The United States and Japan agreed this month to revise their Defense Cooperation Guidelines to expand the role of Japan’s Self-Defense Force (SDF) around the world.
The two countries released an interim report on the guideline revisions on October 8 after a meeting of the Subcommittee for Defense Cooperation attended by high-level state and defense ministry officials of both countries in Tokyo.
Most notably, the report reaffirms the Shinzo Abe government’s controversial decision last July to lift Japan’s ban on the exercise of collective self-defense. The new defense guidelines, according to the report, will “reflect the [Abe] cabinet decision appropriately” and detail cooperation between the United States and Japan on Japan’s exercise of collective self-defense “in case of an armed attack against a country that is in close relationship with Japan.”
This is vastly different from the current defense guidelines, last revised in 1997 to specify US-Japan cooperation in preparation for contingencies on the Korean peninsula. During such a contingency, the current guidelines rule out the use of force by the SDF and limits its activities to logistical support for U.S. forces in noncombat areas in and around Japan.
For the new guidelines, the interim report envisions an expansion in the scale and scope of the SDF’s activities and the elimination of geographic limits in its support of US forces. “The two governments will expand the scope of cooperation to reflect the global nature of the U.S.-Japan Alliance,” it says.
This far exceeds the current framework of cooperation under the Japan-US security treaty, which says that the two countries consider an enemy attack against either party in Japan’s territories as a “common danger” and will act to meet the danger, and that the United States will use its bases in Japan “for the purpose of contributing to the security of Japan” and “international peace and security in the Far East.”
The report outlines bilateral cooperation in three categories – ‘Seamlessly ensuring Japan’s security’; ‘Cooperation for regional and global peace and security’; ‘Bilateral responses in new strategic domains’.
‘Cooperation for global peace and security’ includes a broad agenda, including peacekeeping operations; Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; Logistics Support; and Maritime Security.
The report’s mention of maritime security and emphasis on cooperation in space and cyberspace as a high priority presumably refer to joint efforts to contain China, both in the East and South China Seas, as well as in space and cyberwar.
Japan Wants More in Return
“From Japan’s point of view, the US vision for the guidelines asks a lot, but gives little,” says Takushoku University Professor Takashi Kawakami, quoted in Defense News, “We are expected to support the US globally, but the guidelines don’t specifically mention a US commitment to defend our territories from China. The report says nothing about China. For us, it seems all risk and no reward.”
Japan, according to Defense News, sees ‘seamless coordination’ and ‘global alliance,’ as expressed in the interim report, as particularly problematic, if ‘seamless’ means Japan needs to respond instantly to protect US Navy ships in a regional conflict without Diet approval, and ‘global’ means Japan’s involvement in conflicts in faraway places like the Middle East. And what Japan wants above all but is absent in the interim report is a clear written commitment from the United States that it will back Japan in territorial disputes with China.
The United States, on the other hand, is growing impatient, says Defense News, as the Abe government is bogged down in domestic battles and unable to pass legislation on Japan’s role in support of the United States in a conflict. It is also critical of Japan’s ‘New Three Conditions for the Use of Force as Measures for Self Defense’ as being too restrictive. The three conditions allow Japan to come to the aid of another country if – that country is in a close relationship with Japan and not doing something poses a clear danger to Japan; and when there is no other means to repel the attack and not doing so would not decrease the danger; and on the basis of any intervention using the ‘minimum defense possible.’
Japanese Boots on the Korean Peninsula, Not Unforeseeable
Despite seemingly divergent interests, the United States and Japan melded their respective strategic aims – US’ ‘pivot to Asia’ and Japan’s doctrine of ‘active pacifism’ – into a cohesive vision in the interim report, says Solidarity for Peace and Reunification in Korea (SPARK).
“The interim report openly expresses both countries’ intention to strengthen their alliance into a regional and global alliance,” SPARK notes in a public statement. Concretely, it says, the two countries intend to merge the US-Japan-Australia alliance with NATO, which is already expanding to Northeast Asia through the entry of South Korea, Australia, and Japan as ‘global partners’. Add to this picture the US-Japan-South Korea trilateral alliance (which the United States has been aggressively pressing for despite South Korean reluctance), and the United States will complete a global alliance with itself in the center, says SPARK.
To this end, the United States, Japan, and South Korea have already reached consensus on sharing military intelligence and are working to construct a trilateral missile defense network. “This will subordinate South Korea under the US-Japan alliance, and make South Korea their forward base in their efforts to contain China and North Korea,” warns SPARK.
SPARK also cautions that the new defense guidelines, along with Japan’s assertion of collective self defense, can provide justification for Japan’s SDF to launch a preemptive attack against North Korea and set foot again on the Korean peninsula in the future.
In 2013, as it prepared to update its defense policies, Japan considered acquiring the ability to launch pre-emptive military strikes against North Korea. Although Japan has shelved this plan for now, it’s only a matter of time before it makes this a formal part of its defense policy, predicts SPARK. It adds that by 2020, when South Korea is projected to complete its own ‘kill chain’ preemptive strike system, the trilateral alliance will be poised to launch preemptive strikes against China and North Korea.
Willful Disregard of Japan’s Past War Crimes
Japan’s reemergence as a military power is all the more alarming in the context of its attempts to revise its wartime history. The Japanese government recently sought to revise a nearly two-decade-old United Nations report on Korean and other women forced into sexual slavery as ‘comfort women’ in Japanese military brothels during World War II.
As it pivots to Asia Pacific, the United States – bogged down in other regions and short on cash – seeks to lean on its stalwart allies, Japan in particular. This, in turn, emboldens the Abe government as it seeks to rearm as an offensive military power. As SPARK warns,“The new defense guidelines will make Japan’s SDF mercenaries for the United States and head honcho in the region while the United States is engaged in other parts of the world.”
The new US-Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines, expected to be finalized by the year’s end, is not only incompatible with Japan’s peace constitution and the US-Japan security treaty, but also disregards the ugly history of Japan’s past war crimes and could become the number one threat to long-term peace in the region.