Japan's rising roles in peace, security

Japan's rising roles in peace, security

This is the fourth instalment in a series looking at the backgrounds and aims of Japan and the United States as they seek to expand their co-operation in establishing a new international order after their recent summit.

"If the United States cannot rely on Japan, Japan cannot be called a friend of the United States."

This comment was made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a speech at a dinner party attended by Japanese and Americans in Washington on Wednesday. Abe was explaining his initiative in improving the framework for national security legislation, based on his belief in "proactive contribution to peace."

The agreement reached on April 27 between the Japanese and US governments on a new version of the Guidelines for Japan-US Defence Cooperation was marked by a major easing of geographical restrictions on the range of co-operation between the Self-Defence Forces and the US military. The change reflected the details of the envisaged security legislation reform.

At a joint press conference after talks with Abe on April 28, US President Barack Obama welcomed efforts to deepen the Japan-US alliance into a global partnership.

"... And Japan will take on greater roles and responsibilities in the Asia-Pacific and around the world," the US president said.

First and foremost, Obama singled out efforts to uproot the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group as a task to be achieved by the international community.

Syria is virtually in a state of civil war all across the country, with some of its areas falling under ISIL's sphere of influence. So far, Japan has extended humanitarian assistance to Syria's neighbours and abstained from taking part in airstrikes on ISIL by the United States and other nations.

Successfully adopting the new security-related legislation doesn't mean Japan will change its basic stance. "There are various hurdles [to dispatching the SDF], and sending the SDF won't be a task that can be carried out easily," a Defence Ministry source said.

However, such circles within the United States as the military have already expressed hopes for Japan to take part in the US fight against ISIL. This was reflected in a comment by a senior US Defence Department official, who expressed a desire to ask Japan again if it could provide logistic support for the US campaign against ISIL once Japan's new security legislation was enacted.

The United States, which has been viewed by many as a "global cop," wants to see Japan play a greater role in a wider range of fields in terms of international security.

A senior Defence Department official said the Japan-US alliance should aim to become a relationship on a global scale that can match the US-British alliance. He said the new defence co-operation guidelines can mark an initial but great step toward achieving that goal, referring to the future of the Japan-US alliance.

But such apparently high expectations from the United States are making Japanese officials sweat, including former State Minister for Foreign Affairs Takeshi Iwaya, a Liberal Democratic Party member involved in ongoing negotiations between his party and its coalition partner Komeito on the details of the envisaged legal framework.

"To the United States, [the new legal framework for national security] appears to be arousing excessive expectations," Iwaya said at a meeting held by an institute for policy studies in Washington on Friday. If the scope of SDF activities does not widen eventually, he fears the United States will be left disappointed.

Japan is seeking to shore up its deterrence power for its own peace and security by pursuing its proactive contribution to peace, signifying the nation's attempt to contribute to global peace and stability.

This assertion has been supported by such Japan experts as Michael Green, a former senior director for Asia on the US National Security Council. He said Japan and the United States would be able to show China the robustness of their relationship if they conduct joint military operations and co-operate not only in East Asia but throughout the world.

Further efforts should be made to ensure that the Japanese and US governments, as well as people in their countries, are able to more profoundly understand a new vision of the bilateral alliance.

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