Among the most important relationships that the incoming Biden administration must nurture is with Japan. The two nations — when teamed together — are proven potent counterweights to the increasing military challenges posed by China, North Korea and Russia in both Asia and beyond,
Unlike other bilateral U.S. ties, the relationship between former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and soon-to-be former President Donald Trump’s grew stronger over the past four years.
To respond to continued threats, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and President-elect Joe Biden must find ways to continue this relationship moving forward. One way to do this is through closer coordination on procurement of weapons and weapon components.
Because of its Peace Constitution, Japan and the United States have traditionally worked together only on specific, one-off projects where Japanese companies have demonstrated expertise. For example, the anti-ballistic missile that shot down a mock North Korean ICBM last month was a joint product made by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Raytheon.
According to an April study by the Washington-based Atlantic Council, other technologies that the two countries are working on together include: unmanned weapon systems, defense applications of artificial intelligence, hypersonic missiles and space.
Where things can improve are in procurement of dual-use technologies, which are commercial technologies that can have a military application. Japanese firms have many such technologies, including microelectronics and 5G — which are also U.S. defense priorities. But the ability to share these technologies has been limited due to stringent export control rules.
However, both sides have been chipping away at these restrictions during the past few years.
First, under the Abe administration, the Japanese government was increasingly willing to cooperate with the United States. This cooperation included partially embracing the right to collective self-defense through increased technology transfers.
In July, Kenji Wakamiya, Japan’s state minister for foreign affairs, said during a webinar hosted by the International Security Industry Council – Japan that his government wanted the Pentagon to detail the specific technologies it was most interested in so that Japan could change its export control rules.
Abe’s successor, Suga, seems intent on continuing this policy.
On the eastern side of the Pacific, the U.S. has been taking steps to speed up developing new technologies in general and with Japan specifically,
For example, the U.S. Defense Department has been searching out and working with nontraditional defense partners in the technology community. One key to this effort has been to increase the use of a contracting tool known as other transaction authority (OTA) to get around Washington’s notoriously bureaucratic procurement policies. Under an OTA, the development time for weapons or weapon components is reduced from years to months.
As part of the OTA effort, the U.S. government has been removing barriers to allow Japanese companies to partner with U.S.-firms on dual-use contracts.
Further, U.S. policy is primed for a bilateral engagement on emerging technology with Japan. In October, the White House released a U.S. National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies (C&ET). The policy identifies that “American C&ET leadership is no longer driven mainly by United States Government funding, and C&ET advances are increasingly taking place outside the United States.”
Further, the C&ET recognizes the importance of international cooperation, stating “Cooperation with allies and partners will not only promote a shared technological advantage, it will also prevent strategic competitors from obtaining unfair advantages.”
The U.S. C&ET strategy specifically identifies a list of 20 priority technology areas of which Japanese firms have some of the leading technologies, such as advanced manufacturing, semiconductors and microelectronics and space technologies.
One area where Japan can especially help is space technologies, To make sure this happens, the Trump administration’s National Space Policy identifies one goal as to “identify and expand areas for international cooperation” and interoperability. It states that, “the heads of agencies shall identify potential areas for international cooperation across the spectrum of commercial, civil, and national security space activities.”
Perhaps most important, the Policy recognizes the need for streamlining of export control regulation and policy, stating that it is the policy of the U.S. to “make eligible for streamlined authorization the export of space-related items … destined for certain allied or partner countries.”
With legalities out of the way, it is now time for action.
On Japan’s side, the Suga government should instruct the Japan External Trade Organization to market OTA opportunities to Japanese innovators particularly in the areas of space, hypersonics, trusted microelectronics and additive technologies. Japan’s Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry should then issue the necessary export control waivers.
On the U.S. side, the Biden administration’s incoming undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment should instruct agencies that use OTAs to reach out to organizations, such as the Hawaii-based Pacific International Center for High Technology Research. They should distribute targeted opportunities to Japanese technology partners.
By working closely together, Japan and the U.S. can better deter their mutual adversaries in the region.
Benjamin McMartin is Managing Partner of the Public Spend Forum, an international public procurement data firm. Bernice Glenn is a board member of the International Security Industry Council – Japan.
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