Extract from the interview by Nikkei staff writers Ken Moriyasu and Togo Shiraishi
Q: Japan has shifted its position on arms exports. It hosted an arms fair attended by a substantial British delegation. Japan believes these joint projects will lead to stronger diplomatic alliances. Does the British government welcome Japan’s change in security policy?
A: We very much welcome Japan’s security legislation. Japan has proved over many years its commitment to peaceful progress in international development. Japan has played an important role in dealing with some of the important challenges around the world but it has been constrained in how big a role it has been able to play by the self-imposed restrictions in the Japanese constitution. We welcome Japan’s decision to reinterpret the way those will work so that Japan can make a bigger contribution to maintaining the peace and stability of the international system.
In terms of the defense industries collaboration, our experience has been that there is very often an ability to build a twin track partnership between countries where collaboration in the defense industry goes hand in hand with collaboration on defense and security, such as in joint exercises and collaborative approaches to procurement and so on. We think there is significant scope for a collaborative approach to working between U.K. armed forces and Japan’s Self Defense Forces in appropriate areas, for example on humanitarian initiatives and disaster relief. Japan is interested in working with us to maintain freedom of navigation for example. Japan has played an important role in the Gulf of Aden, the Horn of Africa, counterpiracy initiatives and has an important mine-sweeping capability which is necessary to keep open international sea lanes. So there are many fields in which we can collaborate. It is also a case that Japanese industry has capabilities that will make it an interesting and important partner in defense industrial cooperation.
Q: Will the British government support Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposed resolution at the U.N. to call for nuclear disarmament?
A: We instinctively support the idea of eventually reaching a world without nuclear weapons. That is our stated intention. We have a very strong record on nuclear arms reduction. We have reduced our inventory of warheads by 50% since its peak. We have announced that we will have a maximum of 180 warheads by the middle of the 2020s. We have reduced both our stockpiles of warheads and our deployment of warheads on submarines to the minimum necessary.
We would argue that we have, more than any other nuclear power, have put into practice the ambition to move eventually to move into a world without nuclear weapons. But we won’t disarm unilaterally. We have been absolutely clear about that. In terms of the resolution, history has taught us that the devil lies in the details in arms reduction resolutions, so we would have to look at it before we can say we would be able to support it.
Q: Does the Foreign Office see the security situation in this part of the world as being on an improving trajectory?
A: There are some very real tensions which remain unresolved. The self-evident capability of China to project maritime power in a way it couldn’t do, even a few years ago, has created a more dangerous dynamic. I’ve just come from a meeting with the foreign minister, and we very much appreciate the efforts made by Japan to try to maintain dialogue with China and tried to calm tensions in the East China Sea, where there is some sign that Japan and China are establishing mechanisms to try to avoid unintended escalations or accidental escalations, which is very good.
In the South China Sea, there are problems that are less manageable because there are more players involved. We are all conscious of the fact that there are some very serious risks of unintended escalations.