Japan and the United Kingdom have agreed to an expansion of their defense relationship. Theirs is the first of its kind for Japan with another country besides the United States since the end of World War II.
In what was the first leg of a four day trip to Asia to promote British trade and investment, Prime Minister David Cameron met his Japanese counterpart Yoshihiko Noda in Tokyo and announced that the two countries would cooperate on identifying defense programs for joint development and production.
Though no specifics were mentioned, one Japanese newspaper reported that Cameron had mentioned developing helicopters or protective gear against chemical weapons. In a joint statement, the two countries stated they would launch at least one program as soon as possible in addition to developing joint military training and unit to unit affiliations.
Japan lifted its restriction on exporting weapons and cooperating with other nations in defense programs in December 2011. The ban had in place in accordance with its pacifist constitution and was in effect with all countries except the United States which ostensibly provide for the defense of Japan.
For Japan, this agreement should be considered in the context of continued economic weakness, domestic politics and the specter of a growing China.
The economic benefits of greater trade with Britain amid the continuing global economic crisis will be welcomed. Japan’s economy has been struggling to recover amid the slowdown in the European Union and a rising yen.
Its decision last year to opt for the F-35 stealth fighter by America’s Lockheed Martin over the Typhoon jet made by a consortium of European countries was controversial because Japan chose the more expensive plane during a time of scarce resources and a stagnating economy. Increased contact with the British military may result in more competition for Japanese defense expenditures in future procurement deals.
As China has become the number one trade partner to countries in Asia, Japanese security planners no doubt join others with concern about China’s long-term goals in the region.
There is strong apprehension about China using its growing leverage to bully its neighbors in trade and territorial disputes. This fear, and the continuing threat from North Korea, has resulted in deeper cooperation with the West both economically and militarily by Japan and other nations in Asia as evidenced by the much vaunted Asian “pivot” by the United States.