UK-Japan alliance goes operational on North Korea

Photo/IllutrationThe Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force resupply vessel Tokiwa and the Royal Navy frigate Sutherland perform procedures for refueling at sea off the Kanto region on April 27. (Provided by the Maritime Self-Defense Force, published in Asahi Shinbun)

The “new type of alliance” between the UK and Japan recorded in this blog has just passed a major milestone: at this moment Royal Navy ships are operating alongside Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces in the seas off North Korea, policing UN sanctions.

UN sanctions passed September 2017 banned various exports to North Korea in the wake of its sixth nuclear test, making it illegal for ships to transfer goods and items to North Korean vessels. But there have been reports of ships transferring oil to North Korean vessels at sea, in breach of these sanctions. “The presence of HMS Albion in the region is a demonstration of the British government and Royal Navy’s commitment to engaging in international cooperation to ensure that those sanctions are respected,” Mr Wightman (British High Commissioner to Singapore Scott Wightman) told reporters. (The Straits Times)

UN member states have the authority to inspect vessels suspected of evading UN sanctions.

Japan is now the hub of a multinational force composed of US, UK, Canadian and Australian elements. National broadcaster NHK reported on 28 April 2018  that Australia and Canada will dispatch military aircraft to a US base in Japan to monitor illicit ship-to-ship transfers involving North Korean vessels. The sources say the patrol aircraft are soon expected to be sent to the US Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture in southern Japan. This may be the first time since the Korean war in the1950s that  multiple non-Japanese forces operate from Japan.

The cancellation by President Trump of the scheduled talks with DPRK Chairman Kim Jong Un today raises tension in the region, and magnifies the significance of this informal coalition operating round the clock in the seas around the Korean peninsula. Observers of the DPRK will recall that only 8 years ago a South Korean ship “Cheonan” was sunk with the loss of 46 lives in an explosion that the authorities in Seoul attributed to the North Korean navy, probably a submarine.

It would be reasonable to assume that in addition to the aircraft and surface vessels openly engaged in the operation, there is also much more going on below the surface.

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3 Royal Navy ships committed to police UN Sanctions on DPRK

The Royal Navy has deployed the amphibious assault vessel HMS Albion (with 300 Royal Marines embarked) to the Pacific in support of UN sanctions on North Korean shipping, making her Britain’s third vessel assigned to the mission.

The frigate HMS Sutherland is already in the area, having docked at the Japanese port of Yokosuka on 11th April to prepare for patrols in the area.

A second frigate, HMS Argyll is also due to join the effort.

“Our armed forces are at the forefront of Global Britain and the deployment of HMS Albion, Sutherland and Argyll demonstrates our unwavering commitment to our international responsibilities and to maintaining peace, security and prosperity in the region”, said Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, to mark HMS Sutherland’s arrival in Japan. (quoted in the Telegraph)

HMS Sutherland arrived at Yokosuka, the headquarters of Japan’s Maritime Defense Force fleet and home port of the U.S. Seventh Fleet’s carrier strike group.

It “will be contributing to the international efforts to monitor prohibited trade at sea by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which provides a major source of funding for its illegal nuclear program,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement, referring to North Korea by its official name.

“It’s about pressure. She is part of an international message that is going to North Korea and for the United Kingdom to see fit to send one of its frigates, to change its deployment from Southeast Asia, is part of that very powerful message,” Paul Casson, the British defense attache in Japan, told reporters in Tokyo.

The frigate will join policing operations in the seas around North Korea for about a month and will have the capability to board and inspect ships if called on to do so, Casson added. (quoted in Asahi Shinbun)

This represents two significant developments:

  1. The operationalization of defence cooperation agreements built between the UK and Japan over the past decade.
  2. The capacity and political will of the UK to commit the Royal Navy in a virtually continuous presence in the Asia-Pacific proves that it remains one of very few  nations with global maritime reach and influence.
HMS Argyll

HMS Argyll – type 23 Frigate


HMS Albion – an amphibious warfare ship, Albion carries troops, normally Royal Marines, and vehicles up to the size of the Challenger 2 main battle tank. She can deploy these forces using four Landing Craft Utility (LCUs) and four Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel (LCVPs). A flight deck supports helicopter operations. Albion can function as a command ship, and was the Royal Navy flagship between December 2010 and October 2011.

HMS Sutherland

HMS Sutherland – Type 23 Frigate, first circumnavigation of the globe by a Royal Navy ship in 14 years; first ship to receive and fire the updated Seawolf air defence missile system; most rounds fired by a modified 4.5in ‘Kryten’ gun in one day (247 if you were wondering). She is also Britain’s fastest frigate, reaching more than 34 knots (39mph) during trials in 2004.

What next

Submarines – or perhaps they are already there?

If you are going to have an unboroken presence in the region, why not go the extra step and have a RN vessel home-port in Japan permanently?


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Damian Flanagan on “The Extraordinary Untold Story of James Bond and Japan”

If you want to know more about Dr. Damian Flanagan, you may be interested in this link.

A Japan Times article on the same subject can be read here.

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Global Britain’s Alliance with Japan: Remember Nomonhan

Two recent publications in the East-West Center Asia Pacific Bulletin series look at how the UK and Japan might continue to develop their “alliance” in future. Reading them produces an echo of the strategic challenge both – as island nations – must historically face: trade-offs and tensions between commitments that must be made towards both  continental and oceanic security partners.
For the UK the Continent means (mostly) the EU, and there is now work to be done re-designing UK-EU security cooperation for the post-Brexit era. The Atlantic alliance has for recent generations resolved the choice of ocean and continent for the UK, but the ‘pivot’ of US attention to Asia (defined not by recent US policy initiatives, but by long term geo-economic trends in Europe as well as Asia) will dislodge NATO centrality in UK defence and security policy. British efforts to revive defence cooperation with Japan is itself part of the response to those trends.

Continue reading

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「新日英同盟」軍事的急接近の背後にあるものとは 英識者が指摘するニーズの一致

link (Japanese language)


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UK-Japan move closer with British Army / Japan Ground Self-Defence Forces exercising together in Japan in 2018


Having exercised in sea and air domains, and cooperated in cyber in preparation for the coming Olympic games, the UK-Japan “semi-alliance” (Asahi) will soon be cooperating across the full spectrum with land forces exercising together in Japan.

In what has become a regular fixture in the diplomatic calendars, the third UK and Japanese government 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministers meeting took place on 14 December in Greenwich Naval College, London (link).

During the meeting, the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that Continue reading

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UK-Japan joint development of air-to-air missile: prototype by 2018


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November 30, 2017 · 7:44 pm

Japan, Britain to deepen “alliance” with new Visiting Forces Agreement

The Japan News reports

Japan and Britain are considering beginning talks next year to conclude a visiting forces agreement (VFA), which would foster smooth activities of the Self-Defense Forces and the British military when they are visiting either nation

VFAs establish the legal status of foreign forces temporarily visiting a nation’s territory for joint exercises, disaster-relief missions and other activities.


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Are ‘strategic partners’ the new ‘allies’?


Is the “Strategic Partnership” the new type of Alliance we have been waiting for? According to Rajesh Basrur & Sumitha Narayanan Kutty in The Hindu, it may not make sense any longer to strive for the exalted status  ‘allies’, because “Alliances are passé“:

We live in a world today driven by “strategic partnerships”. States find themselves in an interdependent system where the traditional power politics of yesteryear doesn’t quite fit. After all, every major relationship characterised by strategic tension such as U.S.-China, Japan-China, India-China is simultaneously one of economic gain. The U.S. and China are each other’s chief trading partners, while China ranks at the top for Japan and India. Besides, India might confront China at Doklam but it also wants Chinese investment.

This is an observation with relevance for the Anglo-Japan relationship as well. According to Busrur and Kutty, strategic partnerships and alliances differ on the following points:

  1. they do not demand commitments to a partner’s disputes with other countries. That means both parties retain the flexibility to continue political engagement and economic cooperation with their common adversary. As a result –
  2. they avoid “entrapment”, or being dragged into a partner’s disputes and potentially into conflict. Instead –
  3. regular high-level political and military interactions facilitate a collaborative approach to strategic policies over a range of economic and military activities.

The aims of major strategic partnerships are described as follows: Continue reading

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James Bond’s Secret Mission: To Revive the Anglo-Japanese Alliance – by Peter Tasker

“James Bond’s half-Japanese son or daughter would be in the prime of life today. As the political storm clouds gather, there could be increasing need for such a person’s talents.”bond3-700x298

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