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Enhance Japan's role in defence cooperation with US

Publication Date : 23-01-2013


The effectiveness of the Japan-US alliance cannot be guaranteed through a treaty and documents alone. It is essential to expand the role of the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) and enhance the relationship of trust between the two nations by having Japan undertake its fair share of responsibilities and burdens.

The Japanese and US governments have started reviewing the guidelines for bilateral defence cooperation. Given the Chinese military's recent expanded maritime activities and other factors, the review of guidelines is meant to effectively strengthen cooperation between the SDF and US forces.

The current guidelines released in 1997 enabled the SDF to provide logistic support to US forces in the event of an emergency in areas surrounding Japan, and led to the establishment of legislation in 1999 on the nation's response to such contingencies.

It was of great significance that defence cooperation was concretely stipulated in preparations for any contingency on the Korean Peninsula--a crisis that could happen on Japan's doorstep--and that a new direction for the Japan-US alliance in the post-Cold War era was clearly spelled out.

Security situation severe

But since then, the security situation in areas around Japan has become even more severe: China is pushing on with a robust military buildup and has engaged in sabre-rattling around the Senkaku Islands, and North Korea conducted two nuclear tests.

This fundamental review of Japan-US defence cooperation, for the first time in 16 years, fits in neatly with the United States' "rebalance" toward Asia, which was clearly expressed in its new defence strategy guidelines released in January last year, and the planned revision of Japan's National Defence Programme Guidelines as early as this year. We highly regard the review of bilateral defence cooperation.

One focal point in this process will be tightening Japan-US cooperation in times of peace.

Since the contingency law was established, an emergency situation has yet to be recognised under the law. It is imperative that the SDF and US forces work closely in sharing information to prevent a crisis from occurring and establish systems to jointly deal with any situation that has become tense but is yet to reach the point of being an emergency.

We want more joint exercises by the Ground Self-Defence Force and US Marine Corps for the defence of remote islands, and expanded warning and surveillance operations through joint operations by the Air Self-Defence Force and the US Air Force of Global Hawk unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.

Ease restrictions on support

The SDF can provide refuelling and transport support to US forces only in emergency situations. We suggest consideration be given to enabling these operations in times of peace as well.

Cooperation should not just be limited to the SDF and US forces, but also concrete measures for cooperation involving such organs as the Japan Coast Guard and police, as well as the military forces of South Korea, Australia and India, should be compiled.

Another key issue in the spotlight is whether Japan can exercise its right to collective self-defence.

The government is expected to soon hear opinions again from an expert panel launched under the first Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and start studying how to handle the right to collective self-defence.

If a US military vessel comes under attack during a joint exercise on the high seas, an SDF vessel will launch a counterattack. If a ballistic missile is heading toward the United States, Japan will intercept it. These are among four scenarios that had been studied by the expert panel. We think it is an urgent task to enable the nation to use its right to collective self-defence in these four scenarios.

Reflecting such a tangible result properly in the process of reviewing the defence cooperation guidelines will further solidify the Japan-US alliance.


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