On Friday, the President of the United States Joe Biden, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida signed two memorandums to increase collaboration in developing military technologies and improving defense supply chains. President Biden stated during their meeting in Washington, “We’re modernizing our military alliance, building on Japan’s historic increase in defense spending and new national security strategy. Let me be crystal clear: The United States is fully, thoroughly, completely committed to the alliance.”
Japan’s interest in greater military cooperation between the two countries is the result of its increasingly strained relations with China. The meeting between Biden and Kishida on Friday takes place only five months after China launched missiles near Taiwan in August, some of which landed in Japanese waters. In addition, China has recently engaged in increased maritime activity near the Senkaku Islands, which are at the center of a territorial dispute between Japan and China. At the same time, China poses a threat to Japan and Taiwan, North Korea has launched missiles into the Sea of Japan and in October sent an intermediate-range missile over Japan for the first time since 2017.
For decades, there has been rising tension in Japan’s security relationship with the US. The alliance between the US and Japan was created during a time when geopolitical relations were vastly different from today. Japan has relied on the US for security for the past 70 years after giving up its right to go to war following its loss in World War Two. For this reason, the treaty between the United States and Japan was not created with the intention of allowing joint military operations. Rather, Japan was a staging area for the US to maintain a military presence in East Asia in return for its promise to defend the country.
The policies and legal changes introduced by Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe substantially increased military cooperation between the United States and Japan. These changes allowed Japan more freedom in assisting the United States in the case of a military crisis. The Maritime Branch of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the US Navy have cooperated extensively on tying together their ballistic missile defense and antisubmarine warfare capabilities. However, cooperation between the US and Japan is restrained because its command structure is still rooted in post-WWII geopolitical directives.
Japan’s concern about China’s intensifying activity in the East China Sea was recently expressed in its National Security Strategy, a key defense document approved in December, which describes China as Japan’s “greatest challenge.” With support from the United States, Japan announced its largest military expansion since World War Two with a vow to boost defense spending to 2% of GDP within five years. Kishida has stated that his administration will implement significant measures aimed at boosting Japan’s military defense capabilities, including increasing military spending and improving its missile systems. This will include funding for missiles with a maximum range of 1,000 kilometers, which could potentially be used to attack Chinese targets.
Japan’s new national security and military plans are designed to give it the flexibility to retaliate against a potential military threat — a goal that runs counter to the country’s pacifist post-war constitution. Tokyo's new national security and military plans recognize the necessity of bolstering the Japanese defense sector. Japan is also seeking to strengthen its relationships with other nations like Australia, Britain, France, and India aiming to gain diplomatic and military support.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has described the agreements as a consequential development for Japan–US relations. In a statement, Lloyd Austin affirmed that the US is committed to protecting Japan and will use all necessary means, including nuclear weapons, to protect its ally from attack. He also stated that the US recognizes Japan’s claim to the Senkaku islands as Japanese territory. In addition, in their joint statement on Friday, the two countries also stressed the significance of preserving peace and stability on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
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