A NATO-Asia Partnership Would Ease Japan’s Regional Security Cooperation Dilemma

Japan and NATO have been referred to as natural partners sharing fundamental values, and they are being drawn closer together by what they can offer each other in terms of legitimacy and enhanced capabilities. In this paper originally prepared for the "Euro-Atlantic Meets Asia-Pacific" conference in Vancouver, organized by NATO Defense College and Simon Fraser University in November 2014, Senior Fellow Tsuneo Watanabe outlines the mutual benefits of a closer security partnership for regional stability.

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In a personal conversation with a European diplomat who has been closely associated with NATO, I was told that what NATO looks for in partnering with Asian countries is legitimacy and capability. [1] These overlap with US expectations in working with its NATO and other allies in counterinsurgency operations. [2] And they are also precisely what Japan hopes for in advancing its partnership with NATO, although in the short term, Japan is more interested in legitimacy than capability. In the long term, though, Japan-NATO cooperation could be mutually beneficial in developing capabilities in such areas as conflict management, reconstruction assistance, cybersecurity and other transnational threats, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR).

On 6 May 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave his second speech at the North Atlantic Council, stating “Japan will commit even more strongly than ever before to fostering global peace and prosperity” and explaining that one objective of his “proactive contribution to peace” policy is for Japan to play a bigger role in defending the freedom of overflight, freedom of navigation, and other global commons. [3] To this, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen remarked, “Our partnership is based on shared values, a shared commitment to international peace and security and to the principles of the United Nations and international law.” [4] Abe echoed the sentiment, noting that Japan and NATO are natural partners who share such fundamental values as individual freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

Abe concluded his speech at the North Atlantic Council by rhetorically asking, “Why Japan and NATO?” His answer was, “We are more than simply ‘natural partners’ that share fundamental values. We are also ‘reliable partners’ corroborated by concrete actions.” [5]

Why is sharing fundamental values with NATO important for Japan’s security policy? In short, it lends legitimacy to Japan’s efforts to play a larger role in regional and world security. In the same speech, Abe explained his intention to change the interpretation of the Constitution to enable Japan to exercise its right of collective self-defense and contribute to regional stability.

This proactive posture may be welcomed by NATO member countries, but Japan’s neighbors have reacted quite differently. China still points to Japan’s aggressions in the 1930s, and South Korea has negative memories of Imperial Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. For Japan, therefore, NATO is an attractive partner that has been providing a reliable framework for military cooperation among European nations like Germany, France, and Britain that were enemies during the two world wars.

In May 2014, Japan and NATO confirmed an “Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme” covering seven areas of closer security cooperation, including cyber defense, HA/DR, maritime security and counter-piracy operations, and a comprehensive approach to conflict management. [6]

Japan hopes NATO will share its knowhow in tackling these policy agendas and is especially eager to learn from NATO’s experience in implementing a comprehensive approach to conflict management.

The National Security Strategy issued by the Japanese government in December 2013 is centered on a policy of making a “proactive contribution to peace” based on the principle of international cooperation. [7] This entails strengthening cooperation with countries sharing universal values to resolve global issues. One such potential area of cooperation would be participation in a multilateral nation-building effort for fragile or failed states, such as NATO’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan under its comprehensive approach.

In this context, NATO is a great mentor and partner for Japan, which can learn much from the reconstruction assistance NATO has undertaken to date. NATO’s cooperation with Asian partners, furthermore, could set the stage for the building of a regional security architecture in the future.

1. Why Does Japan Seek Legitimacy from NATO?

Addressing Chinese and South Korean Suspicions

Prime Minister Abe’s vow to make proactive contributions to peace was welcomed by NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, who stated, “In this time of crisis our dialogue with like-minded partners like Japan is key to address global security challenges” in both the Euro-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific regions. [8] US President Barak Obama also thanked Abe for his “exceptional commitment to our alliance,” telling Abe, “Under your leadership, Japan is also looking to make even greater contributions to peace and security around the world, which the United States very much welcomes”. [9] And at the Japan-ASEAN Commemorative Summit on 14 December 2013, ASEAN leaders said in their joint statement that they looked forward to Japan’s “proactive contribution to peace” for the stability and development of the region. [10]

By contrast, China questioned the new security policy. In its 18 December 2013 editorial, the China Daily warned against Abe’s “proactive pacifism,” asserting that “the catchy but vague expression” is “Abe’s camouflage to woo international understanding of Japan’s move to become a military power.” [11] The China Daily also pointed out that Abe’s doctrine seeks to turn Japan’s Self-Defense Forces into “ordinary armed forces.” In reality, though, the Self Defense Forces (SDF) are far from “ordinary armed forces” able to take necessary actions to counter potential aggressive military actions by its neighbors.

China’s concerns are shared by South Korea, another major ally of the United States in East Asia, which openly expressed its misgivings about Japan’s possible return to prewar militarism. The Abe cabinet’s decision to change the interpretation of the Constitution’s was controversial, since Article 9 explicitly states that the “Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” The 1 July 2014 cabinet decision expanded the scope of Japan’s right of self-defense to incorporate actions that are often seen as an exercise of the right of collective self-defense, which has been the target of a self-imposed ban over the past four decades.

The decision worried the South Korean people, since the new interpretation theoretically could enable the Japanese government to send troops to the Korean Peninsula in a contingency. The day following the cabinet’s decision, the Korea Joongang Daily published an editorial stating, “Neighboring countries increasingly worry about the alarming development,” although it also noted, “Japan’s exercise of collective self-defense will raise the level of the Washington-Tokyo alliance further.” [12]

South Korean anxiety will affect the nature of Japan-US-ROK security cooperation. At a trilateral meeting of defense ministers on 31 May 2014, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and South Korean National Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin agreed with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to cooperate in addressing the threat of North Korean missile and nuclear development. Out of consideration for South Korean anxieties about Japan’s “proactive contribution to peace” and reinterpretation of the Constitution, Onodera explained to his South Korean counterpart before the meeting that Japan’s SDF will not operate in South Korean territory without Seoul’s request or permission—even after Tokyo changes its constitutional interpretation.

Japan’s Rationale for a Larger Regional Security Role

While claims of Japan’s “resurgent militarism” are exaggerated, Japan should not underestimate the influence of public perception in neighboring countries. In fact, Japan’s disconnect with its neighbors could become an obstacle to implementing its policy of making a “proactive contribution to peace,” particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

Abe’s views of history and World War II have been criticized not only by China and South Korea but also by the US and European media. In December 2013 Abe made a surprise visit to Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war dead, including Class-A war criminals, are enshrined, prompting the US embassy in Tokyo to immediately release an unusual statement calling his shrine visit “disappointing.” [13] Even the conservative Wall Street Journal criticized Abe’s visit in its editorial as an offense against East Asian history and a strategic liability, hurting the ability of like-minded states to promote a peaceful, liberal regional order and giving Chinese leaders an opportunity to use the supposed specter of Japanese military resurgence as an excuse to expand their own power. [14]

Despite the image encouraged by China and South Korea, the Abe administration is marked more by realism than nationalism. University of Tokyo Professor Emeritus Shinichi Kitaoka, who is deputy chairman of Prime Minister Abe’s advisory panel on reconstructing the legal basis for national security, is a self-restrained realist, not a conservative nationalist. And as the leader of a Tokyo Foundation project that produced a policy proposal on “Redefining Japan’s Global Strategy,” Kitaoka recommended restraining emotionalism and taking pragmatic steps to find common ground with China and South Korea. [15]

The Abe administration’s current security policy initiatives are not the result of an emotionally charged nationalism but represent a rational and incremental development of democratic governance in Japan’s postwar security and defense policy. That said, it would not be easy to wipe away anxieties about Japan’s proactive contributions to regional security unless it engages in actual peaceful practices.

While the Obama administration has repeatedly reaffirmed America’s military commitment to the Asia-Pacific region as part of its rebalancing policy, the resources the United States can direct to the region are limited due to serious budgetary constraints and security commitments to the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere. US allies in Asia are well aware that they will need to take on a bigger share of the burden of protecting the global commons for the region’s security and stability—and Japan is no exception. Japan’s security community has thus been proposing that the government play a more active role for Asia-Pacific security. Even before the conservative Abe returned to office, an advisory panel for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan proposed that Japan play a more active role in regional security.

Noda’s panel called on Japan to deepen security cooperation with the United States and other countries espousing common values and to establish stronger networks with them. Enhancing security cooperation, though, first requires a fuller recognition of Japan as a valuable partner in Asia. The panel’s report also recommended that Japan expand channels of security cooperation by revising outdated institutions and practices, including the interpretation on the right of collective self-defense. It stated that Japan should seek to fulfill a leading role in “international rule-making processes that involve developed and emerging countries,” particularly in Asia and the Pacific, in such diverse fields as security, the environment, economy, space, and the sea. [16] The document represents the consensus opinion of the Japanese foreign and security policy community, and its recommendations have much in common with those being made by those supporting and advising the conservative Abe cabinet.

The center-left Noda administration did not need to worry about Chinese and Korean reactions to these recommendations, since cabinet members did not make controversial remarks on the history issue. This implies that the perception of Chinese and Korean leaders, as well as of the public, has an influence on the government’s stance. Once they take root, perceptions are not easy to change. Japan therefore needs to tackle the conflicting objectives of playing a larger role in providing the international public goods for regional security and reducing the anxiety of worried neighbors.

ASEAN’s Concerns

Anxiety over Japan’s military resurgence was not widely shared by other Asian nations, however. In fact, ASEAN leaders welcomed Abe’s “proactive contribution to peace” in a Japan-ASEAN summit meeting in Tokyo in December 2013. Most Asian players were more worried about China’s recent assertiveness on territorial and security issues. This worry was compounded by the lack of certainty in US security commitments to and presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite Obama’s repeated assurances, regional players still harbor anxieties about American detachment from the region, especially in Southeast Asia.

The Obama administration’s former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon reconfirmed the rebalancing policy in an April 2014 op-ed piece in the Washington Post after the president’s visit to Asian countries. Donilon insisted that “the rebalancing of U.S. priorities and resources toward Asia remains the right strategy” despite the costly cancellation of President Obama’s trip to the region during the US government shutdown in 2013. He added that the rebalancing policy represents a shift of resources away from the war efforts in the Middle East and Afghanistan toward the Asia-Pacific. [17]

However, his successor and current National Security Advisor Susan Rice made a speech at Georgetown University that made some regional players nervous, when she suggested that Washington would accept the concept of new major power ties proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. She stated, “when it comes to China, we seek to operationalize a new model of major power relations.” For America’s regional allies, such acceptance of the Chinese concept implies that the United States and China would respect each other’s influence over neighboring countries, rather than uphold the sovereignty of individual countries. [18] After sending this misleading message, the Obama administration has been careful not to use the same terminology as China, but Asian allies remain somewhat skeptical about the US commitment to the region.

That is one reason why ASEAN welcomes Japan’s larger security role. At the same time, Asian countries do not want to become embroiled in a conflict pitting China against the Japan-US alliance. In a recently published report by the Pew Research Center, respondents in 8 of the 11 Asian countries polled said they were worried about China’s territorial ambitions triggering a military conflict with its neighbors. However, there were considerable discrepancies in ASEAN’s perceptions of China as an ally or threat, depending on the closeness of the country’s ties with China.

ASEAN countries that have territorial disputes with China tend to see it as a threat, while those that depend on China for trade tend to see it as an ally. For example, respondents in the Philippines and Vietnam were more likely to see China as a threat and the United States as an ally, while those in Malaysia see China slightly more as an ally and the United States as a threat, although the shares were more or less evenly divided since Malaysians have both anti-US sentiments and territorial disputes with China. In Indonesia, more people see the United States as both an ally and a threat. In Thailand, more people see the United States as an ally, but for many Thais, their number one threat is not China but Cambodia. Thailand enjoys close economic ties with both the United States and China. [19] Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, which are heavily dependent on economic relations with China, have a more favorable attitude toward China. If there is a consensus among the ASEAN states, it is that none of them wants a conflict between China and the Japan-US alliance.

Outside of ASEAN, South Korea is one country that is heavily dependent on the Chinese economy. Since 2010 China has accounted for around 25% of South Korea’s total trade. Japanese leaders thus need to consider the reluctance of ASEAN countries and South Korea to provoke China, which could have a negative impact on their economies. Economic interdependence with China is also a consideration for some European and NATO countries. In fact, European expectations of the Chinese economy are higher, on average, than in Asia. In the Pew survey, 49% of Europeans identified China as the world’s biggest economy, while only 37% believed the US economy was the largest. This compares with 55% of Asians who said the US economy was biggest and 25% who cited China. The European view regarding the rise of China appears to be more positive than that in Asia. [20]

2. NATO as a Collaborator and Model for Asian Security

Accommodating the Rise of China

The biggest challenge for players in the Asia-Pacific region is accommodating the rise of China in a peaceful and mutually beneficial manner. In the immediate future, there is a need to prevent competing territorial claims in the East and South China Seas from escalating into a military conflict between China and such neighbors as Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Prospects for a peaceful resolution are nowhere in sight, though, despite such regional efforts as the issuance of a declaration at the ASEAN Summit in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, in May 2014, calling on China and Vietnam to end their confrontation in the South China Sea and resolve their dispute peacefully. [21] China has not shown any serious interest in enacting a binding code of conduct for the South China Sea with ASEAN countries despite a verbal agreement to do so.

As matters stand, the US military presence and its alliances with such players as Australia, Japan, and South Korea are expected to provide stability for the region. No one wants a military confrontation, which would have serious repercussions for the regional and world economy, as the United States, Japan, and China together account for more than 40% of the world’s GDP and have deeply intertwined ties in trade, investment, and finance.

Accordingly, avoiding a military showdown is of critical importance for the global political and economic order. It is easy to say, in theory, that the world should not contain but engage China. But in practice, attaining the two conflicting goals of encouraging China to respect international rules and laws as a responsible player in regional order and sending China a message to avoid any accidental military skirmishes is not easy.

At the start of the Obama administration, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg outlined a policy of “strategic reassurance” toward the rise of China. In a speech on 24 September 2009, he explained the concept as resting on a core bargain between the United States and China: The United States and its allies must make clear that they are prepared to welcome China’s rise in the global economy, he wrote, while “China must reassure the rest of the world that its development and growing global role will not come at the expense of security and well-being of others. Bolstering that bargain”, he added, “must be a priority in the U.S.-China relationship.” [22]

This strategic initiative failed to attain its policy goal. China did not show any respect to other countries’ security and well-being and ignored international laws and rules. On the contrary, the policy merely encouraged a more assertive attitude in the East and South China Seas in 2010. For example, Chinese law-enforcement patrol ships arrested many Vietnamese fishermen in disputed waters in the South China Sea in 2009 and 2010. [23] China arrested four Japanese businessmen in China and halted rare-earth sales to Japan after the Japanese government arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain who rammed his trawler into two Japanese Coast Guard patrol boats in waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in September 2010. [24]

The failure of the “strategic reassurance” policy hardened the Obama administration’s policy toward China. At the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, on 23 July 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “the United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.” She also stated that the United States opposed the use or threat of force by any claimant in the South China Sea and supported multilateral talks on the issue. [25] The speech was regarded as the beginning of the Obama administration’s shift in 2011 from a “strategic reassurance” to a “rebalancing” policy toward the rise of China.

The US rebalance toward Asia, though, has not produced any remarkable results thus far. This policy is still within the engagement paradigm and does not signal a shift to a potentially more hostile containment strategy. The more the Obama administration confirms its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, though, the more China senses the hostility of the US rebalancing policy and is inclined to regard the Japan-US alliance as an impediment to the pursuit of its national interests. The Communist Party of China draws its legitimacy from its victory against Japanese militarism in the 1940s, and as such, Chinese leaders simply cannot be seen to be compromising toward Japan or the Japan-US alliance in front of their public. The rise of the country’s economy and military is an energizing source of national pride for the Chinese populace, often offsetting the frustration people feel over the socioeconomic contradictions inherent in their one-party political system.

Policy Options for the US and Its Allies

In general, the Japan-US policymaking community’s strategic consensus toward the rise of China is to use a combination of cooperative engagement, balancing, and hedging. “Cooperative engagement” means building and maintaining economic and diplomatic ties with China. “Balancing” means creating a favorable balance of power to influence Chinese behavior. “Hedging” means maintaining a regional military presence and close alliance management in case China emerges as a challenger to US leadership. [26]

Engagement would weaken should the United States and Japan enhance their military capabilities as a hedge against the rapid modernization of Chinese forces in such areas as A2AD (anti-access and area-denial). In the past, “a cork in the bottle” theory was used as an effective tool to reassure China that the Japan-US alliance framework would act to contain the resurgence of Japanese militarism. In October 1971, Henry Kissinger, then national security advisor to President Richard Nixon, persuaded Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai that US control of Japan within the alliance framework would be more in line with China’s security interests than setting Japan free. [27] China could be persuaded with such logic at the time partly because it saw the Soviet Union as a more serious threat. Now, many East Asian security experts are predicting a rivalry between the United States and China for regional dominance.

China can no longer count on the United States to suppress Japan’s regional security role, as there has been an incremental expansion in areas of Japan-US cooperation, such as through the drafting of the Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation in 1997. This worried the Chinese leaders, who wondered whether the Guidelines might apply to contingencies across the Taiwan Strait. China is also concerned with the ongoing revisions to Japan-US security arrangements, which are expected to expand the areas and degrees of security cooperation following the 1 July 2014 Japanese cabinet decision outlining a new interpretation of the Constitution.

Using NATO to Reassure China

Japan and the United States would welcome NATO’s role as a new “reassurance mechanism” for China. Japan and the United States cannot stop working closely together, as they need to deter potential aggressions by an unstable North Korea and to keep China’s assertiveness in check. A multilateral security architecture could potentially be built in the region obligating all players, including China, the United States, and Japan, to adhere to common rules and laws. ASEAN, the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus Dialogue Partners (ADMM-Plus), the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the East Asia Summit are some potential forums for such a regional security mechanism. There are limitations, however; China’s recent behavior shows that it has little respect for multilateral frameworks. China is instead seeking a grand bargain: a power-sharing arrangement with the United States that would enable it to circumvent a full commitment to multilateral cooperation.

An imperative for the Asia-Pacific region and the world, then, would be to not just advance cooperative engagement with China but to induce the country to become a cooperative and rule-abiding player—without damaging economic ties or sacrificing regional stability. NATO’s European member states are already important players engaged in trade and other economic activities. In this context, NATO could become a key factor in inducing China to cooperate with a regional security framework. The Chinese are far less suspicious of NATO’s European allies, who are also critically important economic partners for China.

That is why cooperating with NATO is a safer and more effective approach to making a proactive contribution to regional peace for Japan, as this would be less provocative for China and other neighbors. Security cooperation with NATO and, if possible, South Korea would greatly facilitate Japan’s participation in a regional security initiative.

3. What Do Japan and NATO Expect from Each Other?

Common Elements in Japan’s Cooperation with NATO and ASEAN

In May 2014, Japan and NATO signed the “Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme” whose priority areas for cooperation include the following:

1. Cooperation and sharing lessons learned from Cyber Defense
2. Cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief
3. Counter terrorism
4. Disarmament, in particular related to small arms and light weapons, arms control, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery
5. Maritime security, especially counter piracy
6. Comprehensive approach to conflict management
7. Defense science and technology

None of these items are highly sensitive for China or elicit anxiety over a resurgence of Japan’s militarism. Advancing security cooperation in the region with NATO would greatly contribute to building confidence among East Asia players, as NATO has a solid track record in improving the European security environment over the past 65 years. The fact that NATO’s major European members have not been involved in a serious conflict with China or South Korea over the past half century would give greater legitimacy to Japan’s security contributions. NATO also has an important lesson for Asia, having overcome historical animosities and negative war memories to create and manage a cooperative multilateral security architecture.

In addition, the Japan-NATO agenda overlaps those of the Japan-ASEAN security cooperation agenda, outlined in the joint statement of Japanese and ASEAN leaders at the summit meeting in Tokyo on 14 December 2013, as follows: [28]

1. Maritime security and cooperation
2. Free and safe maritime navigation and aviation
3. Korean Peninsula
4. Global economy
5. A society in which all women shine
6. Societal issues
7. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), post-2015 development agenda
8. Climate change
9. Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief
10. Sustainable utilization and management of water and natural resources and environmental protection
11.Transnational threats
12. Middle East
13. United Nations Reform

Japan and the two regional multilateral frameworks clearly seek to achieve similar policy goals. NATO and ASEAN thus have considerable room for cooperation in addressing such issues as maritime security, cybersecurity, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. They could very well create a cooperation framework addressing such urgent security issues without causing alarm to any regional actor.

HA/DR as Initial Area of Cooperation

Abe’s “proactive contribution to peace” has been well received by NATO, the United States, and ASEAN. The next step would be creating a framework for implementation by identifying priorities for effective cooperation. A prime candidate would be humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR), an issue that has few obstacles and yet requires an urgent response in the light of such transnational threats as cyber attacks. It is an area that lends itself naturally to a cooperative frame work involving NATO and partner countries like Japan and South Korea.

The SDF have extensive expertise and capabilities in HA/DR owing to Japan’s frequent earthquakes, typhoons, and other natural disasters. The joint operations with US forces in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake elevated HA/DR cooperation into a new mission for Japan and the United States and into an international commons for the Asia-Pacific region. The Japan-US “two plus two” Security Consultative Committee agreed to promote multilateral cooperation in HA/DR through joint exercises and mutual logistics support. The two sides also concurred on the importance of establishing a regional HA/DR logistics hub in Japan. [29]

HA/DR has two advantages over other issues. First, Japan and the United States can offer their experience and capabilities to NATO or the European Union in future joint operations. Second, HA/DR is an area in which cooperation with even China would be possible, unlike other traditional military missions. If China participates in the framework, it would promote confidence-building and provide reassurance to other players in the region. China has, in the past, accepted SDF rescue teams on Chinese soil, such as following the May 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, although the rescue workers were dispatched using a private charter flight rather than an Air SDF aircraft out of consideration for Chinese sensitivity to the deployment of Japan’s defense personnel. [30]

In 2011, the Tokyo Foundation issued a policy proposal on “Japan’s Security Strategy toward China” calling for the formation of “a resilient habit of cooperation capability” in an effort to deepen interdependence. [31] Discussions on HA/DR cooperation have already been advanced in the ASEAN Regional Forum following the Sumatra earthquake and tsunami of 2004.

What Japan Hopes to Learn from NATO

One thing that Japan hopes to learn from NATO through cooperation with the organization is its comprehensive approach to conflict management. For example, the National Security Strategy (NSS) issued by the Abe government in December 2013 proposed that Japan will develop a new system of seamless assistance to potential recipients in security-related areas through the strategic utilization of official development assistance and capacity building support, as well as coordination with nongovernmental organizations. In addition, the NSS announced Japan’s intentions to engage in the training of peacebuilding experts and Peace-Keeping Operations personnel in various countries, adding that Japan will consult closely with countries and organizations that have experience in such engagement, including the United States, Australia, and European countries. [32]

Currently, the Abe administration is drafting a revision to the ODA Charter that outlines Japan’s desire to play a larger security assistance role with global actors in a comprehensive manner. It is not yet clear how much the ODA Charter will be revised, but there is no doubt that Japan will benefit through closer cooperation with NATO, which has been offering assistance in a comprehensive manner to both military and civilian organizations, such as in the western Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Sharing a Successful Asia-Pacific Security Framework

Discussions on a security cooperation framework between Japan and NATO began at the Track 2 (nongovernmental) level a few years before the Japanese government and NATO officially agreed on the Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme in May 2014. The Tokyo Foundation and the German think tank, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, for example, have been engaged in Track 1.5 dialogue over the past few years. Such discussions among Japanese and NATO security experts suggest that the above mentioned security cooperation agenda would have great benefits for both sides. Participants in an open conference hosted by the Tokyo Foundation in July 2012, for example, agreed that common global challenges like terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and piracy should be addressed by deepening the partnership between Japan and NATO. [33]

NATO would thus be a great partner for the Asia-Pacific region. NATO would give legitimacy and help build confidence in the region owing to its record of surviving a difficult game against the Soviet Union and preventing a catastrophic military showdown through a combination of engagement and hedging. NATO’s cooperation in building an Asian security architecture would not alarm China or other Asian countries. China would be less nervous with NATO’s engagement, given its geographical and political distance from the Asia-Pacific. In addition, major NATO members, such as Germany, France, Britain, and Canada, have close economic ties with China. Since NATO is a military alliance involving the United States, troubled Chinese neighbors like Japan and the Philippines would also be assured.

NATO and Asian partners should seek to create a multilateral and multilayered Asian regional security architecture in which China could ultimately play an active role. China is not comfortable obeying the rules drafted by ASEAN countries, which are much smaller and weaker economically and militarily. Neither is China comfortable conceding to demands from the United States and Japan, which it regards as potential rivals. Although the United States is a NATO member, China is likely to respect NATO initiatives if they are well implemented and carefully coordinated with other members, the EU, ASEAN countries, and US allies in the region. Such a coordination process would be a big challenge for NATO, representing a new mission for the organization. But if successful, it would become another great achievement that serves the economic and security interests of all member countries.

Paper originally prepared for the "Euro-Atlantic Meets Asia-Pacific" conference in Vancouver, Canada, May 2014, co-organized by NATO Defense College and Simon Fraser University. To be a chapter in the forthcoming Euro-Atlantic Meets Asia-Pacific: NATO, Partners and the US Rebalance , eds. Brooke Smith-Windsor and Alexander Moens (NDC/SFU).


[1] The conversation with the former NATO official was held in September 2014.

[2] US expectations of NATO and such other allies as Japan and South Korea in counterinsurgency operations are also legitimacy and capability, as noted in David C. Gompert and John Gordon IV, War by Other Means: Building Complete and Balanced Capability for Counterinsurgency (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2008), pp. 264–66.

[3] Speech by Prime Minster Shinzo Abe at the North Atlantic Council, “Japan and NATO as ‘Natural Partners,’” 6 May 2014, http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/files/000037774.pdf (accessed 5 October 2014).

[4] NATO Newsroom, “NATO and Japan Sign Cooperation Accord to Deepen Partnership, Discuss Ukraine Crisis,” 6 May 2014, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_109508.htm (accessed 5 October 2014).

[5] Abe’s speech at the North Atlantic Council, see note 3.

[6] Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme between Japan and NATO, 6 May 2014, http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2014_05/20140507_140507-IPCP_Japan.pdf (accessed 5 October 2014).

[7] Government of Japan, National Security Strategy (Provisional Translation), 17 December 2013, http://www.cas.go.jp/jp/siryou/131217anzenhoshou/nss-e.pdf (accessed 5 October 2014).

[8] NATO Newsroom, op. cit.

[9] US White House Press Brief, “Joint Press Conference with President Obama and Prime Minister Abe of Japan,” 24 April 2014, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/04/24/joint-press-conference-president-obama-and-prime-minister-abe-japan (accessed 5 October 2014).

[10] Joint Statement of the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit, “Hand in Hand, Facing Regional and Global Challenges,” 14 December 2013, http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/files/000022451.pdf (accessed 5 October 2014).

[11] “Abe’s Three Shots at Pacifism,” editorial, China Daily , 18 December 2013, http://www.chinadailyasia.com/opinion/2013-12/18/content_15106729.html (accessed 27 July 2014).

[12] “Japan at a Crossroads,” editorial, Korea Joongang Daily , July 2, 2014, http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=2991448 (accessed 12 October 2014).

[13] US Department of State, “Statement on Prime Minister Abe’s December 26 Visit to Yasukuni Shrine,” 26 December 2013, http://japan.usembassy.gov/e/p/tp-20131226-01.html (accessed 13 October 2014).

[14] “Shinzo Abe’s Yasukuni Offense: Japan’s Whitewashing of History Is a Strategic Liability,” Wall Street Journal , 26 December 2013.

[15] Tokyo Foundation, Abe gaiko e no 15 no shiten (Redefining Japan’s Global Strategy) , August 2013, pp. 4–5, http://www.tkfd.or.jp/files/doc/2013-02.pdf (accessed 12 October 2014).

[16] Frontier Subcommittee, “Toward a ‘Country of Co-Creation’ which Generates New Value by Manifesting and Creatively Linking Various Strengths” (Tentative Translation), 6 July 2012, p. 4, http://www.cas.go.jp/jp/seisaku/npu/policy04/pdf/20120706/en_hokoku_gaiyo1.pdf (accessed 13 October 2014).

[17] Tom Donilon, “Obama Is on the Right Course with the Pivot to Asia,” Washington Post , 20 April 2014.

[18] Remarks prepared for delivery by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, “America’s Future in Asia,” Georgetown University, 20 November 2013, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/11/21/remarks-prepared-delivery-national-security-advisor-susan-e-rice (accessed 13 October 2014).

[19] Pew Research Center, “Global Opposition to U.S. Surveillance and Drones, but Limited Harm to America’s Image: Many in Asia Worry about Conflict with China,” 14 July 2014, http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/07/14/global-opposition-to-u-s-surveillance-and-drones-but-limited-harm-to-americas-image/ (accessed 13 October 2014).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Philip Heijmans, “South China Sea Dispute Overshadows ASEAN Summit,” The Diplomat, 12 May 2014, http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/south-china-sea-dispute-overshadows-asean-summit/ (accessed 13 October 2014).

[22] James B. Steinberg, “Administration’s Vision of the U.S.-China Relationship,” Keynote Address at the Center for a New American Security, Washington, DC, 24 September 2009, http://www.state.gov/s/d/former/steinberg/remarks/2009/169332.htm (accessed 14 October 2014).

[23] Vaudine England, “Why Are South China Sea Tensions Rising?” BBC News, 3 September 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11152948 (accessed 14 October 2014).

[24] Ian Johnson, “China Arrests Four Japanese amid Tensions”, New York Times, 23 September 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/24/world/asia/24chinajapan.html (accessed 14 October 2104).

[25] Remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Hanoi, Vietnam, 23 July 2010, http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/texttrans/2010/07/20100723164658su0.4912989.html#axzz3G4qgQZuv (accessed 14 Oct 2014).

[26] Tsuneo Watanabe, “US Engagement Policy toward China: Realism, Liberalism, and Pragmatism,” Journal of Contemporary China Studies , vol. 2, no. 2, 31 January 2014, published by the Institute of Contemporary Chinese Studies, Waseda University. The article can be accessed on the Tokyo Foundation website, http://www.tokyofoundation.org/en/articles/2014/us-engagement-policy-toward-china (accessed 14 October 2014).

[27] Henry Kissinger, White House Years (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1979), p. 1089.

[28] Joint Statement of the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit, “Hand in Hand, Facing Regional and Global Challenges,” 14 December 2014, http://www.asean.org/news/asean-statement-communiques/item/hand-in-hand-facing-regional-and-global-challenges (accessed 13 October 2014).

[29] Joint Statement of the Security Consultative Committee by Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Gates, Minister for Foreign Affairs Matsumoto, and Minister of Defense Kitazawa, “Toward a Deeper and Broader U.S.-Japan Alliance: Building on 50 Years of Partnership,” 21 June 2011, http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/n-america/us/security/pdfs/joint1106_01.pdf (accessed 14 October 2014).

[30] “Memories That Still Linger,” Japan Times , 1 June 2008.

[31] Tokyo Foundation, “Japan’s Security Strategy toward China: Integration, Balancing, and Deterrence in the Era of Power Shift” (policy proposal), October 2011, p. 45.

[32] Government of Japan, National Security Strategy, pp. 30–31.

[33] “NATO in a Changing World: Implications for Japan,” experts’ meeting and open forum coorganized by the Tokyo Foundation and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, http://www.kas.de/japan/en/events/51899/ (accessed 13 October 2014).

Tsuneo Watanabe

  • Senior Fellow, Tokyo Foundation

    Senior Fellow, Sasakawa Peace Foundation