AUKUS Commentary

CommentaryJapan has wanted to join AUKUS—the three-way defense agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—since the beginning. Saying so isn’t Japanese nature, but it appears the Americans are recommending Japan for membership—even if not as a full member.An Australian friend asked me about this issue the other day.Question: What do you think of the expected announcement that Japan will join the AUKUS military technology-sharing alliance alongside Australia, the United States, and the UK?Answer: It’s a good thing and a logical step for AUKUS. And the “announcement” is one thing for which there’ll be back-slaps all around. This is really what U.S. officials of a certain type thrive on—the post-meeting press conference.The test is what the parties actually make of Japan getting involved in AUKUS.Related StoriesWhy is Japanese involvement a logical thing? There have always been two parts of AUKUS: the nuclear submarines and broader technology sharing between the three countries. The latter gets overshadowed by the submarine part of the AUKUS arrangement.Japan has a lot to contribute in certain areas, such as space and missile technologies, anti-submarine and undersea surveillance technologies, hypersonics, and submarine technology, and its advanced manufacturing is world-class.And don’t forget that Japan has got a lot of money to invest in all this. It’s not as if the British and the Australians are rolling in dough. Even the Americans claim to be “tapped out” when it comes to defense.To make this work right, the Americans (in particular), the English, and the Australians ought to have some specific areas where they want Japanese help—and then tell the Japanese. The Japanese are not mind readers. When they have something concrete to focus on, it helps them organize their thinking and actions—and they’ll do what’s necessary—rather than if they have to figure out for themselves what might be of interest to the foreigners.So if Japan is allowed into AUKUS in some fashion—as an associate member or such like—the other three nations ought to have some specific requests rather than holding an opening session and each side asking, “What do you think we should do?”How much of an obstacle are Japan’s substandard (some might say non-existent) classified information protocols?This is a big problem, but manageable. Just compartmentalize the project and impose specific rules and procedures (and systems) for handling the information and for granting access to it. It’s not as if the Japanese don’t understand the need for secrecy—and practice it sometimes. In fairness, one also points out that the AUKUS countries have had many problems protecting their information over the years despite comprehensive security clearance procedures.One last bit on AUKUS. It’s ironic that Japan can contribute quite a lot to AUKUS on the submarine technology front. Wonder what it’ll say if asked?The Japanese presumably will not mention to the Australians that if they’d ordered the Japanese submarines in 2016, they’d already have them on hand. They may not be nuclear submarines, but they are useful submarines nonetheless. As it is, it’s going to take quite a long time for Australia to get its nuclear submarines.U.S. Ballistic Missile Submarine USS Kentucky is anchored in Busan Naval Base in Busan, South Korea, on July 19, 2023. (Woohae Cho/Getty Images)Whoever was responsible for scuppering the Soryu (Japanese) sub deal on the Australian side ought to be horse-whipped—and also receive a “Friend of China” award from Beijing.Does it matter that Japan is not a “full” member of AUKUS? It shouldn’t. The Chinese are breathing down all our necks, for crying out loud. Do what’s necessary to get Japan into AUKUS in some fashion. After all, it’s one of the world’s leading democracies, a technological powerhouse, and has a decent enough military in certain respects.Question: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is ramping up defense spending and talking about a “multilayered” alliance structure. Is Japan finally really shedding its post-World War II pacifist stance? Can it finally be a major defense player?I’d say Japan shed its post-World War II pacifist stance by about 1960 or so, maybe earlier. Japanese pacifism has always been a strange form of “pacifism”: Build a sizeable military and call it something other than a military, for example, a “self-defense force.” Then, ask the Americans to agree to a deal that requires the United States to exterminate anyone who threatens Japan—while, of course, not making a similar promise on behalf of the Americans.That’s a neat trick if you can pull it off—and Japan did for a long time.Those days are pretty much over—even though parts of Japan’s ruling class like to pretend otherwise. Others in Japan, fortunately, recognized it was a charade and did their best to get Japan ready to at least sort of begin to get ready to defend itself.Japan has a military, and a good one in certain niche area

AUKUS Commentary

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Commentary

Japan has wanted to join AUKUS—the three-way defense agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—since the beginning. Saying so isn’t Japanese nature, but it appears the Americans are recommending Japan for membership—even if not as a full member.

An Australian friend asked me about this issue the other day.

Question: What do you think of the expected announcement that Japan will join the AUKUS military technology-sharing alliance alongside Australia, the United States, and the UK?

Answer: It’s a good thing and a logical step for AUKUS. And the “announcement” is one thing for which there’ll be back-slaps all around. This is really what U.S. officials of a certain type thrive on—the post-meeting press conference.

The test is what the parties actually make of Japan getting involved in AUKUS.

Why is Japanese involvement a logical thing? There have always been two parts of AUKUS: the nuclear submarines and broader technology sharing between the three countries. The latter gets overshadowed by the submarine part of the AUKUS arrangement.

Japan has a lot to contribute in certain areas, such as space and missile technologies, anti-submarine and undersea surveillance technologies, hypersonics, and submarine technology, and its advanced manufacturing is world-class.

And don’t forget that Japan has got a lot of money to invest in all this. It’s not as if the British and the Australians are rolling in dough. Even the Americans claim to be “tapped out” when it comes to defense.

To make this work right, the Americans (in particular), the English, and the Australians ought to have some specific areas where they want Japanese help—and then tell the Japanese. The Japanese are not mind readers. When they have something concrete to focus on, it helps them organize their thinking and actions—and they’ll do what’s necessary—rather than if they have to figure out for themselves what might be of interest to the foreigners.

So if Japan is allowed into AUKUS in some fashion—as an associate member or such like—the other three nations ought to have some specific requests rather than holding an opening session and each side asking, “What do you think we should do?”

How much of an obstacle are Japan’s substandard (some might say non-existent) classified information protocols?

This is a big problem, but manageable. Just compartmentalize the project and impose specific rules and procedures (and systems) for handling the information and for granting access to it. It’s not as if the Japanese don’t understand the need for secrecy—and practice it sometimes. In fairness, one also points out that the AUKUS countries have had many problems protecting their information over the years despite comprehensive security clearance procedures.

One last bit on AUKUS. It’s ironic that Japan can contribute quite a lot to AUKUS on the submarine technology front. Wonder what it’ll say if asked?

The Japanese presumably will not mention to the Australians that if they’d ordered the Japanese submarines in 2016, they’d already have them on hand. They may not be nuclear submarines, but they are useful submarines nonetheless. As it is, it’s going to take quite a long time for Australia to get its nuclear submarines.

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U.S. Ballistic Missile Submarine USS Kentucky is anchored in Busan Naval Base in Busan, South Korea, on July 19, 2023. (Woohae Cho/Getty Images)
U.S. Ballistic Missile Submarine USS Kentucky is anchored in Busan Naval Base in Busan, South Korea, on July 19, 2023. (Woohae Cho/Getty Images)

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Whoever was responsible for scuppering the Soryu (Japanese) sub deal on the Australian side ought to be horse-whipped—and also receive a “Friend of China” award from Beijing.

Does it matter that Japan is not a “full” member of AUKUS? It shouldn’t. The Chinese are breathing down all our necks, for crying out loud. Do what’s necessary to get Japan into AUKUS in some fashion. After all, it’s one of the world’s leading democracies, a technological powerhouse, and has a decent enough military in certain respects.

Question: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is ramping up defense spending and talking about a “multilayered” alliance structure. Is Japan finally really shedding its post-World War II pacifist stance? Can it finally be a major defense player?

I’d say Japan shed its post-World War II pacifist stance by about 1960 or so, maybe earlier. Japanese pacifism has always been a strange form of “pacifism”: Build a sizeable military and call it something other than a military, for example, a “self-defense force.” Then, ask the Americans to agree to a deal that requires the United States to exterminate anyone who threatens Japan—while, of course, not making a similar promise on behalf of the Americans.

That’s a neat trick if you can pull it off—and Japan did for a long time.

Those days are pretty much over—even though parts of Japan’s ruling class like to pretend otherwise. Others in Japan, fortunately, recognized it was a charade and did their best to get Japan ready to at least sort of begin to get ready to defend itself.

Japan has a military, and a good one in certain niche areas, such as submarine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, naval surface warfare and surveillance, missile defense, and space operations. However, there are still plenty of problems, such as the inability to conduct effective joint/combined operations—even within the Japan Self-Defense Force (JDSF), much less with allies and partners. Also, JSDF is too small and has recruitment problems that make expansion problematic. How much is too small? The Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) and the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) need to be doubled in size immediately. The Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) is about the right size.

Can Japan become a major defense player? It is not “major” in the sense of being another United States of America. Still, it can certainly become a “big enough” defense player if it improves JSDF weaknesses and then plays to its strengths, as noted above.

It can, at least, turn JSDF into something enemies such as China’s communist regime and North Korea, and even the Russians, don’t want to mess with—especially if tied closely to the United States and U.S. military.

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An anti-submarine rocket blasts off a rocket launcher of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) escort ship Ishikari during its fleet review exercise off Sagami Bay, south of Tokyo, on Oct. 22, 2007. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images)
An anti-submarine rocket blasts off a rocket launcher of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) escort ship Ishikari during its fleet review exercise off Sagami Bay, south of Tokyo, on Oct. 22, 2007. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images)

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Becoming more of a “defense player” will, of course, require exporting some of its more competitive defense technology and hardware with far more aplomb than it has managed to date. The international defense business is a tough one, and Japanese companies haven’t quite sharpened their elbows enough just yet.

Question: Does this mean Japan no longer wants to rely on the United States as its sole protector and step up to the plate in taking on China, North Korea, and Russia? What role will Australia play?

Answer: Some Japanese conservatives are irked that Japan has to rely on the United States for defense, and they want Japan to be able to defend itself by itself. This is a pipe dream.

By and large, “Japan” and the Japanese are still willing to rely heavily on the United States for defense. But Japan has, for whatever reasons—such as hedging its bets, a genuine desire to make a better contribution to the alliance, fear that the Americans might complain Japan isn’t doing enough, etc.—done a lot in the last five years or so to suggest it takes defense more seriously.

However, there still haven’t been enough concrete improvements in Japan’s defense capabilities to improve its prospects one-on-one against China—not at all. The Japanese are really not ready to fight a war. One wishes the Americans would tell them specifically what they need to do. Just send along a few good war planners from Hawaii and sit them down with the right Japanese.

Japan’s “multilayered alliance structure” seems to be based on the belief that the more friends you have, the safer you will be. Japan has signed many defense agreements with other nations in recent times. Still, when combined—especially when considering the concrete advantages of these agreements—they aren’t as useful as even a small part of the protection provided by the Seventh Fleet.

The late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was aware that U.S. protection was essential—even though he resented it—and his successors still understand there’s no substitute for the Americans.

As for Australia, I’m not really sure what exactly Australian defense policy is these days. And I’m not sure the Albanese government or even the Australian Defense Force’s (ADF’s) top dogs understand either. I’m not being snide—just how it seems. It seems almost like the current government is trying to dismantle the nation’s defenses. It would be nice if Australia thought more clearly about what it must do to defend itself and its regional interests. That might be a long wait, however.

In the meantime, the ADF—who are some of the gamest people on Earth—will pitch in where they can, and keep doing things such as sending ships to the Philippines, fighters to Japan, and ground troops to any number of places.

But if the Australian government can’t clear its head about national defense, even a “game,” ADF will only take you so far.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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