2014-10-15 By Richard Weitz
Last week, the Japanese and U.S. governments released an interim report on their progress in revising the guidelines for their militaries’ roles and missions in the joint defense of Japan.
The interim report does not identify specific threats or discuss detailed scenarios for joint military operations, but it does provide principles to guide the revisions and some examples of these cooperative activities.
Key principles include “seamless, robust, flexible, and effective bilateral responses; the global nature of the Japan-U.S. Alliance; cooperation with other regional partners; synergy across the two governments’ national security policies; and a whole-of-government Alliance approach.”
The two governments are still negotiating the text of the final guidelines.
In addition, the Abe administration has not yet submitted to the Diet the laws needed to implement the Cabinet’s July 1 decision to reinterpret the constitution and permit the expanded use of the SDF for collective defense missions outside Japan.
Even so, these terms already make clear that the new guidelines will expand both the geographic and the functional scope of the contingencies for possible joint military action.
Citing the major changes in the global security environment during the almost two decades since the guidelines were last revised in 1997, the October 2013 meeting of the Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers decided to upgrade the guidelines by the end of this year.
Although the threat from North Korea has changed somewhat, with its less experienced and more unpredictable leader and with Pyongyang’s having tested three nuclear explosive devices, the main destabilizing driver has been China’s increasing power and resulting growing assertiveness.
Transnational terrorism has also become more threatening, while Japanese and U.S. cyber and space assets have become less secure due to the diffusion of these capabilities to many other actors, some with malign intentions.
The interim report states that, “Discussions have ranged from operational-level deliberations to consider appropriate roles and missions for the respective forces, to policy-level dialogues focusing on defense cooperation.” The State Department said that the guidelines would be revised further as circumstances warranted.
The interim report indicates that the new guidelines will likely change how they address the geography of Japanese-U.S. military cooperation. Noting that international threats anywhere can affect Japan’s security, and that a rapid response is often required to address these threats, “the two governments will take measures to prevent the deterioration of Japan’s security in all phases, seamlessly, from peacetime to contingencies.”
Japan will still have primary responsibility for self-defense against an armed attack on its national territory, but the Pentagon will explicitly commit to render assistance “in the case of a large-scale disaster in Japan.” We will need to await the wording of the final guidelines to determine if this assistance will include domestic terrorist incidents as well as 2011-like natural disasters.
Furthermore, rather than limit joint operations to certain types of contingencies in Japan’s vicinity, the report says that the revised guidelines will describe how the two militaries will collaborate in cases of an “armed attack to a country that is in close relationship with Japan.”
The phrase “close relationship” could cover countries with extensive economic and other ties with Japan—such as a major oil provider–as well as those physically close to the Japanese islands.
When asked what air and sea zones the two militaries would seek to keep open for international use, Assistant Secretary Daniel R. Russel responded “planet Earth,” elaborating that these are global principles… [designed to allow] all trading nations to utilize international waters, international airspace, and increasingly international cyberspace.”
An urgent Japanese concern is its territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Last December, Japan’s own national defense guidelines made defending these and other remote islands a higher priority.
For example, the country’s Self-Defense Forces is enhancing its capacities for rapid reinforcement and to conduct amphibious operations to expel any enemy forces that have occupied them.
Few expect the Chinese Navy to try to seize the islands through a conventional invasion, but the Chinese may pursue non-military hybrid tactics, for example, sending paramilitary or even unarmed people to occupy the islands, which are currently administered by Japan. China has already displayed such “salami slicing” in by unilaterally declaring an air defense identification zone over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and by occulting several islands dispute with the Philippines.
Chinese coast guard ships as well as PLA Navy submarines have also expanded their presence in Japan’s vicinity.
Although threatening, these kinds of activities do not constitute “an armed attack against Japan,” so the current guidelines offer no guidance regarding how the Japanese and U.S. militaries should respond.
Traditionally, Japan has relied on its coast guard to counter these challenges, but China has made a major effort to strengthen its own maritime forces and combine them into a single structure independent of the People’s Liberation Navy, enhancing’s its paramilitary portfolio.
To address what the Japanese media describe as these “grey area issues,” the new guidelines will allow the U.S. and Japanese militaries to respond rapidly in cases even when an armed attack against Japan is not involved.
In terms of functional areas, the interim report lists “peacekeeping operations; international humanitarian assistance/disaster relief; maritime security; capacity building; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; logistics support; and noncombatant evacuation operations” as possible fields for defense cooperation.
Some functional issues go beyond those covered in the current guidelines. Whereas cyber and space issues were not mentioned in the 1997 guidelines, the revisions place priority on joint measures to protect “the safe and stable use of space and cyberspace including improving the cyber security of critical infrastructure.”
Combined, the expanded geographic and functional sway of the guidelines could represent a major enlargement in potential Japanese-U.S. military cooperation.
For example, the SDF would no longer be restricted to providing primarily logistical assistance for U.S military forces in operations not involving Japan’s direct defense.
Instead, the SDF can collaborate with U.S. forces in a wider range of missions and places.
For instance, they could use Japanese assets to help protect U.S. forces under missile attack, as well as help defend U.S territory from missile strikes, even when the aggressor was not also attacking Japan.
The interim report lists a range of possible cooperative military activities:
• Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance;
• Training and Exercises;
• Use of Facilities and Areas;
• Logistics Support;
• Asset Protection;
• Air and Missile Defense;
• Protection of Facilities and Areas;
• Search and Rescue;
• Activities for Ensuring the Effectiveness of Economic Sanctions;
• Noncombatant Evacuation Operations;
• Measures to Deal with Refugees; and
• Maritime Security
The guidelines also call for greater defense industrial collaboration between the two countries as well as more “whole-of-government” security cooperation to extend beyond the two governments’ armed forces.
Editor’s Note: The US-Japanese alliance and its evolution is a major topic discussed in our book Rebuilding American Military Power in the Pacific: A 21st Century Strategy.
See also the article below which highlights the “gray area” challenges and the nature of 21st century threats: