New Japan-U.S. defense guidelines will stress global reach

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

Japan and the United States released an interim report Wednesday on revising their bilateral defense cooperation guidelines by the year’s end, in which they call for more global military cooperation between the two countries that will “benefit the (Asia-Pacific) region and beyond.”

The defense guidelines, which were last revised in 1997, set forth general roles for the U.S. military and the Self-Defense Forces to engage in joint operations. They mainly focus on the defense of Japan and emergencies in the nearby region, presumably including the Korean Peninsula, though this is not stated explicitly.

Wednesday’s interim report indicates that U.S.-Japan military cooperation under the new guidelines will not be confined by geography, a major departure from the 1997 guidelines, and will emphasize the “global nature” of the Japan-U.S. military alliance.

Specifically, the two countries will implement steps to ensure Japan’s peace and security “seamlessly” in such areas as intelligence-gathering, logistics support, anti-ballistic missile defense, civilian evacuation plans and measures to cope with refugees, the report says.

It also says the overhauled guidelines will elaborate on cooperative efforts in cases where Japan can resort to force based on the July 1 decision by the Cabinet to reinterpret war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. That decision paves the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or aiding an ally under military attack.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stressed that Japan may use this right to support an allied country — which would most likely be the United States — with “the minimum necessary” force when Japan’s vital interests are threatened.

For example, Japan could dispatch minesweepers to the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, if Japan’s oil imports were threatened by military action, according to Abe.

This stance is a major departure from past government policy. The Constitution had long been interpreted to prohibit Japan from using the right to collective self-defense or sending troops overseas, except with United Nations peacekeeping missions.

Matake Kamiya, a professor of security studies at the National Defense Academy, said Tokyo and Washington may be shifting their focus to a more global approach because of drastic changes in the security environment in the 17 years since the current guidelines were revised, including the expanded reach of terrorism.

“Now, threats to security can originate from anywhere. Incidents that occur far away can have a serious impact on one’s country,” he said.

Kamiya also pointed out that the interim report appears to reconfirm Washington’s commitment to its “rebalance policy,” under which the U.S. has pledged to reorganize and maintain its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

“For the United States, the guidelines revision aligns with the U.S. whole-of government rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region,” the report says. “For Japan, the guidelines revision corresponds to its efforts for the defense of its territory and people and the policy of ‘proactive contribution to peace’ based on the principle of international cooperation.”

The report also says the two countries will pledge more military cooperation in space and in cyberspace.

Defense Minister Akinori Eto said the report was released to build understanding of the revision at home and abroad.

The foreign affairs and defense chiefs of both countries agreed at a “two-plus-two” meeting in Tokyo last October to revise the defense cooperation guidelines.

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