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News | March 1, 2015

The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Review of the Guidelines for Defense Cooperation

By James J. Przystup Strategic Perspectives 18


Executive Summary

This paper is focused on the U.S.-Japan alliance as reflected in the evolution of the U.S.- Japan Guidelines for Defense Cooperation. It begins with consideration of the October 3, 2013, 2+2 Statement released by Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, and Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera. The statement reaffirmed the critical importance of the alliance to international stability and security, the U.S. commitment to the security of Japan, and a common strategic vision based on shared values. The statement also tasked the two governments to review the existing 1997 U.S.-Japan Guidelines for Defense Cooperation. Over the course of three-plus decades, the guidelines have served as the framework for U.S.-Japan security cooperation.

The guidelines date back to the Cold War. They were first agreed to in 1978 and, operationally, focused on the defense of Japan. Defense planning under the guidelines concentrated on a potential Soviet invasion of Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, while assigning regional contingencies to joint studies.

The guidelines, however, failed to address the emerging challenges to international security that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Cold War construct of international relations. In response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the United States fashioned a United Nations–based international coalition to liberate Kuwait. Constrained by political understandings regarding the exercise of collective self-defense, Japan contributed $13 billion and was internationally criticized for “checkbook” diplomacy. The Persian Gulf War revealed a fundamental disconnect between the United States and Japan in responding to the security challenges of the post–Cold War world.

At the same time, events on the Korean Peninsula—the nuclear crisis resulting from North Korea’s withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and provocative rhetoric threatening to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire”—revealed serious shortcomings in the guidelines framework for security cooperation. To deal with a potential conflict, the United States moved to augment forces on the peninsula using Japanese ports and airfields, only to meet with Japanese legal restrictions. With still fresh memories of the Persian Gulf War, officials in Washington and Tokyo recognized that a failure by Japan adequately to support the United States in a Korea-like contingency in the Asia-Pacific region could put the alliance at risk. This recognition ultimately led to the 1997 revision of the guidelines.

The 1997 guidelines expanded the focus of the alliance from the defense of Japan to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region, introducing a new area of emphasis, cooperation in areas surrounding Japan that could significantly affect its security, and recognition that developments in these areas could result in an armed attack on Japan. The revised guidelines opened the door to planning for a Korean Peninsula contingency.

Four years later, the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States transformed the international security environment and reoriented the Bush administration from its initial focus on great power relations to the Middle East, involving the U.S. in a decade of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq. During this period, Japan supported counterterrorist maritime operations during Operation Enduring Freedom and postconflict reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

In Northeast Asia, the collapse of the Agreed Framework and the development of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs combined to pose a direct threat to the security of Japan and the Asia-Pacific region. Meanwhile, Japan’s relations with China grew increasingly complex. The rapid modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), expanding activities of the PLA Navy in waters off Japan, increasing challenges to Japan’s administrative control over the Senkaku Islands, and a heightened concern with gray zone situations all resulted in an operational transformation of the Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. For over a decade, the Japanese government moved to transition the Self-Defense Forces from a static Cold War force posture to a dynamic force marked by mobility and flexibility and to shift the geographic focus of its activities from Japan’s north to its southwestern islands. At the same time, new threats arose in the domains of cyber and space.

To meet the emerging 21st-century international stability and security, the United States and Japan agreed to review the 1997 U.S.-Japan Guidelines for Defense Cooperation. Four key policy decisions related to the geographic extent of the alliance—situations in areas surrounding Japan, extended deterrence, gray zones, and Japan’s right to collective self-defense—will shape the review of the guidelines. This report makes recommendations in each area.