East of Suez: A British Strategy for the Asian Century. Part Four: Japan

Young Fabian, Ash Dharmasingham writes on British strategy in Asia. Over the next few weeks we will be publishing his research into this important issue. This week's topic is "Japan". Follow our blog to read next week's piece on India

The Case for Cooperation

 If Britain wants to increase its viability and influence in Asia while seeking to defend the rules-based order, then one of the best places to start is through increasing its security ties and cooperation with Japan. As Patalano argues, Japan represents, “a very important democratic outpost” that provides Britain with a means to “magnify” its influence and impact in the region and on a global scale, especially given that “international politics is swinging towards the Asia-Pacific” (Patalano, 2016). Furthermore, as Nilsson-Wright of Chatham House mentions, Abe’s government have adopted a more active foreign policy that aims to advance its security interests and constructively contribute to regional affairs, offering a window of opportunity to “develop a more active and higher-profile security partnership” (Nilsson-Wright, 2015). An official from the Japanese Ministry of Defence stated that Japan currently wants to diversify its alliances and is looking to countries like Australia and Britain (Japanese Defence Official, 2016). Britain should take full advantage of this opportunity.

 There is a large degree of similarity and a natural affinity between the nations. Both are island nations and thus according to Patalano, their security interests “tend to be connected to global affairs and the uninterrupted access to foreign markets and resources”. Their economic lifelines are at sea and thus disruption to the maritime transportation system are “a fundamental strategic vulnerability” to such nations who tend to have a maritime-informed defence posture (Patalano, 2012-a, pp.232-233). Both nations also have shared liberal values and a firm commitment to the rules-based international order. A high-ranking official at the Japanese embassy, for instance, stressed that both nations are “defenders of the international liberal order” that prosper from a stable and liberal world and would lose out if the world is “protectionist and dictated just by sheer power” (Japanese Embassy Official, 2017). Thus Britain and Japan could work together to push and defend their ideals. Moreover, Roberts says that the political establishments, public, militaries and industries in both nations are predictable and thus the economic and security models of both countries are also “highly predictable and stable”. These observations have led him to conclude that, “there isn’t almost a natural ally intellectually, philosophically, economically and industrially in Europe” (Roberts, 2016). Both countries also have the added benefit of being close allies of the US. Patalano suggests that “the enhancement of strategic ties between two of its closest partners would fill potential leadership and political gaps” (Patalano, 2012-a, p.236). It is thus no surprise that the UK is deepening its security ties with a country that it calls its “closest security partner in Asia” (FCO, 2016-b). The UK supports Japan by playing a more proactive role in global peace and security and Japan is keen on Britain engaging with the Asia-Pacific region (FCO, 2016-b); (FCO, 2017-c). There are a number of ways through which Britain and Japan can increase their security ties.

 Transnational Cooperation

 One such way is through cooperation on transnational security issues. As Admiral Koda points out, challenges to security, internationally, are "increasingly transnational" in nature such as natural disasters, competition for natural resources, the proliferation of WMDs and transnational crime (Koda, 2012, p.209). The embassy official wanted Britain and Japan to coordinate assessment and actions in view of geopolitical and geo-economic developments globally, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. He, for instance, advocated for diplomatic coordination to defend the rule of law and the maritime order in the SCS as well as to tackle the North Korean nuclear programme. Beyond the Indo-Pacific, he believes that Britain and Japan need to take concerted action on issues ranging from Russia, the Middle East and failing states in Africa in order to help maintain global stability and prosperity (Japanese Embassy Official, 2017).

 Koda similarly proposes transnational cooperation in protecting maritime trade and commerce given its “life-or-death type importance” to Britain and Japan. He calls for joint action to address international security issues in crucial hot-spots in areas such as Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Horn of Africa, and more opportunities for British and Japanese expeditionary operations (Koda, 2012, pp.213-215). The Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) and Royal Navy have worked together in such areas before. In 1991, the Royal Navy provided the JMSDF mine-countermeasure force off Kuwait with magnetic field calibration, without which the operation would have ended in failure. According to the Cabinet Office official, the JMSDF could take pressure off the Royal Navy in transnational operations. She also states that JMSDF expertise and experience in operating in the SCS and ECS could aid the Royal Navy which has less recent experience in operating in these areas (Cabinet Office Official, 2016). Japan has an overseas base in Djibouti, in the same region as the British base in Bahrain and has already been taking part in counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia with Combined Task Force 151 which it commanded at one point (Japanese Defence Official, 2016); (FCO, 2016-b). The outbreak of piracy in the Sulu Sea near the Philippines provides another opportunity where Britain and Japan could work together (Ananthalakshmi et al, 2017).

 Other areas of potential transnational cooperation include cyber security, counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing and space technology. Patalano thinks that Britain and Japan should cooperate on space technology development and assess how such technologies could effect future operations in order to increase combat effectiveness (Patalano, 2016). Nilsson-Wright argues that events such as the Amenas attack which included British and Japanese nationals are indiscriminate in terms of nationality. He, therefore, proposes joint training of Japanese and British military and political personnel in counterterrorism, and “regularised programme of training” by the British army and special forces for their Japanese equivalents (Nilsson-Wright, 2015). Britain and Japan are already collaborating in helping developing countries improve their security and defence. They have agreed to help improve border control capabilities of a Tunisian airport, and to jointly provide training to the Indonesians to help them counter violent extremism (MOFA, 2016-a); (FCO, 2017-c). The Japanese Ministry of Defence Official wanted intelligence sharing as well as counterterrorism and cyber cooperation with Britain. He stated that the UK had very advanced knowledge in this area and organisations such as GCHQ can cooperate with Japan to improve their own capabilities (Japanese Defence Official, 2016). Some progress has been made in the aforementioned areas through the Japan-UK Counter-Terrorism Consultations and high-level bilateral consultations on cyberspace in Spring 2016 (MOFA, 2016-a). There have also been “developments in information sharing and analysis” via the Information Security Agreement (FCO, 2016-b).

 A final area of cooperation would be in peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations. Not only would it improve the effectiveness of Japan’s “technically advanced but relatively combat-inexperienced forces” but it would also aid Japan’s UK-backed desire to obtain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (Nilsson-Wright, 2015). Such cooperation has already begun. Since August 2016, Britain supported Japan in clearing 700 000 square miles of mines in Angola (British Embassy Luanda, 2017). The Defence Logistics Treaty of January 2017 through enabling the sharing of equipment, supplies and services will allow Britain and Japan to carry out joint operations in such areas with greater ease, setting the foundation for further cooperation in the future (FCO, 2017-b).

  Capacity Building

 Another key area of strengthening ties would be through British capacity building measures that improve the capability of the Japanese armed forces and security services, and their ability to work with their British equivalents. As Aoi outlines, Japan’s armed forces while materially advanced lacks crucial ‘software’ capabilities in their expeditionary operations in terms of operational framework, doctrine, experience and advanced education (Aoi, 2012, p.133). This was seen in Japan’s two-year deployment in Iraq where shortcomings were identified in the ground forces’ “command structure, organisation, and logistics” (Patalano, 2012-a, p.225). Britain on the other hand according to Patalano has “vast experience in conducting joint operations” and can, therefore, help Japan improve its training, ability to deal with complex security issues, operational doctrine and, command and control etc. The growing number of exchanges and joint training exercises between the British and Japanese militaries facilitate this. Such joint exercises ranging from minesweeping in the Gulf to improving amphibious and counter-IED capability also have the added benefit of increasing UK-Japan interoperability (FCO, 2016-b).

 Roberts believes that Britain has “a huge role” in getting the Japanese to embrace jointry (interoperability between the various services of the military) and interoperability “outside of strictly US-Japan interoperability”. He believes that this is a huge gap where the US is not encouraging Japan to close in the same way Britain would (Roberts, 2016).

 Another area which Britain could help improve is crisis management. Nilsson-Wright advocates strengthening crisis management coordination between both nations’ National Security Councils (NSCs) beyond the already established NSC-to-NSC crisis hotline. He also believes that Britain should use its experience in crisis management, particularly in counterterrorism scenarios to enhance Japan’s respective capabilities (Nilsson-Wright, 2015). This view is shared by the Cabinet Office official who believes that Britain could use its experience of the London Olympics to help with the Tokyo Olympics and mentions that crisis management workshops have already been provided to the Japanese (Cabinet Office Official, 2016).

 Reinforcing Anglo-Japanese security ties also provides unique benefits that cannot be provided to either nation by their American allies. This is because as medium sized island nations they have particular requirements and ambitions. Island nations like Britain and Japan have asymmetric military structures with comparatively large navies and air forces but comparatively small armies (Patalano, 2012-a, p.234). According to Patalano, both countries have global interests and ambitions but not to the same degree as the US. They also do not have the same resources as the US and therefore having an effective but cost-efficient military is particularly important (Patalano, 2016). As a result, in Patalano’s view, both nations offer each other a suitable and unique reference model in building “the future balance of their armed forces”. He insists that there are solutions in terms of the organisation of expeditionary/strike forces and force structure that are more relevant to each other than solutions pursued by the US (Patalano, 2016).

  R&D Cooperation

 Such similarities in requirements along with advanced industrial economies and state-of-the-art militaries provide another area of cooperation - R&D. Given that the defence industry is becoming very expensive, R&D collaboration in defence provide a means for advanced nations with sophisticated militaries to main their technological edge (Patalano, 2016). Japan’s loosening of defence export controls under Abe provide an opportunity for Anglo-Japanese collaboration (Cabinet Office Official, 2016). Such cooperation has already gotten onto a promising start. Japanese seeker technologies, for instance, have been successfully integrated into British Meteor Air-to-Air missiles, and the two nations are currently developing a new air-to-air missile together (Allison, 2017). In March 2017 it was announced that Britain and Japan will look at jointly developing a new 5th-generation fighter. Even if an Anglo-Japanese fighter is not created in the end, Britain’s BAE Systems is likely to be interested in assisting Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Perrett and Osborne, 2017). Given that Britain’s Challenger 2 tanks will be out of service by 2035, Britain and Japan could look at jointly developing a new tank together (MOD, 2016-b).


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