Congressional Research Service logoA Congressional Research Service report on the the US-Japan Alliance (released January 18th, 2011) has been the topic of a number of news articles in the English-language Japanese press reprinting a single Kyodo News release focusing on the report’s view that Article 9 is an ‘obstacle’ to greater cooperation, i.e. in Mainichi. The release made it sound as though the contents were entirely new to them – which it clearly isn’t. It doesn’t represent the views of the American government, but instead was written to inform a novice reader on the state of the alliance, thus anyone with a general interest will find nothing new in the reports. Interested readers can find the two reports (via the State Dept.) here: The U.S.-Japan Alliance & Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress [both PDF]. For those just wanting an overview, here are some choice quotes listed by topic:

On recent US-Japan relations:

Despite the public flap over the relocation of the Futenma airbase that dominated the relationship between September 2009 and June 2010, regional conflicts in 2010 appeared to reset the relationship on more positive footing.

On constitutional contraints on defense:

Several legal factors could restrict Japan’s ability to cooperate more robustly with the United States. The most prominent and fundamental is Article 9 of the Japanese constitution [...]

The principle of “collective self-defense” is also considered an obstacle to close defense cooperation. [...] Participation in non-combat logistical operations and rear support of other nations, however, has been considered outside the realm of collective self-defense. […]

Some Japanese critics have charged that Japanese Aegis destroyers should not use their radar in the vicinity of American warships, as they would not be allowed to respond to an incoming attack on those vessels. As the United States and Japan increasingly integrate missile defense operation, the ban on collective self-defense also raises questions about how Japanese commanders will gauge whether American forces or Japan itself is being targeted. Under the current interpretation, Japanese forces could not respond if the United States were attacked.

On budgetary limitations on Japanese defense:

Japan’s severe fiscal conditions have placed additional pressure on spending decisions to boost Japan’s capabilities in the face of regional threats. Japan’s constraints on military activities remain in budgetary, legal, normative, and political terms.

If costs of the troop realignment come from the defense budget, some analysts say that Japan’s military could face degraded capability because expensive equipment purchases will have to be forgone. In interviews, U.S. military officials have voiced concerns that the SDF runs the risk of becoming a “hollow force” because of its insufficient procurement system. Funding is also needed from the Japanese in order to increase the amount of joint training with U.S. forces.

On the December 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines:

The guidelines did not indicate a move forward on initiatives like developing a law to facilitate deployment of the SDF without legislative permission, reinterpreting the constitution to allow for collective self defense, or, perhaps most importantly, an increase in defense spending to bolster capabilities.

Whereas the 2004 version leaned toward a global perspective that viewed the security of Japan and the region as linked with international stability, the 2010 guidelines appear to shift the focus back to the Asia-Pacific region.

Although the guidelines indicate an evolving security stance, they also display Japan’s resistance to becoming a “normal” military state. Neither document indicates a move toward reinterpreting the constitution to allow for collective self defense, let alone revising Article 9. Expectations that the 2010 guidelines would officially loosen Japan’s ban against exporting arms to facilitate cooperation in ballistic missile defense were not met, apparently because of political placation of the Social Democratic Party ahead of a crucial budget vote. Perhaps most significantly, there have been no indications that Japan intends to increase its defense budget in order to accomplish the objectives laid out in the document.

On the September 2010 Senkakus incident:

The incident appeared to play a key role in changing the DPJ’s approach to the U.S. alliance and may have crystallized a shift in Japan to seeing China as a military threat. Although Japanese security officials had been deeply concerned about Beijing’s intentions and growing capabilities for years, the Senkakus dispute may have convinced governing politicians and the broader public of the need to adjust Japan’s defense posture to counter China.

On Japanese-South Korea relations:

In the past, U.S. officials’ attempts to foster this coordination were often frustrated because of tension between Seoul and Tokyo. Tokyo’s new activism in pursuing trilateral and bilateral cooperation with South Korea may have been inspired by a demonstrated strengthening of the U.S.-South Korean alliance. Some analysts see a sense of competition between the two capitals that may drive Tokyo to move forward more aggressively on the alliance in order to avoid being left behind.

On the progress of the 2005 2+2 Agreement to realign US forces in Japan:

Since the 2+2 agreement was inked in 2005, controversy over the Futenma relocation proposal has dominated alliance conversations, but other areas have moved forward according to plans. A U.S. P3 carrier wing is being relocated from Atsugi to the Iwakuni base, where a new airfield is operational. The transfer of 300 American soldiers from Washington state to Camp Zama to establish a forward operational headquarters is in progress (though delayed by deployments to the Middle East), and an Air Self Defense Force facility at Yokota is near completion. A training relocation program allows U.S. aircraft to conduct training away from crowded base areas to reduce noise pollution for local residents. Since 2006, a bilateral and joint operations center at Yokota U.S. Air Base allows for data-sharing and coordination between the Japanese and U.S. air and missile defense command elements.

On Japanese reluctance to allow jointly-produced BMD technology exports:

Although the conflict probably will not ultimately jeopardize the plan to jointly develop next-generation missile defense, it is emblematic of how Japanese constraints limit the extent of bilateral cooperation and frustrate U.S. defense planners, even for technically successful projects.

On the MSDF:

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces (MSDF) have particularly strong capabilities and defense cooperation with their U.S. counterparts. U.S. Navy officials have claimed that they have a closer daily relationship with the MSDF than with any other navy in the world, with over 100 joint exercises annually.

Similar equipment and shared technology contribute to the strong interoperability between the Japanese and U.S. militaries.

Although the U.S. Coast Guard works with its Japanese counterparts on safety and law enforcement issues, limited communication between the JCG and the MSDF constrain more integrated alliance cooperation and training

On SDF command reform of recent years:

Adjustments to Japan’s system of military command indicate a trend toward a more streamlined process, but also highlight the existing gaps in U.S. and Japanese operational doctrine.

On the ‘twisted Diet’:

Ambitious plans like amending Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, passing a law that would allow for a more streamlined dispatch of Japanese troops, or altering the current interpretation of collective self defense are far more difficult to accomplish given the political gridlock.

On post-Koizumi Bush-era relations:

In the final years of the decade, political paralysis and budgetary constraints in Tokyo, Japan’s minimal progress in implementing base realignment agreements, Japanese disappointment in Bush’s policy on North Korea, and a series of smaller concerns over burden-sharing arrangements led to reduced cooperation and a general sense of unease about the partnership.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch