Vernuccio’s View: U.S.-Japan Coordinate Pacific Defense Vs. China

In contrast to the Trump Administration’s concerns about some NATO members, notably Germany, not doing their fair share for mutual defense, the White House has been pleased with Japan’s efforts to counter the growing threats from China.  Japan’s 2019 defense budget will be its largest in the post-war era. Tokyo will also allocate funds for the acquisition of two aircraft carriers, the first the nation has had since the end of the Second World War. According to a Diplomat review by Thisanka Siripala, the Abe administration has revamped the nation’s conventional land, sea and air defense systems five years ahead of schedule to deal with burgeoning cyber security threats and competitive outer space military expansion.

The U.S. – Japan Security Consultative Committee, with the participation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Kono, and Minister of Defense Iwaya met in Washington on April 19.  The two nations agreed to continue to play  an “ indispensable role in upholding a rules-based international order and promoting their  shared values, noting that their strategic defense policies aligned with each other.” The United States reiterated its commitment to the defense of Japan through the full range of U.S. military capabilities, including conventional and nuclear.

The participants “affirmed their strong commitment to realize a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific,’ a shared vision for a region in which all nations are sovereign, strong and prosperous. The U.S.-Japan Alliance serves as the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and remains iron-clad amid an increasingly complex security environment…[they] reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining readiness to face threats in the Indo-Pacific region, and discussed tangible ways to implement the National Defense Strategy and Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines. Both parties agreed to enhance alliance capabilities and interoperability across the conventional, cyber, and space domains.  Secretary Shanahan expressed appreciation for Minister Iwaya’s leadership, which has further strengthened the alliance and helped to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

In a thinly veiled reference to China, both Washington and Tokyo expressed concern about “geopolitical competition and coercive attempts to undermine international rules, norms, and institutions present challenges to the Alliance and to the shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.” In return, they stressed the need to deepen regional cooperation, led by the U.S. and Japan. They also noted the rapidly evolving challenges in space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum. In response, they pledged to deepen their joint endeavors to counter the threats.

In a highly important specific area, the two nations “affirmed that international law applies in cyberspace and that a cyber attack could, in certain circumstances, constitute an armed attack for the purposes of Article V of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.”

Support was expressed for Washington’s attempts to negotiate an end to the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, a topic of key concern to Tokyo.  North Korean missiles have been launched in test flights near Japanese territory. Both nations noted the importance of their joint efforts, including those of South Korea, to maintain peace in the area. Cooperation with Australia, India, and the ASEAN nations was emphasized.

The discussion included a number of specific recommendations, including deepening cooperation on defense-related space capabilities, bolstering capability and enhancing their respective integrated defense for both air and missile threats, including through the timely and smooth deployment of Japan’s Aegis Ashore, and the importance of modernizing and adapting the Alliance’s capabilities to meet both current and future needs, including through the introduction of advanced weapon systems to Japan such as F-35, E-2D, V-22, and stand-off missiles.

Both Washington and Tokyo agreed to strengthen and enhance information security practices to protect classified information, maintain technological superiority, and preserve shared economic and defense advantages in the face of evolving threats.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government. 




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