(Sankei: April 28, 2015 – p. 2)
The foreign affairs and defense ministers of Japan and the U.S. met in New York to revise the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines for the first time in 18 years. The changes are meant to effectively prepare for the increasingly tough global security environment, strengthen the two countries’ alliance, and ensure solid peace and prosperity for Japan.
The new guidelines will pave the way for the security legislation bills that the government and the ruling parties aim to enact during the current session. Along with this, they will also serve as a foundation to reflect the government’s new policies, which include partially allowing the country to exercise the right to collective self-defense, in Self-Defense Forces operations on the ground.
The government should make the necessary adjustments with the U.S. based on the new guidelines as soon as possible to establish strong and effective deterrence.
The distinguishing feature of the new guidelines is that they call for “seamless cooperation” between Japan and the U.S. They envisage a range of situations from peacetime monitoring and surveillance activities to gray-zone situations that have not yet escalated into contingencies, such as the occupation of Japan’s outlying islands, logistical support to U.S. and other countries’ militaries dealing with international conflicts, and contingencies that could involve the exercise of collective self-defense. Cooperation will be carried out in accordance with the degree of tension.
The 1997 version of the defense cooperation guidelines called for cooperation with an eye on contingencies in Japan and focused on extending logistical support to the U.S. military when situations arise in areas surrounding Japan, with a particular eye on the Korean Peninsula.
But under the previous protocols, SDF troops were not allowed to use force even if the U.S. military was at risk in areas surrounding Japan. The areas where they could provide logistical support were limited to Japanese territories and non-combat zones.
Caution must be exercised against the threat of nuclear and ballistic missile attacks from North Korea, but China’s growing military might is also emerging as a serious concern.
The world’s second largest economy has been growing more assertive overseas. It is building up its military muscle and is trying to seize control of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture at any opportunity. In the South China Sea, it is engaged in territorial disputes with Southeast Asian countries and is reclaiming reefs without the consent of the parties involved to construct airports and other military facilities.
China must be stopped from making audacious maritime advances to change the status quo. Force should not be used immediately, but if Japan fails to respond to various actions by China, it will not be able to protect its territorial sovereignty. That is where seamless defense cooperation between Japan and the U.S. becomes so important.
Tokyo and Washington also need to step up their cooperation in new areas of strategic interest, such as space and cyberspace.
Revisions to the defense guidelines also highlight that Japan will expand the role of the SDF through the new protocols and security legislation and will work closely with the U.S. to contribute to peace in the international community.
President Obama has stated that the U.S. is no longer the “world’s policeman” with respect to its Middle Eastern policies. It has been cutting back defense spending, suggesting that U.S. citizens are growing more inward-looking.
It appears that Washington’s determination to maintain international order is fading, but the U.S. military still remains the world’s most powerful force and helps to uphold global freedom and order.
To ensure that the U.S. rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region stays on track, Japan needs to strengthen its contribution to peace and make efforts to anchor the U.S. to the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. military expects the SDF to conduct monitoring activities in the South China Sea. How Japan responds to this call will become a major challenge.
A strong U.S. commitment to the region is more practical than the option of Japan strengthening its defenses alone.
This policy has drawn criticism from several people that Japan is choosing a “path toward cooperating in war,” but is totally different. It is a policy decision on the division of roles for peace-building.
Cooperation should grow beyond the relationship between the SDF and the U.S. military. It would be productive to enhance cooperation with third countries that share the values of freedom and democracy, such as Australia.
The new guidelines serve as a starting point for security cooperation. Japan needs to enact security legislation during the current Diet session to renew its alliance with the U.S.
It is also important to establish a coordinating agency between Japan and the U.S., draw up joint action plans, and improve joint training. At the same time, it is essential to organize the SDF and upgrade its equipment and personnel.
Prime Minister Abe, on his part, is responsible for explaining to the public about this major policy shift.