Japan outlines new security guidelines for self-defense forces

The destroyer USS McCampbell sails in front of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Takanami during a western Pacific Ocean exercise in March. On Wednesday, Japan and the United States released an outline of planned changes to their bilateral security guidelines.



YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The United States and Japan outlined plans for deeper security cooperation on Wednesday, in a move reflecting Tokyo’s new position that its pacifist constitution allows it to defend U.S. forces under attack.

The five-page interim report on the revision of the two nations’ bilateral security guidelines calls on the new framework to “reflect the global nature of the U.S.-Japan alliance” — a shift from the emphasis on “situations in areas surrounding Japan” in the current version of the guidelines, which were written in 1997.

“The point of the interim report was to ensure the seamless peace and security of Japan,” Japanese Defense Minister Akinori Eto told reporters Wednesday. “The United States and Japan shared the recognition of the importance.”

Earlier in the day, assistant secretary of state Daniel Russel and assistant defense secretary David Shear met with their Japanese counterparts, where they discussed both the interim report and the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

The potential expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Forces’ use on the global stage remains controversial, as does the way Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is moving ahead with those plans. 

A recent Kyodo News poll found that only 13 percent of Japanese respondents thought the government had properly explained why it reinterpreted their post-WWII constitution, which states that the Japanese “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation.”

Japan’s foreign ministry stated in July that the constitution’s “right (of the people) to live in peace” trumps the war renouncing clause and allows it to use force in defense of its own people, and in defense of close allies critical to guaranteeing Japan’s survival.

The region has changed markedly since the U.S.-Japan security guidelines were revised to reflect post-Cold War strategy, a senior State Department official speaking on the condition of anonymity told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

“Concerns over North Korea’s ballistic missile programs have grown, emerging threats in the cyber and space domains have emerged and there are new challenges to freedom of navigation,” the official said. “The updated guidelines will equip the U.S.-Japan security alliance to respond to the modern threat environment.”

The rapid modernization of China’s military and its assertiveness in international disputes is a major reason behind the guideline revisions, said Kazuya Sakamoto, professor of international politics and Japan-U.S. relations at Osaka University.

In the past year, China declared an air defense identification zone over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which China claims as its own.

Chinese and Japanese ships have also engaged in frequent sea and air standoffs near the uninhabited East China Sea islands, though no shots have been fired.

“There is no other way for Japan to prepare for the rising military power of China than to further enhance cooperation with the United States,” Sakamoto said.

The revised guidelines will allow Japan to become an equal partner within the bilateral alliance, Sakamoto added.

Despite the cabinet resolution that calls for Japan to defend close allies and plans for legal revisions during next year’s legislative session, Japan’s forces will still remain constrained, at least by most international standards.

The government’s stance calls for a “very passive and limited ‘use of weapons’ to the minimum extent necessary,” if Japan must defend a close ally under attack.

The interim report released Wednesday also states that the new guidelines will address intelligence sharing and facility use.

The guidelines will include an operational framework for security operations in the event of a major disaster, “in light of lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake,” according to the report.

A final report on the new guidelines, which have been in the works since a visit from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry to Tokyo in 2013, is expected by the end of the year.

U.S. officials traveled to Seoul in recent days to brief South Korean officials on plans for the new guidelines.

Although they are both close U.S. allies, relations between Tokyo and Seoul have soured in recent years over historical issues and a territorial dispute regarding the South Korean-administrated island of Dokdo, known to Japanese as Takeshima.

U.S officials have discussed U.S.-Japan cooperation with other governments in the region as well, including China, a senior Defense Department official said at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_