A New Chapter in U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation
October 10, 2014
On October 8, the U.S. and Japanese governments issued an interim report on a review of the guidelines for bilateral defense cooperation. The guidelines were first introduced in 1978 to clarify alliance priorities for the defense of Japan during the Cold War and then updated in 1997 with added emphasis on regional security. This latest review commenced earlier this year and is intended to reflect changes in the security environment and incorporate new strategies in both countries centered on strengthening the U.S.-Japan Alliance. The interim report outlines priorities for defense cooperation in a bilateral, regional, and global context and establishes a framework for a formal revision of the guidelines due at the end of this year.
Q1: What is the strategic context for the defense guidelines review?
A1: The U.S.-Japan Alliance has been the cornerstone of regional security for over six decades. A bilateral security treaty obligates the United States to defend Japan in exchange for access to bases in Japan for maintaining regional peace and security. This core element of the alliance remains intact, but bilateral cooperation has evolved over time in response to changes in the security environment. Multiple challenges in the Asia-Pacific region now place a premium on furthering bilateral defense cooperation to strengthen deterrence and promote rules and norms that favor stability. Japan recently introduced a defense strategy to strengthen its defense capabilities and work more closely with the United States and other partners in the Asia-Pacific region, and this coincides with the U.S. strategic rebalance to the Asia Pacific based on robust alliance relationships as a foundation for shaping the regional security environment. The review of the guidelines for bilateral defense cooperation presents an opportunity to further integrate the strategies as well as the military capabilities of the two governments and enhance coordination bilaterally and with other like-minded countries.
Q2: What does the interim report cover?
A2: In October 2013, the bilateral Security Consultative Committee (SCC), composed of the U.S. secretaries of state and defense and their Japanese counterparts, issued a strategic vision for the U.S.-Japan Alliance and called for a review of the guidelines to enhance alliance cooperation bilaterally, regionally, and globally. The interim report identifies potential priorities in each of those areas beginning with a range of measures to ensure the peace and security of Japan. Proposed areas of emphasis under this category include maritime security, air and missile defense, training and exercises, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR). The interim report notes that the revised guidelines will reference bilateral cooperation in situations involving an armed attack against Japan but also in case of an armed attack against a country that is in a close relationship with Japan. This reflects a recent decision by the Abe government to reinterpret the Japanese constitution to exercise the right of collective self-defense, though the details of this new policy are subject to parliamentary debate, and supporting legislation likely won’t be submitted before 2015.
The interim report also emphasizes trilateral and multilateral defense cooperation with allies and partners in the region and lists possible areas for regional and global cooperation, such as maritime security, capacity building, noncombatant evacuation operations, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Enhancing cooperation on space and cybersecurity also are identified as priorities for the new guidelines. The report concludes with a section on promoting bilateral enterprise, including defense equipment and technology cooperation in light of Japan’s decision earlier this year to relax restrictions on arms exports.
Q3: How long before details emerge?
A3: The two governments will continue to review strategic objectives for the alliance and attendant roles, missions, and capabilities and are expected to finalize the new guidelines for defense cooperation at the end of this year. The Abe cabinet decision on collective self-defense is a significant step toward expanding the parameters for U.S.-Japan cooperation, but the impact in operational terms will depend on the timeline for implementing legislation that could extend into next year. Consequently, the extent to which the updated guidelines can detail the implications of Japan exercising the right of collective self-defense is unclear.
Q4: Bottom line?
A4: The guidelines review process reflects a shared interest in enhancing bilateral coordination and interoperability, important strategic objectives buttressed by Japan’s decision on collective self-defense. The new guidelines will prove significant in reaffirming the strategic framework for the U.S.-Japan Alliance and establishing priorities for bilateral defense cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
Nicholas Szechenyi is a senior fellow and deputy director of the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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