As director general of the Defense Agency during 1970–1971, Nakasone sought to develop a more autonomous defense posture. As trade minister during 1972–1974, he initiated a breakthrough trade agreement with the People's Republic of China (PRC) in January 1974. He also defied U.S. leaders by supporting an accommodation with the Arab states to sustain oil supplies during the 1973–1974 oil embargo.
On 27 November 1982, Nakasone was elected prime minister. In this post he continued his efforts to transform Japan into a geopolitical and strategic power. Ironically, given his intensely nationalistic reputation, Japan's deeper integration with the Western alliance also characterized his administration. He quickly established a close relationship with President Ronald Reagan and spoke of Japan acting in a crisis like "an unsinkable aircraft carrier" to prevent Soviet forces from entering the Pacific.
At the May 1983 G7 summit, Nakasone's insistence that members' security was indivisible precluded agreement on an intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty that would have allowed Moscow to redeploy SS-20 missiles in Asia. Under pressure from the U.S. government, Nakasone agreed to participate in research on Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) missile defense system in September 1986, and in January 1987 Nakasone broke Japan's mandated ceiling on defense spending, which had been limited to 1 percent of gross national product (GNP). However, fierce domestic opposition blocked his efforts to send minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1987 during the Iran-Iraq War.
Nakasone cultivated a personal relationship with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev but failed to improve Japan-Soviet relations significantly. Similarly, despite making an unprecedented visit to the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea) in 1983 and providing a large government loan to the PRC in 1984, Nakasone's official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine—dedicated to Japanese war dead—in September 1985 poisoned relations with both Beijing and Seoul. He resigned as prime minister on 19 June 1987.
Many of Nakasone's goals went largely unfulfilled during his tenure. However, he did help to set the course of post–Cold War Japanese foreign policy. Nakasone retired from politics altogether in 2003.
Christopher W. Braddick
Saito, Shiro. Japan at the Summit: Japan's Role in the Western Alliance and Asian Pacific Co-Operation. London: Routledge, 1990.; Thayer, Nathaniel B. "Japanese Foreign Policy in the Nakasone Years." Pp. 90–104 in Japan's Foreign Policy after the Cold War: Coping with Change, edited by Gerald L. Curtis. Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1993.