Tag Archives: Japan

Latest developments confirm UK and Japan heading towards a new type of alliance

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 12.10.12 PMAs we approach the anniversary of the speech that inspired this blog (link here), I’d like to take stock of developments and make the case that the UK and Japan are on track towards a relationship that deserves to be called ‘a new type of alliance‘.

Defining ‘alliance’, then and now

Japan and the UK may not be allies today in a sense they were a century ago, nor in the much stricter sense that they have a formal agreement to mutual defence, but neither of those facts excludes the possibility that they are allies in a new type of alliance.

I argue here that the notion of a ‘new type of alliance’ raised by HE Hayashi Keiichi in 2013 is not just a gimmick. While the essential nature of alliance may be timeless, the character of a specific alliance will be influenced by various conditions particular to the environment of the time. Times change, but have our assumptions about what constitutes an alliance kept up with recent changes in the environment of international security?

The meaning of ‘alliance’ has generally come to be seen as:

–  An agreement between States concerning national security

–  A commitment to provide support for defence or recognize mutual interests and assist in maintenance of the status quo in regard to these interests

–  Contingency – a kind of ‘if, then’ grammar to describe the commitment

But is the existence of a formal treaty absolutely necessary in order to use the label ‘alliance’? Walt says not, or at least, not always. He (1987) defined alliance as “a formal or informal arrangement for security cooperation between two or more sovereign states”, and only later (1993) added “usually taking the form of a written military commitment”. In a recent work looking at the nature of ‘alliances’, (Erich Reiter, Heinz Gärtner 2001 Small States and Alliances, Springer): Bergman formulates the following definition:

an explicit agreement among states in the realm of national security in which the partners promise mutual assistance in the form of a substantial contribution of resources in the case of a certain contingency the arising of which is uncertain

Some examples illustrate how loosely these conditions have come to be applied -Example 1: Are the US and Japan allies? America is committed to come to Japan’s aid if attacked, but Japan (even given recent re-interpretations of policy in Tokyo) is not pledged to defend America. Japan does provide bases and money, but the bargain is more committed on one side than another.  Nevertheless, no one argues that Japan and the US are not ‘allies’. At least, not any more. Until 1981 Japan avoided using the term ‘alliance’ to describe the relationship and even the choice to do so in the height of the Cold War was very controversial (link, link). This just shows that use of the word is as much or more a politically determined choice as it is a matter of objective fact. Example 2: NATO. Sure, Article 5 pledges allies to consider an armed attack on one as an attack on all, but ‘considering’ only gets you so far. It still leaves it up to each ally to decide individually what kind of assistance it deems necessary to offer. Example 3: US and Israel – no written agreement exists detailing the nature of the commitment, which is also not mutual. Example 4: In 1902, Britain and Japan were joined in an alliance that lasted for almost 20 years. What was the bargain in that case? A recognition of each-other’s interests’ in China and Korea, mutual ‘Promise of support’, ‘declaration of neutrality’, ‘Promise to communicate frankly’. These are not so very far from what we see today.

Resurgence of UK-Japan security cooperation

The establishment of a new kind of security relationship between Japan and the UK cannot be easily traced back to a specific moment, but it seemed to pick up in 2012. Here are the highlights –

2004 January – the Defense Ministers signed Memorandum Relating to Defense Cooperation to develop bilateral defense exchanges.

2006 – RUSI and the National Institute of Defense Studies (NIDS) initiate Fellowship exchange programme based in RUSI’s London office.

2007 January 9th – Japan-UK Joint Statement: A framework for the Future

2011October 31st – UK Minister of Defence Philip Hammond visits Tokyo to discuss Defence Cooperation agreements with counterparts in Tokyo.

December 27th – Japan amends its Guidelines on the Overseas Transfer of Defence Equipment, opening up the possibility of trade and R&D cooperation that had been denied under the previous guidelines.


April 10th – UK Prime Minister visits Japan and signs intergovernmental agreement to look into future partnering in the defense research and development sectors.

  • to launch a Foreign Minister-led “Strategic Dialogue” with a view to sharing assessments and strategic views on the regional and international environment;
  • to start negotiations on a government to government information security agreement;
  • to endorse Defence Ministers signing the Defence Cooperation Memorandum at the next opportunity;
  • to build on the signature of this Memorandum and defence engagement, such as in research collaboration, by identifying new areas of cooperation;
  • to identify a range of appropriate defence equipment for joint development and production, that can be carried out in accordance with Japan’s 2011 Guidelines for Overseas Transfer of Defence Equipment etc. which contributes to both countries’ security and presents industrial opportunities;
  • to explore ways to further strengthen our security and defence cooperation, including joint exercises, training and unit to unit affiliations.
  • Mutual pledge to deepen the existing dialogues between relevant Ministers and senior officials, to address the above mentioned issues in a joint effort to promote international prosperity and security.

June 3rd – UK and Japan exchange a memorandum to strengthen defense cooperation in various areas including cyberspace.

October – Japan’s Foreign Minister visited the UK for the First Japan-UK Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue.

October – RUSI launches in Japan. The idea of the trans-Eurasia alliance between Japan and Europe or Japan and UK “would make the world a more stable place” said Dr. Chiaki Akimoto, the head of Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) new Japan office, at the RUSI Japan office launch.


June 17th – Bilateral summit led by PM Cameron and PM Abe on sidelines of G8 meeting, the two leaders reached agreement as follows:

i) In the wake of close bilateral cooperation in dealing with the recent terrorist attack in Algeria, the two countries should continue strengthening cooperation, recognizing the importance of international cooperation in counter-terrorism measures.

ii) The two countries should study the installation of a video hotline between the two prime ministers’ offices as suggested at this year’s UK-Japan 21st Century Group meeting.

iii) After Prime Minister Abe explained Japan’s economic measures, the two leaders reached an accord to cooperate in Japan-European Union (EU) negotiations on concluding an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) for further strengthening of economic relations between Japan and the United Kingdom.

June 20th – Chatham House conference (opening their five-year UK-Japan Global Seminar), British MP Hugo Swire called Japan Britain’s ‘closest partner in Asia’. His counterpart at the Conference, Hiroaki Fujii, had earlier called the UK ‘Japan’s ‘most important partner in Europe’.

July 4th – UK-Japan sign  “Agreement on the Security of Information” and  “Agreement on the Framework of Defence Equipment”.

September/October – PM Abe gave a speech at RUSI where he defined the UK and Japan as ‘a priori partners’.

Nov/Dec – HMS Daring visits Japan. One of the UK’s newest and most advanced ships, the type-45 destroyer HMS Daring arrived in central Tokyo on Sunday 1, stayed for three days.

November 27th – exchange of Liaison Officers between HMS Illustrious and MSDF ship DDS Ise to support bilateral coordination for HADR operations in the Phillippines (link).

December  Admiral Sir George Zambellas KCB DSC ADC DL, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff UK visited Japan, speaking at the JMSDF Staff College on Tuesday, 3 December 2013.


April 14th   Addressing an audience of 250 at the Japanese Diet, UK Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nicholas Houghton advocated an ‘enhanced and formalised’ UK-Japan defence relationship that would help both countries cope with ongoing global and regional challenges. (link)

May – Prime Minister Abe visits London:

i) Japan and the UK agreed to “start negotiations on an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement [ACSA]  (a military logistics support agreement to provide logistic, technical, and administrative support to each other’s forces) at an early date and hold their first ‘2+2′ foreign and defence ministerial meeting.

An ACSA will mark a major step forward in the relationship, in particular if the current Japanese Government succeeds in its plan to interpret the exercise of the right to collective self defence as compatible with the current constitution.

ii) Abe and Cameron’s joint statement added that they would “examine the opportunities and develop proposals” to make joint contributions to international peacekeeping efforts, military exchanges, joint exercises, operations and support, and “establishing a new mechanism to share information and analysis that supports the purposes of our co-operation” (link).

May 2nd – Vice Parliamentary Minister of Defence Kihara Minoru gave a speech at IISS entitled “Japan and the UK as strategic partners – toward further co-operation in the defence field” (link). Call to strengthen the UK-Japan relationship as a ‘trans-Eurasia relationship’ to compliment the trans-pacific relationship (Japan-US) and trans-Atlantic relationship (UK-US).


Judging by these recent developments, how does the UK-Japan relationship correspond to the characteristics of ‘alliance’ that should be applied today? What are the main features of the 21st century environment that we would expect to shape the character of a contemporary ‘alliance’?

Shaping factor #1 The nature of IR today: Not war and peace between several great powers, and not Cold War either (since there is no ideological competition) but a kind of subtle rivalry. Today’s rivalry is over economic interests, and is restrained as well as driven by economic factors – principally the interdependence that comes from the vastly increased importance of global trade and investment for national prosperity. But ideology is far too powerful a tool to be discarded overnight, and strategic interests are still wrapped up in symbolic use of ‘values’. E.g. Europe maintains a kind of (leaky) arms embargo on China since Tiananmen, largely at the behest of the US. Relations with Russia are currently undergoing a similar kind of renegotiation. Finally, the nature of international relations today (inter-connected, flatter) means that national power is distributed over several domains, and is less concentrated in the military instrument. It is also more mediated by intergovernmental or international organizations such as the UN, G8, etc.

Shaping factor #2 The position of Japan and the UK in the contemporary balance of power: Today the in-balance of power offers a context for alliance that is very far from that which shaped the Concert of Europe and mid 20th century alliances such as NATO. One power (America) is orders of magnitude stronger than others in terms of aggregate power. Japan and the UK are middle powers in this system, and both allied to the hegemon. There are signs of a long-term shift towards a multipolar order where no one nation is dominant at all times in all places, and the movement of economic power towards Asia is the major factor in this.

What implications would these shaping factors have on the contemporary character of an Anglo-Japan alliance? (a) a need to insure against the risk of dependence on a single large ally; (b) Support provided for defence will probably not be decisive in a confrontation involving a great power; (c) the destructive power of modern weapons means the strategic objective today is not winning wars but avoiding them. This puts a premium on understanding the perceptions and intentions of would-be opponents; (d) alliances will tend to be looser in that they are not as focused on one particular type of contingency. This is partly because all-out war is seen (right or wrongly) as either unlikely or so destructive to national prosperity that it is dangerous even to talk of it being a possibility, and partly because security interests are less concentrated on military instruments. As with the pre-1981 US-Japan security relationship, it may be that the UK and Japan have an alliance even though the UK that prefers to call it by another name (out of concern for the impact on economic relations with China); (e) You see more ‘packaging’ of alliance issues, with expressions of partnership encompassing diplomatic, economic and military components.

How do these general shaping factors and their implications relate to the UK-Japan relationship?

Paradoxically, the diminished capacity of the UK and Japan compared to the situation a century ago is no impediment to their relationship. Indeed, similar size can be good for an alliance relationship. When it comes to cooperation on capability development, playing with a much stronger partner can feel like an uphill battle. The fact that the UK and Japan are both middle powers means they can play on an even field. Also, the weak have a stronger incentive to band together, and close partnerships or alliances like this one provide a multiplier effect that is easy on stretched defence budgets.

If anything, the diminished capacity of Japan and the UK probably just makes them savor their sense of sovereignty all the more. In spite of the fact that PM Abe is a firm supporter of the current Japan-US alliance, he also views Japan’s ‘post-war system’ as an American imposition he would like to erase. In particular, he wants to diversify Japan’s security partnerships across points in Europe (UK and France and NATO) and Asia (ASEAN, India, Australia). There is a feeling in the UK that subservience to the US has gone too far and Post-Blair Britain is especially sensitive to charges of being America’s Poodle. Exploring another type of alliance offers relief from these anxieties, as well as widening opportunities for trade and influence. Perhaps a bilateral alliance feeds both parties’ nostalgia for a time when their national identity was not overshadowed by their Uncle Sam.

But for that same reason, describing the relationship as an ‘alliance’ can be a delicate matter. It would be natural if both the UK and Japan were conscious of not wanting to offend their main alliance partner, their relationship with the US gives them much in common. For Japan, the new type of alliance offers not an alternative alliance partner to the US, but a way to get a bit of insurance against the risks of abandonment. In Britain’s case, Obama’s ‘pivot’ and the macroeconomic trends driving it creates a need to re-think how to be strategically relevant in Asia. So developing security cooperation in the region is good for UK interests in general – and may even enhance the value of the UK-US relationship in the era of the ‘re-balance’.

In fact there is hardly any cause for concern because the new type of alliance is good for the US in a number of ways; (i) it reinforces the value of interoperability with US forces and offers new avenues for developing shared analysis and understanding; (ii) it encourages mutual assistance among allies in the event of contingencies involving US interests in Europe, Asia and spaces between, thus reducing the burden on Washington; (iii) the difference in scale and capabilities between the US and its allies remains such that no-one can think seriously of this new type of alliance as any kind of alternative to the relationship they have with the US.

Regardless, both parties may be signaling to re-assure the US that there is nothing to worry about here. No UK official has actually used the term ‘alliance’ yet to describe the relationship with Japan. The Japan side has, but only once or twice. In other words, the fact that few are calling the relationship an alliance may not be a good indicator that it is not worth the name. As shown by the uproar when Japan’s PM Suzuki started to call the US-Japan relationship an ‘alliance’ for the first time, there may be other reasons to avoid using the correct label (avoid offending the US and China). Absence of the term ‘alliance’ does not prove absence of the function ‘alliance’.

Interestingly, the Japan side have floated the idea of a  ‘Trans-Eurasian relationship’ a couple of times – once when RUSI opened its doors in Tokyo in 2012, then again in a speech this May 2 by the Japan’s Vice Parliamentary Minister for Defence Kihara Minoru gave a speech at IISS ‘Japan and UK as Strategic Partners – towards further co-operation in the defence field’. The implication may be that the world can be banded by three big relationships – the trans-pacific being the US-Japan alliance; the trans-Atlantic being NATO or the US-UK relationship, and the trans-Eurasian being the Japan-UK relationship.

If the strategic objective of alliance today is not war-fighting but the avoidance of wars, this puts a premium on understanding the perceptions and intentions of other powers in order to avoid miscalculation and probe for opportunities to take advantage. The importance of understanding and intelligence-sharing is prominent in today’s UK-Japan relationship. A former UK Defence Attache in Tokyo once suggested to me that Japan has come to look to the UK as the ‘first choice provider of a second opinion’. Japan and the UK have new agreements to enable intelligence-sharing but also strategic assessments – as seen in the tie up between RUSI and NIDS since 2006.

The UK is going all out on ‘Defence Engagement’, as seen in its reorganization of the Army into the ‘response force’ and the ‘adaptable Brigades’ (see Army 2020). The role of the latter is “overseas Defence Engagement (working with partner nations)”, which is formally promoted as a strand of the UK’s soft power. The current UK Minister of Defence, Philip Hammond, gave a summary of how this relates to Asian security at the 2014 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) The 13th Shangri-La Dialogue in a speech entitled “Advancing Military-to-military cooperation“. Joining him on the panel was none other than Japan’s Minister of Defence, Itsunori Onodera. Hammond’s remarks are worth quoting in this context:

“In the same way that formal and informal economic and trading ties between nations, built up over time from the first trade delegation or first export order, gradually develop the cultural understanding and expert local knowledge that facilitate future economic links on a much greater scale … so the ties and channels of communication established from the steps of Defence Engagement – often small in scale and in uncontentious areas such as language training or military medicine – can lay the foundation for the deeper and more formal cooperation that develops greater mutual trust and understanding”.

A close reading of that description makes one wonder whether Defence Engagement is really only a strand of ‘soft power’…

Now culture may not score a lot of points with the realists in the audience but when it comes to mobilizing a society behind an alliance relationship, it surely helps. There is the history of the previous Anglo-Japan alliance, though awareness of this in the UK is low. There is the link of monarchy and Japan’s Emperor studied at Oxford, not the Ivy League. Mutual respect has grown on the basis of culture, but extends also into the harder dimensions of national character. Both nations fought each other to a standstill over their Asian possessions but never came close to invading each other, and even the bitterness of POW issues is fading. This potentially puts the UK in a position to provide a rather unique kind of support for Japanese power. The UK-Japan relationship is a ‘good news story’ in terms of relations between former enemies who have put bad war memories behind them. In a way this facilitates the rehabilitation of defence and strategic thinking in Japanese society, which is otherwise cowed by reminders of its war guilt. Provided it is explored carefully, this could prove a powerful dimension of the alliance.

Today international relations are more mediated than ever, and international organizations like the UN, G8, EU and NATO function in ways that have changed the role in the nature of ‘alliance’ in the 21st century. For Japan Britain can be an advocate for its interests in the major international organizations: UN Security Council, the EU and NATO. As Simon Chelton observed in his 2012 article in Wedge, the UK and Japan have – in terms of their voting record in the UNSC – more in common than either have with the US. Britain can offer access and advocacy if Japan would like support on Korean sanctions, free trade negotiations or enhancement of its relationship with NATO (Japan became a member of NATO’s Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme during a recent visit by Abe to NATO headquarters in Brussels). Despite Abe’s dream of settling Japan’s territorial dispute with Russia, Abe recently joined the rest of the G7 in isolating Russia over its actions towards Ukraine. As for the future, the FPDA offers one access point for cooperation, as reflected in PM Abe’s appeal to join the arrangements as an observer. In case of contingencies nearer Japan, the UK is a member of the United Nations Command, Military Armistice Commission, Korea, which has its headquarters rear in Yokota airbase, Japan. More ideas for how UK-Japan cooperation fits into broader European geostrategies were raised in a recent article “Europeans reach out to Asia: the role of Japan” by James Rogers and Prof. Luis Simón.

A more detailed study of the future potential of the alliance will follow in a later blog posting.


Over the past few years, the UK and Japan embarked on systematic, direct and broad-based security cooperation that goes beyond a general ‘partnership’. Recent developments suggest these moves are likely to culminate in a broad security and defence relationship that deserves the name ‘alliance’.  The nature of this relationship differs from that of past alliances, but in ways that are an appropriate reflection of changes in the relative and absolute position both nations occupy in today’s international security environment. Furthermore, an examination of the UK-Japan relationship helps focus on the factors that shape the concept of ‘alliance’ in the 21st century.

This blog post was inspired by a round-table meeting at the United States Naval War College on European perspectives on the American ‘pivot’, organised by the John A. van Beuren Chair of Asia-Pacific Studies.


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Monday morning quarterbacking the BBC interview

Ambassador Hayashi and Jeremy 'Paxo' Paxman

Ambassador Hayashi and Jeremy ‘Paxo’ Paxman

I sometimes suffer from a painful condition. Shortly after an argument I always think of the words I should have said. But it is too late. I promise myself to use them for next time. I have no idea if Ambassador Keiichi Hayashi also has moments like that.

Paxo: Ambassador, these islands aren’t inhabited, why not just give them to the Chinese?

林 景一: Imagine if the Falklands had not been inhabited. Would Prime Minister Thatcher have given them to General Galtieri in 1982? Why not? Would that have been right? I think not.

Paxo: But is it really worth jeopardizing the security of that whole part of the world and possibly the world itself?

林 景一: It is not, and so that is certainly a question you should ask China. We have a system of international order. We have age old principles of self defence and sovereignty that everyone has to respect. We are defending this order in the face of aggression from China, so please ask them this question.

Paxo: Isn’t what is really happening here is that Japan is seeking to re-establish a military identity?

林 景一: No. In fact despite rising threats from North Korea and China, Japan is still holding firmly to its identity as a peaceful democratic nation. We are fortunate to have like-minded friends and allies like the United States and Britain to help us defend these principles. We left our military identity behind after WWII and placed our security in the trust of the principles of the United Nations. Japan learned the hard way that a military identity, a totalitarian political order, and a militaristic foreign policy courts national disaster. We will never repeat this mistake. But  we will also work to warn other nations not to make this mistake, because that that way lies disaster.

Paxo: It’s true you are seeking constitutional reform, though?

林 景一: There is a debate in Japan about our constitution, you are right. Our system is a parliamentary democracy, just like here, because it was modeled on the Westminster system. So ideas will be proposed, openly debated and decided by the representatives of the will of the people. And I can assure you that the Japanese people remain as opposed to a military identity for their country now as they have been for the past half century or more. Sorry but if I may add, your question changes the subject. The debate in Japan on the Constitution is focused mainly on whether we should include an amendment to explicitly allow for collective self-defence and acknowledge the existance of a military capability for defending the country. However, that would not change the situation with these islands, which is one where Japan is exercising the right of individual self-defence, which is basic to all nations. So if you don’t mind my saying so, this issue of amending the constitution may be a bit beside the point.

Paxo: Why does PM Abe want to remove the inhibition on settling disputes by force of arms?

林 景一: Settling disputes by force or arms is always – for all countries – a last resort. This is an accepted principle of just war going back centuries, but also of our UN Charter today. As I said just now, if Japan faces an armed attack, then we have the right, indeed the obligation to defend ourselves. Now on the Japanese Constitution, we remain as committed as ever to settling disputes by peaceful means – no-one in Japan is advocating anything different. But I am afraid I have to say that the question of constitutional reform really is un-connected to our problems with China over these islands. That is a straightforward matter of defending our national sovereignty against the threat of armed attack.

Paxo: Do you think it helps things by using childish abuse comparing people to Voldermort for example?

林 景一: I was responding to the metaphor suggested by the Chinese Ambassador, so you perhaps can ask him this question.

Paxo: But you say there is nothing to talk about. How can there be dialogue when you consider there is nothing to discuss?

林 景一: We are ready to sit down and talk any time. We have had a dialogue with China and with Korea and with Russia about such things for some time, so it is unfortunate that now China is refusing to discuss with our Prime Minister. Why does China refuse? The reason they are giving – our Prime Minister’s visit to a war memorial shrine – is very difficult to accept. During the Cold War, when we were both feeling threatened by the USSR, China never raised such objections. This makes people wonder if perhaps it is a kind of pretext. Prime Minister Abe is of course mindful of how the shrine has become a political and diplomatic issue. Which is why he made a point of explaining his motives on the occasion of hist latest visit: a profound recognition that Japan must never wage a war again. A conviction based on the severe remorse for the past. A renewed determination before the souls of the war dead to firmly uphold the pledge never to wage a war again.

Paxo: OK Ambassador. Thank you very much.

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China uses war memories to enlist UK in territorial dispute against Japan

China's Ambassador in London, liu Xiaoming.

China’s Ambassador in London, Liu Xiaoming.

In a letter to the Telegraph on 1 January 2014, Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom Liu Xiaoming attempts to bring the UK around to its side in the war of public opinion against Japan. Here is an extract:

Last year, I explained in a newspaper article the key principles concerning the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, and pointed out the severe consequences of Japan’s provocations. This time, I believe Mr Abe has continued his brinksmanship by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine; it has rekindled bitter memories of Japan’s past-war crimes…Next week, The Railway Man, a film based on a true story, will be released. It tells the tragic story of a British PoW tortured by the Japanese in the Second World War. The film is not only about the atrocities committed by his Japanese captors, but also how one of them is harrowed by his own past. His redemption is only effected through deep remorse and penitence. China and Britain were wartime allies. Our troops fought shoulder to shoulder against Japanese aggressors and made enormous sacrifices. Sixty-eight years have passed since that horrible war. Yet there are always some incorrigible people in Japan who show no signs of remorse for war crimes. Instead, they seek to reinterpret history. They pose a serious threat to global peace. The Chinese will not allow such attempts. I am sure British and all other peace-loving folk will not remain indifferent.China and Britain are both victors of the Second World War. We played a key role in establishing the post-war international order that has delivered great benefits for mankind. Our two countries have a common responsibility to work with the international community to oppose and condemn any words or actions aimed at invalidating the peaceful post-war consensus and challenging international order. We should join together both to uphold the UN Charter and to safeguard regional stability and world peace.

Looked at in a broader context, this might be a first signal that China is trying to insert a ‘war memories’ wedge between the UK and Japan in an attempt to sabotage construction of their ‘new type of alliance‘.

Will it work? As I blogged recently, China’s rise has caused Japan to reach out to new alliances such as it is building with the UK, but at the same time China’s rise complicates the UK response because London’s desire for the economic benefits of good relations with the PRC conflict with its credentials as a ‘good ally’ against Beijing. The way PM Cameron or his cabinet colleagues respond to this may indicate which way the wind is blowing in London. So far, we had responses from Russia, the US, South Korea, Singapore and the EU, so is that an eloquent silence I hear from London?


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UK and Europe in Japan’s NSS

Europe has the influence to formulate international public opinions, the capacity to develop norms in major international frameworks and a large economy. Japan and European countries, especially the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland, share universal values of freedom, democracy, respect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law, and principles such as market economy. They are partners for Japan which together take a leading role in ensuring the peace, stability and prosperity of the international community. At a time when the power balance of the international community is changing, in order to establish an international order based on universal values and rules, to effectively address global challenges, and to accomplish Japan’s initiatives for a peaceful and prosperous international community, Japan will further strengthen its relations with Europe, including cooperation with the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Japan has contributed to the democratization of East European countries and Baltic countries, and will engage in strengthening relations with them, as well as the Caucasus countries.

National Security Strategy of Japan, December 17, 2013 (page 26)

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UK & Japan National Security Councils to be linked by ‘hotline’


Japan to set up national security hotline with Britain

As this Asahi Shinbun article explains, when Japan’s NSC is set up in January 2014 it will be linked by hotline to its counterpart in London –

“to develop closer ties and information- and analyses-sharing during times of emergency”

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Japan’s Marine Corps / Royal Marines – Room for cooperation?

RM cap badgeThere have been stories around for a while about Japan’s plans to set up an amphibious infantry force – i.e. Marines. The general assumption is that this will be modeled on the US Marine Corps, as reflected in headlines like this:

Defense Ministry preparing Japanese version of U.S. Marines

Now I have a lot of time for the USMC, but wouldn’t the UK-Japan security relationship be missing a trick if it didn’t at least explore the potential rewards of  cooperation with the UK’s Royal Marine Commandos?

The naval flavour of defence cooperation remarked on in the recent RUSI conference would seem to offer a natural connection. Unlike the USMC, the RM are part of the Royal Navy. Indeed, as the Duke of York’s attendance at the RUSI conference  reminded some of us, the RN-RM combination has a respectable record on re-taking small islands.

And who else has ‘Asia’ on their cap badge?


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Japan and Great Britain: ‘A priori partners’

PM Shinzo Abe addressing the RUSI conference (source, RUSI)

PM Shinzo Abe addressing the RUSI conference (source, RUSI)

PM Shinzo Abe’s keynote speech at the RUSI conference on UK-Japan security (September 30 – October 1 2013) gave us a partial understanding of his plans for the UK-Japan relationship in the field of security (here in Japanese). Unfortunately I couldn’t be there, but I drew the following conclusions from reading the text  published afterwards:

1) Maritime security

Apparently this will be the focus of cooperation in the security relationship between the UK and Japan. This was a common denominator in all dimensions of the speech.

a) History:

“Japan learned the A to Z of modern navy entirely from the U.K”.

Cooperation in WWI was also referenced in terms of operations in the Mediterranean.

b) Symbolism: Prince Andrew (also in attendance) is an ex RN officer, well known for having taken part in operations in the Falklands War.

c) Strategy:

“great things are expected of the Japan-U.K. partnership also in the Northern Sea Route that is about to newly open up”

d) Law and order: UK-Japan cooperation on upholding the Law of the Seas seems to be the preferred framework for translating grand vision into practical action.

2) Light on specifics, heavy on ‘great expectations’

“Our two countries with such a history are poised to make a tremendous advance through our cooperative security relationship… this year may come to be appraised by our progeny and by historians as a year in which breakthroughs were achieved”.

Again, this point was substantiated with reference to the upcoming visit of the UK’s First Sea Lord and HMS Daring. Watch this space.

But what is this ‘a priory’ description about? In terms of philosophy ‘a priory’ refers to an argument that is self-evidently true, not requiring evidence to demonstrate its validity (e.g. all batchelors are unmarried).

Abe clarified what he meant by saying the relationship ‘evolved organically’, which I took to mean the UK and Japan had so much in common (Monarchy, island history, skill in balancing tradition and innovation) that it was somehow inevitable that they would become allies.

By comparison with Japan-US relations, the anchor of which is routinely ascribed to ‘shared values’ of democracy, rule of law and free trade –  is the implication that UK-Japan relations are based on something less technocratic, and more connected with culture and national psychology. More…organic. Personally I find this vaguely compelling. I can also see how Abe’s attitude to the present constitution of Japan (that it was a post-war ‘imposition’ by the US) reflects some ambivalence to ‘man-made’ – (contrasted with ‘organic’) framework of values.

3) It’s OK to mention the war.

The UK-Japan partnership allows Abe to highlight a relationship with a WWII enemy country that has healed well. This can also be said of the Japan-US partnership, and that with Australia and New Zealand, in contrast to that with China and Korea, among others. This may not be of much use in ameliorating the effects of ‘war memory’ in other bilateral relations, however. Paradoxically, the feelings between UK/Japan over WWII  have healed comparatively well because of the distance between their homelands – the distance that is the main obstacle to constructing meaningful relations today. The contest was over colonial claims and hardly touched respective home territory. Having said that, the occupation of Shanghai, Singapore and Malaya and related issues of POW treatment meant that our war experience was not purely of a military-to-military nature.

Is this perhaps an indication that ‘war memory’ is not quite the right term for this problem in Japan’s relations with its neighbors? When it comes to China and Korea, is the problem more about colonial memory than war memory? That remains a more difficult area of history for the UK as well. Then might there be scope for joint UK-Japan cooperation on healing the scars of colonial history?

4) Knowledge and wisdom as the currency of the security partnership.

This is a logical response to the limits distance imposes on how much the UK and Japan can do together in terms of physical security cooperation. The ‘networked world’ Abe referred to is presumably a reference to cooperation in the realm of cyber security and intelligence generally.

5) Relations with the USA

“Of course, the United States remains our ever-unchanging primary cooperation partner. This is certainly also true for the United Kingdom. On that basis, I would like to state my eagerness for Japan and the United Kingdom to exchange knowledge and share experiences with each other and walk forward together, as partners who jointly accept responsibility for world peace and stability.”

Interesting nuances here. These two sentences conjure up an image of the UK and Japan  sharing notes on how to handle its alliance relationship with the US. This is open to at least two interpretations – that lessons can be learned on how to make the relationship work, and that lessons on being a junior partner can be shared in order to make the alliance work better for Japan and the UK.

6) Economy

Abe ended the speech with a revealing coupling of how he sees the importance of economy and security –

“First of all, we will strengthen the economy. Nothing will get underway until we achieve that”


“The reason we will strengthen the economy is of course in order to leave to future generations a Japan that is secure and enjoys peace of mind. It is also because we strive to be a nation that is able to fulfil its duties to the world, in a manner appropriate for this banner of “proactively contributing to peace.””

What is the audience to conclude? That the economy comes first, but not because of a value judgment about its priority for the Japanese people, but because it is a prerequisite, or a means to an end of security and influence?


The speech identified the main areas of cooperation in the future: upholding or defending the rules governing maritime security, (including the high north), intelligence, US alliance management. The Japanese version of the theme for Abe’s speech was ‘towards a new 21st century relationship’ – not quite the same as ‘rejuvenating’ the relationship, and not quite as eyebrow-raising as ‘a new type of alliance‘. But in general, the speech raised expectations, promising great things to come. The question is now that PM Abe has articulated how he sees the relationship from Japan’s perspective – who will present the UK point of view?


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Rejuvenating UK-Japan Relations for the 21st Century

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RUSI has published further details on its conference on UK and Japan security cooperation (link).

The conference will review recent developments in security cooperation between Japan and the UK and seek to identify areas in which practical cooperation can be furthered.

The programme looks interesting.

It is almost exclusively a UK-Japan affair, but with one telling exception – Admiral Dennis Blair (Former US Director of National Intelligence) will be there to give a lecture entitled “East Asian Stability and the US-Japan-UK Alliance”. I look forward to hearing more about this.

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UK-Japan Security Conference

There will be a conference on UK-Japan security on October (link) on 30 September and 1 October, attended by PM Abe and the Prince Andrew (Duke of York).

The event was advertised on the Japan 400 website.

In developing UK-Japan security cooperation, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the world’s renowned and oldest defense and security think tank, will stage a special conference on “UK-Japan Security in 2013″ in Tokyo in this October . The RUSI delegation will be headed by His Royal Highness the Duke of York and former British ministerial members. Top-level politicians and leaders in defense field from Japan, UK and US will also attend the conference. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Adm Dennis C. Blair, the US former Director National Intelligence, will make a special speech in our conference.

Final details to be confirmed.

Please see the RUSI website

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The Anglo-Japan Alliance, then and now

Prime Ministers Cameron and Abe at 2013 G8 Summit

Prime Ministers Cameron and Abe at 2013 G8 Summit

Emperors of the two countries of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1905.

Emperors of the two countries of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1905.

Is understanding  the 1902 alliance useful for thinking about contemporary relations between Britain and Japan? One might suppose that so much has changed in the last century as to leave only sentimental value in such a comparison. But you only know if you try…

What was the old alliance for, and why did it end?

  1. Russia: the original alliance was formed against Russia, and that threat had (particularly from the Anglo perspective) been addressed as early as 1907. Russia had fought on the same side as Britain and Japan in WWI.
  2. China: views on China had begun to diverge since before WWI (e.g. over the ‘open door’), and as Japan’s dominance was increased by the addition of former German possessions, Britain became increasingly reluctant to back Japan’s defence of its position in China against American pressure.
  3. America: Understanding of American strength reached through experience in WWI (as well as deep cultural affinities), convinced Britain that it would not fight America. After WWI, the only peer competitor that offered a rationale for the Royal Navy was Japan. Nationalism, Partly driven by US support for self-determination, was corroding the colonial form of empire in the 1920s. After WWII, America build a post-colonial form of Empire around the policy of containing the USSR, and a global network of alliances which structured the separation of Europe and Asia, and the UK and Japan.

What has changed?

So great are the changes over the past century that no-one would expect a return of the 1902 Anglo-Japan Alliance. The countries themselves have changed and so has the context in which they relate to one-another:

1. Britain and Japan: then they were not just nations but empires, whose dominance in their respective spheres of influence was an accepted feature of world order. Now they are upper-middle powered nation states allied to a superpower. There are no rivalries over imperial possessions in Asia, nor in their  ideologies and narratives about their role in the world. They share a parliamentary system of politics, monarchy, and mostly the same liberal social attitudes on individual liberty, market economics, etc. The issues of race that played a part in inter-war antipathy has diminished  almost to zero. A generational change has occurred in both countries, and those coming into adulthood and policy-making positions have no direct memory or attachment to the Imperial era or the WWII experience. As the UK Foreign Secretary said in one of his speeches describing the current government’s new approach to relations with Asia:

“Mine is the first generation in Britain that cannot remember the days of Empire, with the exception of the handover of Hong Kong which I attended. In all other respects, someone like me has no recollection of an earlier time, as I was a small child when countries like Malaysia and Singapore were gaining their independence. Today, our leaders and our people approach Asia in a wholly different spirit to the past – with a sense of equal partnership, respect and the desire to see opportunity and development for all”. (Hague, 2012 link)

2. World Order: WWII catalyzed the end of the colonial forms of empire that brought British and Japanese interests together in China, Korea and India. Instead we have state-directed commercial empires under the world order described in the UN Charter and a system of global economic governance (World Bank, IMF, G8, G20, etc). However, these structures of contemporary world order also offer incentives and channels for cooperation between allies.

3. Regional Integration – Then Britain was near its peak as a sovereign power. Now it is a part of a politico-economic union. Japan is not, but it conducts its diplomacy within a web of regional organizations (ARF, ASEAN+, EAS, etc.). These organizations may come to be regarded as the successor to older forms of empire.

4. America: The boot is truly on the other foot. Britain and Japan are both junior partners in their separate alliances with America. But America is in relative decline (marked by the sequester, the ‘leading from behind’ approach’, challenges by Russia and China, etc.), leading to wider questioning of its reliability as an ally. Is it time for Britain and Japan to ‘branch out‘ from their reliance on Uncle Sam?

5. China: The 1902 alliance was to some extent a product of the condition of China, which was a failing or collapsing state. The alliance was one way of addressing the risk of conflict between the great powers over the spoils of disorder in China and weakness in Korea. Now of course China is at the centre of interest in Asia, but for quite different reasons. The question then was how predatory powers organized their exploitation of China’s weakness. Now there is a common interest in how to maximize gains and reduce risks coming from China’s growing strength.

What has not changed?

1. Geography: Britain and Japan are still far apart, and so a new form of alliance will still be constructed from the things that lie between / connect them: Russia, America and the oceans.

2. Geo-politics: as in the second period of the early Alliance (after 1905), relations with America are still coming between the UK and Japan. In the later stages of the alliance (particularly after WWI), many in Britain saw in the Alliance dangers of entanglement. One was the risk of having to side with Japan’s more ambitious position on China. Another was the difficulty of taking a position in the event of war between Japan and America. Today fears of entanglement (in a war with China, North Korea or even Russia) would count among the factors against a revival of a formal alliance or common security agreement between Britain and Japan. However, if an anti-China axis forms including the UK’s most important ally (US) and Japan, this could reinforce the logic of UK aligning with Japan on China. There is competition among European powers for commercial advantage and influence in Asia, as before. Putin’s Russia is acting in a way that may stimulate Europeans and Asians to cooperate again in managing relations with the Bear.

3. Role in the world order: despite their diminished capacities, both the UK and Japan express a desire to influence the world outside. Japan talks of its ‘international contribution’, the UK of being ‘a force for good’. Of course both countries have vastly reduced military capacity compared to the earlier era, but they are serious players in proportion to their size and maintain high standards in military technology. The aerospace sector is a good example. The vast scale of America’s military distorts the global scale somewhat, but below that level there are still few other nations with the capacity for power projection like the UK and Japan.

What makes a new kind of alliance attractive?

1. Common world view –  British and Japanese leaders share some expectations about what a multi-polar world order means for their foreign policy:

We are living through a turbulent period in world affairs. Economic crises have put the global economy under strain and are accelerating the re-ordering of the political landscape. The emergence of new powers means that the international order is in flux, as it is in your region.  It is a more complicated international landscape with many more centres of decision-making than in the past, and our diplomacy needs to reflect that if we are to narrow these differences. Our world is not settling into blocs that require nations to choose between East and West or retreat behind ideological boundaries. There is far greater scope for flexible relationships that cut across geography, religion and political orientation, and this is a change that we embrace in Britain. (UK Foreign Minister William Hague, Fullerton Lecture, 2012)

In addition to strengthening Japan’s defence capabilities, the Abe administration also appears to be deliberately diversifying its security partnerships by branching out beyond the focus on its core alliance relationship with the United States, as well as by widening its security remit to include key energy security issues. (Swenson Wright, 2013 “Is Japan Truly ‘Back’? Prospects for a More Proactive Security Policy”)

2. World Order: The present world order (UN Security Council + free trade globalization) brings Anglo-Japanese interests together at the UN and through state-directed commerce. With Britain a permanent member of the UN Security Council and Japan a commercial superpower, the implications for shared interests are clear.

3. Regional integration – Britain’s membership of the EU makes it a useful channel to bring Japanese concerns to the table. Reciprocal advocacy may be enjoyed in a range of fora, such as ASEAN +, East Asia Forum, and NATO.

4. Alliances – Respective alliances with America are also a source of shared interest, the exploitation of which is a matter of the upmost delicacy. No doubt it helps when it comes to things like sharing intelligence and defence technology.

The question of what form the new type of alliance should take is one to which I will return in future blog postings. I welcome your comments.

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