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Expert: Effectively use Armitage Report for Japan-U.S. alliance

By former MSDF Yokosuka District Commandant Tetsuro Doshita


U.S. Japan-hands including former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage released the fourth “Armitage-Nye Report” in early October. I would like to reflect here on how the report will impact operations of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and the challenges it will present to the SDF.


The report’s most important recommendation is to create a “Japan-U.S. combined contingency plan.” By defining contingency situations to which both the Japanese and the U.S. governments should jointly respond, the report recommends the creation of a specific operational plan that can be applied to unit operations of both the SDF and  U.S. forces.


The last report released in 2012 recommended the “interoperability of operational concepts” [between the SDF and U.S. forces]. The recommendation was aimed at achieving such interoperability by integrating two concepts – the U.S. military’s “Air Sea Battle” and the SDF’s “Dynamic Defense.” The latest report examines in detail operations of both the SDF and the U.S. military in specific situations so that the degree of perfection including rear-echelon support could be raised to the degree of readiness called “Fight Tonight.” 


What are most urgently needed are Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) and measures to respond to ballistic missiles. NEO involves the smooth evacuation of Japanese residents and others in South Korea to Japan in the event of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula. It is desirable for both the U.S. forces and the South Korean military to achieve a level of readiness where they are able to quickly respond to a North Korean provocation.


It is necessary to align the strategic objectives of both the Japanese and the U.S. governments, as well as to align the operational goals of the SDF and the U.S. military. It is also necessary to adjust the Rules of Engagement at the tactical level on the field. It is as important for the Japanese and the U.S. governments to discuss in advance how the two governments will make decisions in response to the development of a crisis.  


There is a lot of work that needs to be done to achieve these goals, but their achievement would significantly improve cooperation between the SDF and the U.S. military and their response capability. It would enhance the effectiveness of the Japan-U.S. alliance and raise bilateral defense cooperation to a new dimension.


The report also calls for expanding ways to jointly operate the SDF and U.S. military bases and for the U.S. military to use Japanese civilian air- and seaports in the event of emergency. It also recommends enhancing combined operations between the SDF and the U.S. forces. These should be incorporated into the new operational plan to ensure proper implementation.


Bearing in mind the unpredictable situation on the Korean Peninsula, the report proposes that Japan and South Korea share information and mutually provide military supplies. As the Japanese and the South Korean governments have already concluded a General Security of Military Information Agreement, signing the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement will be the next task for the two countries.


During a trilateral joint drill among Japan, the U.S. and South Korea conducted last fall, the ROK refused to allow  MSDF vessels to enter the Korea Theater of Operations set in preparation for a contingency. The South Korean government apparently refused the MSDF vessels’ entry out of concern for the anti-Japan sentiment in the country and in consideration for the relationship with China. However, in order to strengthen deterrence in preparation for the possible reemergence of the North Korean threat, it is essential to deepen the security relationship between Japan and South Korea, the most vulnerable of the three nations.


In the past three reports, Mr. Armitage and others proposed Japan exercise the right of collective self-defense, enhance classified information security, and improve the quality of Japan-U.S. joint drills and other matters. The proposals were reflected in the enactment of the security legislation and the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets in Japan. Through repeated discussions and joint activities between Japan and the U.S., these measures have been made more concrete. As a result, “anachronistic restrictions” on the SDF pointed out in the reports were significantly lifted.


In order for the SDF to achieve a level of readiness that would be truly effective in a contingency, it is necessary to steadfastly tackle various challenges while gaining understanding from the public.




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