On April 27, 2015, the heads of the U.S. and Japanese Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs, through the work of the 2+2 group, confirmed new “guidelines” for Japan-U.S. defence cooperation, which have been substantially modified in comparison to a similar agreement accepted in 1997
This document clearly indicates the intentions of Japan and the United States to formalize their global military cooperation, not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but far beyond.
The guidelines for defence cooperation of the two countries were last revised in 1997, where the main military role of the U.S. and Japanese Self-Defence Forces were laid out for joint operations, which were chiefly focused on defending Japan and combating emergency situations. The new edition of this same collaboration indicates that it is not limited geographically, but will now take on a global nature of Japan-U.S. military alliance and continue spreading to areas such as intelligence gathering, logistics, missile defence, cyber, outer space, civil evacuation plans and measures to address refugee issues. In the event of a military conflict, Tokyo will not only provide Washington access to all necessary facilities on its territory, including airports, harbors, and other critical infrastructure, but will actively assist the United States, thus virtually providing Japan as one huge U.S. military base.
Washington and Tokyo for the first time refused geographic connections to East Asia, extending the agreement to hypothetical situations, when the United States or “third nations” can be attacked by an enemy. Now Japan can support its ally (which will most likely be the United States) with the ”minimum necessary force”, participate in response by Japan’s Self-Defence Forces in the event of threats to American ships in joint operations in world marine spaces. For example, Japan can send its soldiers to the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, if the Japanese oil imports are threatened or a conflict with Iran arises, jointly patrol the world’s oceans, and even inspect suspicious vessels heading to Japan and also to carry out mutual logistical and logistical support anywhere in the world.
In addition to Washington confirming its guaranteeing a “nuclear umbrella”, the agreement tributes great importance to missile defence as well. In particular, fixed agreements to strengthen the deterrent capacity in the event of a ballistic missile attack, as well as Air Force military incursions in other countries, which does not exclude the possibility of interception, including military aircrafts of other states, in particular, China.
As evidenced by the above agreement, Washington is trying to tightly bind Tokyo in the military sphere, giving Japan the authority to conduct a more active policy in regional and global affairs, at the same time not giving her too much autonomy in such activities. The stated correction to the “guidelines” for defence cooperation, which offers fairly ample alterations, became possible after changes in the Constitution of Japan, concerning rights to joint self-defence policies. And if Japan used to refer to limitations stated in their “pacifist constitution”, then now excuses of this kind won’t fly, because any required amendments to the legislation will be adopted before the end of the current session of Parliament.
This new agreement reflects the United States’ desire to strengthen mutual connections with Japan with an emphasis on security, allowing Washington to broaden its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and could aggravate relations with China. This agreement expresses for the first time the possible actions that Japanese Self-Defence Forces and U.S. forces can turn to, not only in the event of a military attack on Japan, but in peacetime as well. For the coordination of bilateral collaboration, a permanent body will be created – “The mechanism of allied cooperation,” which will include representatives from both countries at all levels and in all areas necessary to enhance the interoperability of the military agencies of both Japan and the United States.
The agreement does not clarify the most controversial points in the more so-called “grey areas” that can not be defined either as an open war, or as real world and including, for example, the cases of the landing “unidentified armed contingent” on a remote Japanese island, or the entry of foreign submarine in the territorial waters. This is most likely an intentional move, since both parties are trying to thereby keep their hands as free as possible, especially given the recent aggravation of the situation around the disputed islands between Japan and China and the declared intentions of Washington to send its warships and aircraft to the area of the disputed Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea.
Thus, the new “guidelines” of defence cooperation demonstrate the new U.S. approach to territorial disputes in South-East Asia, characterized by the fact that the White House does not intend to rely on the position of ASEAN, and will build and promote its own approach, based solely on promoting its interests under the pretext of the need to protect Washington’s allies. And this, in turn, is fraught with the emergence in the very near future of a new acute conflict, in addition to the ones already unleashed by Washington in the Ukraine and in the Middle East.
Vladimir Platov, an expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”