Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2014.11.07

What to expect from the new US-Japan Defense Guidelines

Publish by East Asia Forum

When the current Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation were released in 1997, the core strategic impulse of Washington and Tokyo was to deal with potential armed contingencies in Northeast Asia, namely regarding the Korean peninsula and Taiwan. As the US Asia strategy emphasised deterrence of and response to these contingencies, Japan reconfigured its alliance strategy from predominantly territorial defence to proactive cooperation with the US in 'situations in areas surrounding Japan'.

In the 17 years since the 1997 Guidelines were established, there have been tremendous changes in the strategic environment, the state of the US-Japan alliance and Japan's role in it. During the first decade of this century, the US and Japan expanded their common strategic objectives, driven mainly by the global anti-terrorism campaign.

The emerging strategic focus in the 2010s is undoubtedly driven by the rise of China. The continued modernisation of China's military forces, and its recent assertive behaviour in territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, is altering the post-Cold War strategic foundation of the US-Japan alliance.

The new US-Japan Defense Guidelines, which are expected to be released by the end of 2014, are likely to encompass four new operational domains.

First, the new Guidelines will address rising 'grey zone' challenges: infringements of Japanese territory that do not amount to a full-scale armed attack.

As Beijing has stepped up its assertive behaviour in the East and South China Seas, it has become increasingly apparent that the territorial status quo can be challenged without crossing the military threshold. For this reason the Interim Report on the revision of the Guidelines, released on 8 October, emphasised cases 'where swift and robust responses are required to secure the peace and security of Japan even when an armed attack against Japan is not involved'. The new Guidelines will stress that both governments should have a 'seamless' response in all phases of a conflict, including 'grey zone' challenges.

This is a significant clarification of US involvement in 'grey zone' situations. The Interim Report could have suggested a divisional role-sharing model instead, where Japan takes sole responsibility for grey zone contingencies, while the US becomes involved later in escalation control. This division of roles would have also reflected Washington's desire to avoid entrapment.

But a lack of US involvement in grey zone conflicts in such a role-sharing approach would be inherently risky. China could encroach on disputed zones through 'tailored coercion', without the risk of direct US involvement. This potentially undermines the credibility of US extended deterrence.

Against this background, the decision to adopt a seamless and all phases approach signals that Japan's coast guard, law enforcement agencies, and Air and Maritime Self-Defense Forces -- which have primary responsibility in grey zone contingencies -- are inseparable from the dynamics of the US-Japan alliance.

To operationalise this seamless approach, the US and Japan will further enhance joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, joint training and exercises in grey zone scenarios, and cooperation among all government sectors...

What to expect from the new US-Japan Defense Guidelines