U.S. and Japanese leaders on Monday announced a revamped blueprint for defense relations between the two allies, the first revision in a generation and one that will give Tokyo a far more active and wide-ranging role in the face of growing Chinese power and the threats of nuclear conflict with North Korea.
The new guidelines are expected to increase Japan’s global presence in peacekeeping and humanitarian issues, as well as strengthen the partnership between the U.S. and Japan in fields like space and cybersecurity.
They will also let Japan defend its allies against attacks and remove geographic limitations so the Japanese can assist U.S. forces worldwide, including resupplying U.S. ships with bullets or fuel that will be used in combat operations.
The guidelines on the U.S.-Japan relationship were first implemented in 1978 and last updated in 1997. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Monday at a press conference in New York that the new guidelines reflect how much the region has changed in nearly two decades.
“They were good guidelines,” Mr. Carter said. “But today we’ve agreed to new guidelines that will give us new opportunities to do new things.”
In addition to changes in the region, Mr. Carter said the world has also changed the both countries face threats in new domains and new capabilities.
While the changes may seem minor, Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow in Northeast Asia studies at the Heritage Foundation, said the changes are “monumental” for Japan, which had to disband its military and adopt a constitutional clause against waging war following its defeat in World War II.
“From an outside view, they’re still very minor, because Japan still is avoiding military activities that every other nation in the world conducts,” he said. ” … They’re sweeping changes in a Japanese context.”
Since the war, Japan has slowly been making incremental changes to build up its military as it faced world events like the Korean War and U.S. pressure to do more to defend itself and its allies, Mr. Klingner said.
Many of the changes announced Monday are in response to a growing threat from China in the region, Mr. Klingner said.
“A lot of the changes to the Japanese self-defense forces were triggered by China’s increasingly assertive behavior,” he said. “Really a lot of these changes are driven more by Chinese nationalism than Japanese nationalism.”
Secretary of State John F. Kerry highlighted Japan’s increased international role over the past decade, including establishing a national security council, sending forces to Iraq and Kuwait, and participating in U.S.-led war on terrorism.
The new security posture announced Monday, Mr. Kerry said, “will help to ensure our future is even more successful and more productive than our present or our past.”
The new guidelines are a result of negotiations between Mr. Carter, Mr. Kerry and their Japanese counterparts in New York City as part of the so-called “2+2” talks.
The Japanese government still needs to vote on and approve the new guidelines, but Mr. Klingner said it is likely they will be approved.
Gen Nakatani and Fumio Kishida, the Japanese counterparts to the U.S. defense secretary and secretary of state, were in New York for the talks.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe begins a four-day visit to Washington on Tuesday with a meeting at the White House at a State Dinner on Tuesday evening. Mr. Abe is expected to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.