Building on the original 2016 Trilateral Agreement, the three maritime democracies went a step further to detail the type of missions they will cooperate on in the Indo-Pacific:
Illicit trade in armaments and narcotics
Attempts to circumscribe freedom of navigation
The phrase “routine forward presence” will resonate in the UK defence debate, where there have been questions about the willingness of the UK to return to a military role “East of Suez” and contribute on a decisive scale to security in the Indo-Pacific region. The symbolic value of having this signed on the Royal Navy`s new aircraft carrier is also relevant on this point.
The phrase “we cannot shoulder this burden alone” is striking for what it says about United States policy in the region, where allies have felt US military primacy is declining and its political leadership may have less time for the idea of alliances. This is perhaps a reminder that the US is not against alliances as such, indeed, alliances where allies share burdens are as appreciated as ever.
This is very much an open invitation for “nations that adhere to the international rules based system” to join in a common effort. Note the shared values here do not include “democracy” – so this trilateral can serve as a basis for cooperation with partners (such as Vietnam) who have a different political system, but are “like minded” on the rules based order.
While no adversary is named, it would not be unreasonable to assume the call for “others to responsibly take their place on the world stage in cooperation with regional countries” is directed at the People`s Republic of China.
The 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.
So there is a disaster in the Philippines and both the UK and Japan are using their military in the Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Relief role (HADR). Japan is sending its Self Defence Forces too.
So the UK Royal Navy is sending a helicopter ship to help, but their problem is getting replenished at sea (because the supply ships take too long to steam around the world, and can’t keep up with HMS Illustrious). But you can’t just expect anyone to do RAS – it is tricky and potentially dangerous, so it takes practice. Hmmm.
But wait, didn’t the RN and the MSDF cooperate in the Indian Ocean a little while ago, with Japan’s ships replenishing the RN and others with fuel, etc?