LONDON – Japan’s new security framework with Britain is expected to generate few immediate changes to the defense profiles of either country but is widely regarded as a boon to contractors in the industry.
Japan and Britain are already involved in research into joint development of new equipment and their foreign and defense ministers endorsed a further push in that direction during two-plus-two talks in London last Wednesday, their first such meeting.
The four ministers said in a statement that they “decided to pursue other cooperation projects” in addition to the ongoing joint study and preparatory research on a missile component.
Analysts believe the agreement will bring benefits for both sides. Professor of international relations Yuichi Hosoya, of Keio University, said Japan, a longtime client of the United States, wants to find a new partner to develop defense equipment with. Moreover, Britain is keen to improve the quality of its armaments.
“Britain has lagged a little bit behind the latest global trend of defense equipment” and that prompted London to try to seek Japanese technology through the two-plus-two framework, said Hosoya, who also serves on an advisory panel related to the Japanese government’s National Security Council.
Tokyo has eased its self-imposed ban on arms exports in stages since 2011. But it still limits potential partners in weapons production to “countries cooperating with Japan in the security area,” according to a policy endorsed in April last year.
Britain had to upgrade its cooperation framework with Japan so that it could formally acquire this designation, after learning from its failure in 2011 to persuade Japan to buy European fighter jets, Hosoya said.
That year, Japan picked the U.S.-developed F-35 as its next main model of fighter jet from among several options, including the Eurofighter which Britain pitched.
The absence of formalized relations with Britain as a security ally may have in part discouraged Japan from selecting the European aircraft despite its outstanding performance, and the Eurofighter shock apparently prompted London to pursue a solid security framework with Tokyo, Hosoya said.
The inauguration of the two-plus-two framework with Britain is “beneficial” for Japan as it allows it to form a new security partnership to help enhance the U.S.-Japan alliance, said Thomas Mahnken, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense.
The senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University in Washington added: “Also it’s very important for Great Britain to increase its profile in Asia.”
He noted the move came as Britain is boosting the expeditionary power of its navy.
The Japan-Britain ministerial mechanism “could potentially affect all different elements of the British armed forces,” Mahnken said.
British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said Wednesday’s meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Gen Nakatani, was “not just hugely symbolic, it also clearly reaffirms our resolve to deepen and broaden our defense relationship.”
Japan, meanwhile, supported the British “commitment to the Asia-Pacific region,” according to a joint statement the Japanese and British ministers released after their talks.
The Japanese defense industry was barred from pushing overseas sales for decades after World War II under the pacifist Constitution and the self-imposed ban on arms exports.
But major Japanese defense manufacturers such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Hitachi Ltd. made their international debut in June 2014, exhibiting products at the Eurosatory exhibition in France.
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