Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:46 | SYDNEY
Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:46 | SYDNEY

Defence cooperation with Japan: More, please!


Andrew Shearer

14 January 2009 10:42

I was critical of the Rudd Government’s early handling of Australia’s most important relationship in Asia, that with Japan. Since then, two visits to Tokyo by Mr Rudd and no fewer than four by Stephen Smith have helped, as has a less confrontational Australian approach to Japanese whaling. But there are other, less obvious, signs that the Australia-Japan strategic partnership might be quietly getting back on track. That’s in the interest of both countries and the region as a whole.

At the end of 2008 Australia’s foreign and defence ministers met their Japanese counterparts together in Tokyo to discuss regional and global security and ways to bolster bilateral cooperation. This was the second round of annual ‘2-2’ talks, an initiative of the Howard Government flowing from the historic 2007 Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation. Ministers committed both governments to closer bilateral security cooperation and agreed that ‘a close strategic relationship between Australia and Japan is of growing importance to both countries in the Asia-Pacific region’.

Defence cooperation is growing apace, albeit from a low base. Combined exercises and reciprocal ship and aircraft visits are on the increase, and new areas such as logistics are joining peacekeeping, counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as productive fields for cooperation. Much of this progress owes to the 2005-06 collaboration between Australian and Japanese forces in southern Iraq.

Canberra and Tokyo should find new opportunities for our militaries to work together – starting with Afghanistan. A mooted agreement on information sharing would add further momentum, facilitating joint deployments and closer intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance cooperation. The Rudd Government needs to overcome its ambivalence about missile defence, the obvious next step.

The 2-2 communique makes clear that the Rudd Government has overcome initial reservations and now unequivocally endorses not only the 2007 Joint Declaration but also enhanced Australia-Japan-US security cooperation under the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue and its defence offshoot, the Security and Defence Cooperation Forum.

Three-way exercising and cooperation on strategic lift and disaster relief boost interoperability, reinforce US strategic engagement with Asia, encourage a more active Japanese security contribution and enhance the ability of the US and its allies to provide public goods in the region (as they did after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami).

New governments from across the aisle in Canberra, Washington and before long possibly Tokyo will inevitably look to put their own stamp on Asia policy. Fortunately, their predecessors left the region in pretty good shape and equipped them with some useful tools to keep it that way – although Australia and Japan will have to work hard to engage the incoming Obama Administration, and policy paralysis in Tokyo will demand persistence from Australian and American defence planners.

Photo by Flickr user kamoda, used under a Creative Commons license.