That is what Masashi Nishihara (President of the Research Institute for Peace and Security and former President of the National Defense Academy) suggested in an AJISS Commentary last week:
The operations by the two forces were coordinated at a high level by the chief of staff of the SDF and the commander in chief of the US Pacific Fleet. They were then commanded by the commander of the Northeastern Army of the Ground SDF and the commander of US Forces Japan, respectively, via their bilateral coordination action teams. The American forces positioned themselves as a “joint support force” rather than a “joint task force,” with the understanding that they would “support” the SDF’s efforts. This joint operation proved to the two forces that they could work well together as allies.
Five minutes after the earthquake, the Japanese Ministry of Defense and the SDF went to work, with the American troops joining them in carrying out search and rescue operations; transporting victims; supplying water, food, and fuel; and administering medical aid. They cleared and opened roads, sea ports, and airports. Japanese and American helicopters used the decks of each other’s ships to transport needed supplies. The US troops, who named their mission “Operation Tomodachi (Friends),” also helped displaced persons in towns and villages clear the devastated areas. In sum, the American troops were willing to help their Japanese ally carry out even the most difficult tasks.
This is certainly the view taken by myself – although I am inclined to believe that the US provided its aid with the added boost in its reputation in mind. The US support following the earthquake was critical, as it should have been given their presence in the country. The time and energy exerted by the US has been well-received and the interoperability of the two forces successfully demonstrated. As Nishihara says in his introduction, “In the past, the two forces had conducted many joint exercises but never joint operations. Now, however, for the first time in the alliance’s history, the SDF and US Forces Japan worked together.” This bodes well for the alliance’s future.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.
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