It has been nearly 15 years since the alliance last revised the Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation.  Both governments revised these Guidelines as a part of the security relationship’s transition to the post-Cold War environment, while abiding by the constraints of Japan defense policies at that time.  Speaking of the 1997 Defense Guidelines, Japan’s Ambassador to the United States, Kenichiro Sasae, noted that at that time we had “ . . . no smart phones, no texting, and no GPS devices.”  In that context it was a long time ago, and in the context of U.S.-Japan bilateral defense cooperation the alliance has clearly come a long way.  As the following paragraphs explain, many of the bilateral changes in the revised Guidelines are precipitated by changes to Japan’s defense and security policies, all of which are welcomed by U.S. alliance managers.  Both sides have gained from lessons learned over the years, and the new areas incorporated in the 2015 Guidelines support the overall U.S. concept of rebalance outlined in the January 2012 policy “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership:  Priorities for 21st Century Defense.”

Why Revise?

There are several key factors that drove both governments to revise the 1997 Guidelines.  One is the security environment.  The Joint Statement of the Security Consultative Committee (SCC) that released the 2015 Defense Guidelines notes that the alliance faces an “increasingly complex security environment.”  Tensions have risen with China’s assertiveness over its territorial claims in East China and South China Seas, North Korea continues to provoke others with its nuclear and missile development, and Russia has increased its military aircraft activity approaching and entering Japan’s airspace.

Second, since the 1997 Guidelines Japan’s contributions to global security have grown, most recently with the Abe administration policy for Proactive Contributions to Peace. Japan and the U.S. worked together in OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM, deployed for operations in Iraq, conducted anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, and responded with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to several natural disasters, most significantly the March 2011 humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in Japan’s northeast.  Lessons learned from these events proved valuable in envisioning how U.S. and Japanese forces should work together, and the two governments could better coordinate.  The Bilateral Coordination Mechanism established in the 1997 Guidelines proved to be insufficient for OPERATION TOMODACHI, lacking the full complement of government agencies to address the combined challenges of a disaster created by an earthquake, tsunami, and radiological exposure.

A third reason to update the Guidelines is Japan’s revisions of its defense and security policies. Japan’s bold policy revisions of its Constitutional interpretation to authorize areas of collective self-defense, relaxation of its export policy to allow the export of arms and technologies to qualified partners, and security policy formulations on space and cyber security expanded the scope for bilateral cooperation. It was important to determine how the alliance should incorporate these areas to strengthen effectiveness.

The 2015 Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation

A theme reiterated throughout the new Guidelines is cooperation that is seamless, robust, flexible, and effective.  It is important that alliance planning and consideration extend throughout the spectrum of contingencies to address the so-called grey-zone challenges that fall between peacetime and armed conflict.  In this regard, the term of art Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan that appeared as a key element of the 1997 Guidelines to express alliance interest beyond the defense of Japan from which implementing legislation was passed, is no longer Guidelines lexicon.  Japan continues to maintain its basic defense policies centered on an exclusively defense-oriented framework, and non-nuclear principles.

Japan’s July 1, 2014 Cabinet decision authorizing applications of collective self-defense removes a significant obstacle to Alliance cooperation.  The Guidelines incorporate this adjustment noting various areas where Japan’s Self Defense Forces may now defend U.S. forces, and assets in Japan; during operations in the defense of Japan on the ground, sea, and air; during peacekeeping operations; and for air and missile defense.  The 2015 document includes broad lessons learned from March 2011, specifically addressing contingencies that may include chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incidents or attacks.  While men and women on both sides of the Alliance served admirably during OPERATION TOMODACHI, the operation also demonstrated that the two governments required broader connection across the whole of governments, smoother execution for crisis planning and crisis management, and greater familiarity.  The new document replaces the Bilateral Coordination Mechanism –an on-call body–to coordinate crisis planning and management with a more robust and standing Alliance Coordination Mechanism that includes the whole-of-government.

Japan’s adjustment to its arms export policies allows greater cooperation with the U.S. in a variety of forms.  The Guidelines outline coordination in areas of efficient acquisition and maintenance, and specifically note cooperation in areas of research, development, production, and test and evaluation.  They do not specifically, however, mention a long-range effort to cooperatively work on co-development, co-production, and co-employment for operational capabilities for our future forces.  The U.S.-Japan bilateral program on missile defense was authorized on an exceptional basis in this regard.  With Japan’s adjustment in arms export principles, however, the alliance can systematically work on long-range operational requirements and capabilities.  This requires both sides to exchange long-range estimates of the security environment, threats, and challenges to identify mutual operational requirements for future forces.  As two of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, this is an endeavor that the alliance should seize.

Under the rubric of regional and global efforts, the 2015 Guidelines introduces “Partner Capacity Building” with an aim to build capacities throughout the region “to respond to dynamic security challenges.”  This is a growth area for the alliance that aligns goals between the Department of Defense and its Defense Institution Building (DIB) programs with the Defense Ministry’s Capacity Building programs to build capacities throughout the region.

The 2015 Guidelines is a document that outlines a more balanced relationship of responsibilities between not only Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces and U.S. forces, but the two governments overall.  The Security Consultative Committee’s (SCC) approval of the revised Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation marks the end of a beginning.  It completes a near two-year process to revise a framework for bilateral defense policy.  However, as with most policy formulations, this new beginning now requires implementation.  Japan will undergo a legislative process to amend several defense related laws.  Much of the bilateral work will require further action on the part of Subcommittee for Defense Cooperation (SDC), the bilateral body, which supports the SCC. Planning guidance and priorities should be formulated and issued to implement new areas of the guidelines.  As the SCC Joint Statement appropriately noted, “the SCC directed the SDC to implement the new Guidelines, including establishing the standing Alliance Coordination Mechanism and upgrading the Bilateral Planning Mechanism.” Implementation with due urgency will be key to preparing the alliance for future emergencies that the alliance is sure to encounter.

About Robin "Sak" Sakoda

Robin ‘Sak’ Sakoda is a Partner at Armitage International, L.C. He served as the Executive Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State, and also in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Senior Country Director for Japan. He led the U.S. team during negotiations of the 1997 Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation.