Enhancing the efficacy of the Japan-US alliance is essential if Japan wants to effectively deal with a new security environment facing the nation and other parts of Asia.
During their meeting in Washington, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel confirmed that the two nations will reflect the Japanese government's new constitutional interpretation approving the limited exercise of the right of collective self-defence in the Guidelines for Japan-US Defence Cooperation, to be revised by year-end.
Onodera and Hagel also agreed to issue an interim report on the new guidelines at an early date. At the press conference, Hagel expressed US support for the new interpretation, which he referred to as "this bold, historic, landmark decision."
It is important that the new guidelines will incorporate as many specific ways as possible to expand cooperation between the Self-Defence Forces and the US military on the premise that Japan can exercise its right of collective self-defence.
The guidelines-made in 1978 to deal with emergencies Japan may face-were revised in 1997 to clearly state that the SDF will provide a certain level of logistic support to the US military in emergencies that threaten the peace and stability surrounding Japan, including the Korean Peninsula.
It is worth mentioning that the range of SDF logistic support provided to the US military had been largely restricted because of the constitutional interpretation banning the exercise of the right of collective self-defence as well as kinds of logistic support that are "integrated with the use of force."
But developments in areas surrounding Japan have raised serious concerns: North Korea has been continuing its nuclear and missile development programs, while China has been escalating its provocative activities in the East and South China seas. It is, therefore, indispensable for Japan and the United States to have new guidelines capable of dealing with the current security situation, which came into being after drastic changes over the last 17 years.
Joint plans crucial
Joint operation plans for the SDF and the US military to act seamlessly in transitions from peacetime to emergencies must be urgently compiled with various scenarios in mind.
In its reinterpretations, the government approved the limited exercise of the right of collective self-defence and defined logistic support that "integrated with the use of force" as activities in areas "where combat is taking place." These changes in the constitutional interpretations enable the SDF to guard US ships and to provide a wider range of logistic support to the US military, such as supplying US forces and providing transportation support.
The new guidelines should offer two-way cooperation: The SDF should be able to provide the aforementioned support to the US military in case of emergencies surrounding Japan, while the US military should be able to swiftly cooperate with the SDF in response to gray-zone situations, such as the occupation of remote islands by armed groups.
Hagel cited missile defence, measures to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, antipiracy steps and disaster relief as the areas of cooperation Japan and the United States will deepen. The government should steadily push forward with building a domestic legal framework to accommodate expansion in the two nations' cooperation in these fields.
During their meeting, Onodera and Hagel agreed to beef up cooperation in the areas of defence equipment and their technologies in light of the Cabinet's approval in April of the nation's three principles on transferring defence equipment.
While in the United States, Onodera indicated that Japan will seek to host an international hub for maintenance of the state-of-the-art F-35 stealth fighters, which the Air Self-Defence Force will deploy. Japan should make this a reality if it wants to maintain and expand its defence-related production and technologies.