WASHINGTON – Japan must loosen its restrictions on collective self-defense to strengthen its alliance with the United States, according to a report recently published by a U.S. think tank.
The report identifies the ban on collective self-defense as a “fundamental” question as Tokyo and Washington seek to expand combined efforts on missile defense, maintaining air superiority, maritime security and strike operations.
The report was authored by Michael Auslin, a resident scholar in Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, and Christopher Griffin, a legislative assistant on defense policy to Sen. Joseph Lieberman and a former AEI research fellow.
“Most important perhaps, Tokyo must address the obstacle of its restrictions on collective self-defense,” said the 44-page report titled “Securing Freedom — The U.S.-Japanese Alliance in a New Era.”
The ban, it says, means “that Japan is today largely incapable of providing assistance legally to the United States and other security partners, even in the dire event of a missile attack against the American or Japanese homelands.”
The report in particular calls on Japan to remove its collective self-defense prohibitions against defending U.S. naval and air forces and against intercepting missiles that are headed toward the United States.
“The alliance would not survive a failure in this area, which is becoming ever more important now that Japan has stood up its initial sea-based missile defense capabilities,” it says.
It also attaches importance to Tokyo’s removal of collective self-defense restrictions in the context of international security operations, permitting the Self-Defense Forces to use force to protect coalition partners and against enemies.
Japan takes the position that it has the right to defend an ally under attack but “cannot exercise” that right under the pacifist Constitution, a legal interpretation disputed by some experts.
Whether the nation can exercise the right to collective self-defense has been a politically sensitive issue with the United States, Japan’s closest security ally.
On air defense, the report urges the U.S. to sell the F-22A Raptor, a stealth fighter jet, to Japan “to offset threats from China” in Asia.
Tokyo must return the favor by loosening arms export controls, it said, adding such action “will permit Japan to build upon its strong defense-industrial capabilities.”
As for maritime security, the report cites the need for Japan and the U.S. to “commit to strengthening their antisubmarine warfare capabilities.”
The report notes that despite its effort to allow for greater intelligence-sharing with Tokyo, Washington “has been frustrated by the looseness of Japan’s secrecy laws and lack of a uniform classification of secrets and security clearances.”
“A comprehensive overhaul of Japanese secrecy laws would engender confidence in Washington that Japan could be brought into the intelligence pipeline on a par with allies such as Great Britain and Australia,” it says.
The report calls for the establishment of a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council as helpful for Japan to further centralize national-level policy formation.
“A Japanese National Security Council would fill these requirements, particularly in having a permanent national security adviser, a dedicated secretariat, authority to request information from governmental ministries, and regular meetings,” it says.
The government considered setting up an NSC but later gave up due to the difficulty of having the necessary legislation passed by the divided Diet.
The report points to the danger that political uncertainties in both countries could pose to their relationship, predicting “greater tension in the short term” over Japan’s contributions to Iraq and lack of progress in implementing the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.
“Overall, weak leadership in Japan and distracted leadership in America can lead to miscommunication, lack of familiarity, and divergent political goals,” it says.