The United States and Japan will release new bilateral defense guidelines in late April, according to Japanese officials who briefed reporters on the plan. The timing is politically awkward, as new and revised legislation to authorize new roles and missions for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces envisioned in the new guidelines will not even be introduced in the Diet until May, and will likely be the subject of intense debate. But the US and Japan are anxious to release the new guidelines during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Washington later this month. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, together with coalition junior partner Komeito, holds a commanding majority in the Lower House, and the prime minister’s advisors are confident the implementing legislation will pass with ease. The pacifist Komeito has major reservations about many of the defense policies spearheaded by Abe, but has been unwilling to resign in protest from the ruling coalition. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is currently in Tokyo for consultations prior to the Abe visit.
Dispatch Japan continues to chronicle the evolution of Japan’s defense and security policies, and the implications of those changes for the US-Japan security alliance.
Jim Przystup is a senior fellow and research professor at the Institute of National Strategic Studies, National Defense University. Previously, he was Director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, a staff member on the US House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, a staff member in the State Department’s office of policy planning, and director for Regional Security Strategies on the Policy Planning Staff in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He worked in the private sector at Itochu and IBM. Dr. Przystup graduated from the University of Detroit and holds an M.A. in International Relations and a Ph.D. in Diplomatic History from the University of Chicago. The views expressed below are those of Mr. Przystup alone. They do not represent the views or policies of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the United States Government.
Przystup: “Collective Self-Defense makes
Japan a more attractive alliance partner”
DISPATCH JAPAN: The public supported Prime Minister Abe’s handling of the recent hostage crisis, including opposition to ransom payment. But the public also seemed to be wary of any military-related response, or to see any policy implications much beyond renewed diplomatic efforts. Any surprise there?
PRZYSTUP: Not really, either in terms of public support for Abe’s handling of the crisis, or the government’s opposition to ransom payments. Within Japan’s political leadership, there has been, and continues to be some discussion of a role for the Self-Defense Forces in a future hostage crisis. But there does not appear to be broad public support for an expanded SDF role.
The recent hostage crisis was definitely not a 9/11 “tipping point” for Japan with respect to security policy. However, over time and in the likely event of another incident, I would expect questions to be asked as to how the government, in the words of the 2013 National Security Strategy, will “ensure the safety of life, person and properties of its nationals.”
DISPATCH JAPAN: Let’s look at the ongoing review of the bilateral US-Japan defense guidelines. Why was Japan anxious for the review?
PRZYSTUP: For several reasons, the Abe government wanted to anchor the US in the alliance, and in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan faces growing threats from North Korea, and faces increasing assertive Chinese conduct in the East and South China Seas. At the same time, many in Japan were uncertain of the Obama administration’s commitment to back up words with actions. In particular, the disappearing “red lines” over Syria raised international eyebrows, and Japan was no different.
Meanwhile, there has been growing recognition in Japan that if the country is to be able to count on the US, Japan would have to assume a larger role within the alliance, given financial and deployment strains on US forces.
The Japanese government’s reinterpretation of the right of collective self-defense last July was in part aimed at making Japan a more attractive alliance partner.
DISPATCH JAPAN: Why was the US initially reluctant to update the guidelines?
PRZYSTUP: The initial US reluctance stemmed from concerns of being drawn into a potential conflict with China over the Senkaku islands. Since China’s late leader Deng Xiaoping opened the country to the world’s market economy, US policy toward Asia has run along two tracks: one, to move China, in (former World Bank President) Bob Zoellick’s words, toward becoming a “Responsible Stakeholder”; the second has been to manage alliance relationships.
Over the past three decades, this has been a diplomatic and security policy success story. But, China’s recent assertiveness in both the South China Sea and toward the Senkakus raised questions across the region with respect to US policy. What is the US going to do in response to China? Even as Washington continued to issue a series of diplomatic statements, Chinese actions have continued to change facts on the grounds.
For the US, it has been increasingly difficult to manage a policy that straddles engagement with China and enhancement of alliance and security relationships with other countries in the region.
In January 2014, the Director of National Intelligence submitted his annual report to Congress that made two points with respect to China. First, China is engaged in advancing the notion of a New Major Power Relationship with the US, to smooth out bilateral ties with the US, and to create a win-win situation for the two countries. The second point was that China is actively engaged in undercutting US credibility with our allies and partners.
The confluence of these forces led to the October 2013 decision to review the US-Japan defense guidelines, and to President Obama’s affirmation in April of last year that Article V of the Security Treaty extends to the Senkakus.
DISPATCH JAPAN: What roles and capabilities is Japan likely to enhance?
PRZYSTUP: Japan’s National Security Strategy has identified several priorities: law enforcement capabilities via the Coast Guard; so-called C4ISR, which means “command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance; and maritime surveillance and amphibious capabilities.
DISPATCH JAPAN: How do the guidelines review and the collective self-defense issue overlap? Will authorization of collective self-defense most affect Japan’s potential out-of-area roles, such as mine-sweeping in the Persian Gulf, or will the impact be greater on contingencies in areas around Japan?
PRZYSTUP: Concerning potential SDF deployments beyond the Asia-Pacific region, the most talked-about contingency involves minesweeping in the Persian Gulf.
The existing 1997 defense guidelines limit US-Japan security cooperation to rear area support in non-combat situations in “Areas Surrounding Japan” (SIASJ). SIASJ is largely understood to relate to a Korean contingency.
Japan’s logistical support for US-led coalition forces in Operation Enduring Freedom (in Afghanistan), starting in 2001, required Diet passage of a Special Measures Law.
Whether the SIASJ language will be retained in the guidelines now under review will shape the contours of future security cooperation. Certainly in the event of a Korean contingency, the US will have access to UN-designated bases in Japan and rear area support under the 1997 defense guidelines. But ROK political leaders have made it unmistakably clear that Japanese “boots on the ground” would not be welcomed in a Korean contingency.
As for future instances in which Japan could exercise the right of collective self-defense, the two reports of the Advisory Panel on the Legal Basis for National Security (the Yanai panel) presented a broad overview. The ruling coalition made up of the Liberal Democrats and Komeito are now debating legislation that will implement the July 2014 Cabinet decision on the exercise of collective self-defense. Legislation is likely to be introduced in the current Diet session.
DISPATCH JAPAN: On a practical level, how will the new policy on collective self-defense most affect the US-Japan alliance?
PRZYSTUP: For the US and Japanese forces to operate effectively together, it will be crucial for them to integrate their respective C4ISR capabilities. This will be a major challenge. Joint planning, joint training, and joint use of bases will all serve to more closely integrate operations, strengthening both deterrence and defense.
DISPATCH JAPAN: A US-Japan unified command seems far-fetched, but do you foresee collective self-defense paving the way for joint US-Japan task forces?
PRZYSTUP: I agree that a unified command structure is somewhere over the rainbow, but over time, collective self-defense could result in a joint US-Japan task force. For now, the next step is to see where the implementing legislation will take security cooperation.
DISPATCH JAPAN: What are the strategic factors underlying the recent revisions in Japan’s defense export policy?
PRZYSTUP: Shrinking defense budgets, economies of scale, access to a broader range of technologies and markets, and the importance of preserving a defense industry combined to produce the decision to relax the arms export ban. In the UK and France, defense ministry officials and defense industry leaders welcomed Japan’s decision, and said they look forward to defense industry cooperation.
DISPATCH JAPAN: Notwithstanding these changes in Japan’s defense policies, strategic relations with South Korea remain troubled.
PRZYSTUP: Security in Northeast Asia would benefit immensely from improved relations between Japan and South Korea. Defense officials in both countries are, by and large, positive. The disconnect occurs at the political levels in Seoul and Tokyo. Intelligence sharing is now agreed to, but is limited to North Korea’s nuclear and WMD programs. Further intelligence sharing will enhance the Northeast Asia security environment.
This would also be true of cooperation on THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense). China is opposed to the US and the ROK cooperating on THAAD. But the fact is that THAAD, despite Chinese representations to the contrary, is focused on the threat to the ROK posed by North Korea’s missiles. I find it hypocritical for Beijing to argue that Seoul should not enhance its self-defense through the use of THADD, while Beijing continues to prop up the North Korean economy. By providing economic assistance, China is allowing Pyongyang to continue to develop its WMD and missile programs.
DISPATCH JAPAN: Do you see any prospect for improved Japan-ROK ties?
PRZYSTUP: In my view, the key to moving ahead in ROK-Japan relations is for leaders in both countries to get back to the October 1998, Kim Dae Jung-Obuchi Keizo agreement, known as A New Japan-Republic of Korea Partnership towards the Twenty-first Century. (Kim “accepted with sincerity” Obuchi’s acknowledgement as “a fact of history” that Japan caused “tremendous damage and suffering to the people of the Republic of Korea through its colonial rule.”)
This will require real political leadership and statesmanship in both countries. But, as demonstrated by the Kim-Obuchi agreement, it is not impossible.
DISPATCH JAPAN: Under these circumstances do you think it was a good idea for House Speaker John Boehner to invite Prime Minister Abe to address a joint session of Congress?
PRZYSTUP: Yes. Abe is the leader of our major ally in Asia. This is a no-brainer. President Park has twice addressed a joint session of the Congress.