UK-Japan Security Relationship: Complementing Each Other’s National Strengths, The

UK-Japan Security Relationship: Complementing Each Other’s National Strengths, The

Drifte, Reinhard


Within the last of couple of years, a more substantive security co-operation between the UK and Japan has come into being. Before, the bilateral security relationship consisted mainly of a dialogue on security issues which were of interest to both sides. However, in the wake of the global changes after 11 September 2001 and a more pro-active Japanese foreign and security policy, opportunities for security-relevant co-operation, which range geographically from the Middle East to Africa, have expanded and are increasingly being taken up. Both countries realize that the concept of security has to be enlarged in order to prevent military conflict or at least to deal with existing conflicts in a more comprehensive way which tries to address their origins as well as their symptoms. Finally, both countries realize that against a background of mounting demands for security-relevant action, bilateral co-operation can supplement scarce resources and strengthen multilateralism.

In the following I want firstly to look at the fundamentals of UK-Japan security co-operation, secondly to use the examples of UK-Japan co-operation on Korea and Iraq to illustrate what has concretely been achieved, and thirdly to consider some further opportunities for the way ahead.

Fundamentals of UK-Japan Security Co-operation

Saying that the opportunities for a more substantive security co-operation between the two countries are expanding should not blind us to the many limitations and obstacles which both sides are still facing, and in some cases will always have to accept. Understanding these constraints is important in order not to overburden the deepening co-operation with unrealistic expectations. Britain is foremost anchored in the EU and in the transatlantic frameworks, whereas Japan looks first to the alliance with the US and the Asian region. The security environment for both countries is very different, and so is the perception of security problems. The UK is a self-assured military power and has a very different approach to security as a long-time colonial power in the past and permanent member of the UN security Council today. For Japan, security issues are only now leaving the realm of taboo and military power is viewed with great suspicion, even in the case of UN-sanctioned peacekeeping operations (PKO). Japan is therefore more comfortable addressing human security challenges rather than straightforward military problems, and it prefers to act with the huge material resources of a great civilian power. Different political styles and cultural approaches compound these circumstances.

Against the background of these differences, motivations for bilateral security co-operation also vary. As the second largest economic power and a trading power depending on a never-ending expansion of markets and suppliers, Japan is vitally interested in peace and stability in every corner of the world. Its American security partner in the first instance, but also many other countries and organizations, demand from Japan greater international burdensharing. At the same time, Japan’s leaders want greater recognition from the international community as is for example expressed in the government’s desire for a permanent UN Security Council seat. Achieving international recognition in turn helps the government domestically to get support for playing a bigger role internationally and to respond more positively to international calls for increased burdensharing. Playing a bigger international role also prevents Japan from being internationally isolated despite its geographic location and special political and economic position in Asia. To achieve these goals and to reduce its overall dependence on the US, working together with other powers is beneficial for Japan. This is particularly the case with Britain because of historic ties, the scope of economic co-operation, and particularly Britain’s international standing and role as a permanent UN Security Council member. As Britain is a close ally of the US, co-operation with Japan in a sensitive area like security is less likely to attract the suspicion of the American partner.

Expanding security co-operation with Japan is seen as being in Britain’s interest because working together with the world’s second largest economic power and ODA donor further enhances and sustains the country’s international position. As a country which has lost considerable power to other rising states since 1945, working together with Japan helps to maximize dwindling power resources in an ever harsher international environment. Co-operation with Japan also expands Britain’s geographic reach and influence. Both countries are also very complementary in so far as Britain can provide a wider experience and greater manpower resources, whereas Japan’s human resources are very stretched. In view of Japan’s economic crisis and high budget deficit, its original material abundance is declining, which all the more requires it to achieve more burdensharing with fewer resources by utilizing the complementarity of allies.

The Case of the Allied War in Iraq

The invasion of Iraq in March this year by the US and the UK faced Japan with a rather delicate dilemma. But with the memory of its experience during the last Gulf War, when Japan was perceived as having failed its American ally despite a record monetary contribution, Prime Minister Koizumi declared on 4 April his government’s support for the war and the post conflict rehabilitation of Iraq. This policy was enunciated in five principles. The first is that Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity should be maintained. Second, Iraq’s governing regime should be decided by the Iraqi people. Third, there should be sufficient involvement of the United Nations in the reconstruction effort. The fourth principle promises that Japan will engage in reconstruction assistance in a seamless manner without any interruption and the fifth principle states that Japan will secure the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other entities in order to form an all-Japan team.

These principles are sufficiently vague, notably the one on the role of the UN, so that Japan could immediately start with aid to Iraq as well as agree with the UK on the sensitive issue of the UN’s involvement. At the end of March, Japan promised $100 million non-project grant to Jordan, on 31 March the Air Self Defence Force transported 160 tents to Jordan, and on 9 April Japan promised $100 million of aid to Iraq. Soon after the end of the war the Japanese government sent officials to the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) which is now known as the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Japan stressed the link between the resolution of the Israel-Palestine issue and the stabilization of Iraq, and provided additional help to the Palestine Autonomous Region, while also insisting on the enactment of the so-called Road Map. All this provided a good foundation for UK-Japan co-operation on Iraq which was cemented by close contacts between the two governments since March, as well as visits to the UK by Japan’s Foreign Minister Kawaguchi and Prime Minister Koizumi in April and May, respectively. As a concrete initial result of UK-Japan co-operation, Japan provided a $2.5 million emergency grant to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for a project to dredge Iraq’s Umm Qasr port, which is in the UK zone of occupation. Tokyo has moreover finalized a law which would allow the sending of up to 1,000 SDF soldiers to Iraq, although the timing and the tasks are still unclear. Japan would have felt much more isolated if it had only the US to work together with. Also, the UK is naturally relieved to have political as well as economic support on an issue which has been extremely divisive for the EU and the transatlantic relationship.

In this context one has also to mention Japan’s refuelling of British naval vessels, as well as US warships in the Indian Ocean, as Japan’s contribution to the fight against terrorism (in addition to the commitment of $500 million to the reconstruction of Afghanistan). This free-of-charge refuelling operation has been going on since January 2002 and has been expanded from this year to the naval vessels of other Western countries supporting the operation Enduring Freedom. According to an MOU between the UK and Japan, the Japanese navy may transfer up to 950 cubic metres per month to the Royal Navy. As of summer this year, a total of 5,385 cubic metres has been transferred. The UK government has given permission for the five Japanese ships of the Maritime Self Defence Force to use the British territory of Diego Garcia during command handovers. The island serves as the anti-terror coalition’s main logistic base in the Indian Ocean.

The Nuclear Crisis on the Korean Peninsula

The greatest incentive for Prime Minister Koizumi to support the US and the UK on Iraq has been the renewed nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula. With the US being Japan’s only military alliance partner and having serious constraints on its own military deterrent, Tokyo is always on the horns of a dilemma: if it does not support the US to an extent judged as sufficient by the American leadership, it risks abandonment; on the other hand, if such support goes too far, it risks entrapment into US designs and alienation from its Asian neighbours. Japan’s political and humanitarian support for the allied efforts in Iraq is therefore an insurance that the US, but also major countries like Britain, will come to Tokyo’s help in addressing the current serious nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula.

In a surprising move, Prime Minister Koizumi tried to create a breakthrough in the stalled negotiations with North Korea on normalizing relations when he visited Pyongyang for a day on 19 September last year. The revelation about a second North Korean nuclear programme and the North Korean mishandling of the abductee issues, dating from the 1970s and 1980s, immediately blew away US as well as domestic support for any further steps by Japan. The US has taken a very hardline position on North Korea, refusing any bilateral negotiations before North Korea has undertaken unilateral nuclear disarmament. Japan therefore hopes that other countries could exert direct or indirect (via Beijing) pressure on Pyongyang to accept multilateral talks and nuclear disarmament. As a permanent UN Security Council member and close ally of the US, the UK is expected by Japan to contribute to these efforts through the UN, the EU and the G-8. However, Japan as well as South Korea (which has a more accommodating approach to Pyongyang as the most directly affected country) want such support to respect their paramount interests, which are not totally congruent with those of the US. Both countries also want support for their involvement in future multilateral talks. The UK as well as Japan are members of the recently established Proliferation Security Initiative (the other member countries are the US, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Spain) which aims at interdicting North Korean exports of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles, as well as North Korea’s trading in drugs and counterfeit bank notes. The UK’s involvement in this initiative is important because of its military capabilities, but also to avoid Japan’s isolation and to prevent the US from acting too unilateralist, as it has, for example, over the interdiction of North Korean ships on the open sea.

The UK has also been involved in defusing tensions on the Korean peninsula as a member state of the EU which, since 1998, has supported the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO). This body was charged with the building of two light-water reactors in North Korea and the delivery of heavy fuel oil until their completion as a quid-pro-quo for Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programme. When KEDO was launched in 1995, the UK immediately made a national contribution of $1 million at US and Japanese requests, before the EU (under the EURATOM Treaty regulations) in 1997 became a member of the KEDO Executive Board. Until then, the Board had consisted only of South Korea, the US and Japan. As a result of the discovery of a new North Korean nuclear programme in 2002, the work of KEDO has de facto come to a standstill, when the organization stopped its regular heavy fuel oil deliveries to the North in December 2002.

The UK-Japan Action Agenda of 21 September 1999

Iraq, the war against terrorism and the Korean peninsula are only the most recent and most visible areas of UK-Japan security co-operation. A new stage in this co-operation was reached in September 1999 when both countries agreed on an action agenda for Co-operation in Diplomacy, National Security, Conflict Prevention and Peace-Keeping. The first case materialized in May 2002 when both sides decided to contribute to the ‘Community Reintegration Programme: Phase 2 (CRP 2)’ in Sierra Leone to help that country overcome the devastation of its civil war. The UK provided L8.7 million and Japan L1.5 million. This had been preceded by a joint fact-finding mission to the African country by Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in October 2001. The momentum of such co-operation was reinforced by the April 2003 visit to Japan by Clare Short, then Minister of DFID. Both ministries are now considering joint visits to Asian countries which may in future include Vietnam.

There have also been contacts on PKO between the defence authorities of both countries which go back to the 1990s. There are plans to expand co-operation and to put it on a more systematic footing. When Japan was involved in mine-sweeping in the Gulf in 1991, it was done with the supervision by and co-ordination with the Royal Navy. There was also some co-operation on peacekeeping and peacebuilding in 1997 and 1998.

The Way Ahead

From the above experience and gradual institutionalization process it is clear that the future of security co-operation between the UK and Japan lies in the areas of PKO, naval co-operation, and anti-terorism which are all becoming increasingly interlinked. The area of peacekeeping is broadening, including more and more aspects of human security where Japan is particularly keen to work. The British government now refers to Peace Support Operation (PSO). Moreover, as the example of Kosovo and the International security Asisstance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan shows, the link of peacekeeping actions with the UN is changing. The Iraqi case will show whether we are even moving away from peacekeeping forces which no longer have a direct UN mandate or UN approval. Japan seems to be increasingly willing to accept such a situation as its new law for the deployment of the SDF in Iraq (albeit only for logistical tasks and humanitarian assistance) indicates. This would not only enhance the opportunities (and need!) for greater co-operation between the UK and Japan, but also require certain elements of training for the SDF which cannot all be supplied by the SDF itself. In July this year the MoD proposed to the Japanese defence authorities two short-term training programmes, but it will depend very much on the domestic situation in Japan (there is likely to be a general election in the autumn) and the security situation in Iraq, whether Tokyo will pick up this offer or not. Japan’s growing PKO involvement would benefit if UK-Japan co-operation in this field could move away from ad hoc to more systematic co-operation. One example might be a ‘lessons learnt’ unit for Japan, similar to the UK’s Joint Doctrine & Concepts Centre in Shrivenham.

The naval area is also a promising route for co-operation as we have seen with Japan’s anti-terrorist contribution. Both Japan and the UK have been participating in the US-sponsored naval training exercise RimPac which takes place every two years. One possibility would be UK participation in the exercises and training of South East Asian countries against piracy which were started by Japan in 2000. Piracy has become a serious issue in the region because of the loosening control of political and military authority in some South East Asian countries, notably in Indonesia with its huge archipelago. The UK could reinforce this Japanese initiative in view of its abilities and its military links with Malaysia and Singapore. One particular problem to be addressed is the Navy versus Coast Guard asymmetry: in the case of Japan, it is the Coast Guard and not the MSDF which is responsible for such tasks.

The war against terrorism has many different aspects. The Japanese ground force is now acquiring capabilities for this task and building up special operations units. If political sensitivities in Japan about ‘collective defence’ (not allowed according to the current government interpretation of Japan’s constitution, even despite the Japan-US Security treaty!) can be overcome, the UK could certainly contribute to these Japanese efforts on the basis of its capabilities.


I hope that this short overview of the existing situation of security co-operation between the UK and Japan and some proposals for the way ahead will stimulate both sides to explore the growing opportunities as well as need for more joint ventures. There is already an excellent foundation to build on in terms of capabilities, goodwill and experience. Japanese officials reminded me in my interviews during May this year of the excellent chemistry between the top political leaders of both countries. Japan’s foreign policy is becoming more active and there is now a better understanding of military issues. Although there is a tendency to focus on human security, the need of security, often as a pre-condition for humanitarian aid in countries like Afghanistan or Iraq, is now better understood. Britain is keen on maintaining its position as a country helping to stabilize the world and which deserves to be a permanent UN Security Council member despite the many changes since 1945. Both countries have to cope with dwindling power resources and there is a strong need to exploit all sources of complementarity in order to respond to the increasing number of international burdensharing calls in a more efficient way. Last but not least, bilateral security co-operation between the two countries could make a considerable contribution to multilateral efforts in dealing with the myriad security challenges of today, and in this way undo some of the harm which multilateralism suffered recently.

Reinhard Drifte is Emeritus Professor of Japanese Politics, University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He is the author of numerous books on Japanese, Northeast Asian and EU issues. His most recent work is Japan’s security Relations with China since 1989: From balancing to bandwagoning? (2003)

Copyright Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies Oct 2003

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved