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.
US Admiral Philip Davidson (head of the Indo-Pacific Command) caused a stir with recent comments on discussions with Indian counterparts regarding the “quad” (a loose security grouping consisting of the Australia, Japan, USA, UK), which suggest that there is not “immediate potential” for it to realize a military dimension.
HMS Montrose is on a 3 year deployment, which has included duties in the Gulf and UN sanctions enforcement around DPRK. This projection of maritime power is possible due to the UK`s global support infrastructure and an innovative method of rotating crews that allow Royal Navy ships to be active on duty around the globe for extended periods.
Along HMS Montrose` 5,500-mile journey from South America to New Zealand the type 23 Frigate (armed with the newly accepted Sea Ceptor anti-missile missile system intended to provide defence to the UK`s new Aircraft Carriers, that are expected in the region in a couple of years) also spent some time visiting Tahiti – the first time in 15 years a Royal Navy ship has visited the French island chain – 5,000 miles from Japan, 2,500 miles from Auckland. During her time in Tahiti, Montrose honed her air defense skills against a French Guardian Maritime Patrol Aircraft. And the French made use of HMS Montrose, practicing setting down one of their Dauphin helicopters on the flight deck – all before the British warship sailed into the capital Papeete. (detail courtesy of Navaltoday.com)
NHK reported a trilateral exercise involving the helicopter carrier (soon-to-be fixed wing aircraft carrier) Izumo and ships from the Royal Navy and US Navies.
Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force is to conduct its first joint drill with the US and British navies in the Pacific off southern Japan later this week. The MSDF says its largest destroyer, the Izumo, the British Navy’s HMS Argyll, and a US naval vessel will take part in the exercise. In the drill planned for Saturday, personnel will check the roles for each vessel and the procedures for information-sharing based on various scenarios, including conflict situations. The exercise is apparently aimed at showing the partnership among the three countries amid China’s increasing maritime activity. The mid-term defense program, approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday, says Japan will actively promote bilateral and multilateral drills. The SDF will be given more opportunities to strengthen its partnerships with the forces of other countries.
This gives form to the trilateral naval agreement signed in October 2016 at the Pentagon by the chiefs of all three navies, committing them to “strengthen maritime contributions for achieving mutually desired strategic effects”.
It is not quite the post-World War I “Four Powers Treaty” Britain, France, Japan and USA signed in 1923 in the wake of the Anglo-Japan Alliance (1902-1923), but it is getting there.