said, "You know, the letter was to the parents and to the little girl. If they want to tell you what was in the letter, they can tell you, but I'm not going to tell you. That's their letter from us." The third question was, "Are there any other questions?" And there were none. We waited for a few minutes, I guess. No more questions. We got up and left and I think that the fact that we went down there and that we said, we want to assure you that we're going to do everything that we can to see that justice is done to this awful thing that has happened to this family and their daughter, I think it made a difference and it diffused the situation. The reaction wasn't outrageous. I mean it was outrageous at the act, but it wasn't at what we did about it. I think it actually diffused it and I think Orville understood that and I understood that. Maybe everybody that was on our team didn't think that was a good thing to do, but it wound up being a great thing to do and it's kind of what you always should do, is to try to do the right thing first.

Amb. McCarthy:            26:29                Let me ask, in these cases what happens to the perpetrators?

Gen. Wright:                 26:34                Well, the ambassador could go into detail on this and we actually went through, custody, kind of a series of discussions over the years where the US kept custody and then over time we've turned over criminals to the Japanese and they go to Japanese jail.

Amb. McCarthy:            26:47                I know in some countries I've served, sometimes we prosecuted them.

Amb. Schieffer:             26:49                Because of this, the SoFA [Status of Forces Agreement] agreement and sometimes, and I think we kept him and prosecuted him. He got a life sentence. He's in jail, at that point in time, but I think we had an agreement with the Japanese government as I recall to do that. It was one of those things that can turn out 100,000 people in demonstration in Okinawa and really sour the relationship. But, who doesn't want justice to be done? That's the thing you have to remember. It's not the US alliance at that point in time and the fact that we went down there and showed the humanity of the American government I think made a huge difference.

Gen. Wright:                 27:26                That's exactly right, exactly right.

Amb. McCarthy:            27:28                With this story of impressive leadership, we wrap up part one of our conversation with ambassador Tom Schieffer and General Orville Wright on their partnership in Japan. Stay tuned for part two when we will cover the horrific kidnapping of Japanese citizens by North Korea, the effect it had on President Bush and US negotiations, as well as how another ally, Australia, came to the defense of the United States on 9/11.