Collective Self Defense, Japan, and the US Alliance

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made no secret of his desire to see his country play a more assertive role in Asia’s security affairs. Abe has pushed discussion on the matter, as Asian nations are still grappling with dealing with growing Chinese power, said Ian Rinehart, Asia analyst with the Congressional Research Service, on Oct. 29. Abe has stepped up high-level security and military cooperation with the United States since taking office in December 2012. However, a vigorous debate exists surrounding Japan’s right of collective self-defense. Since 1960, Japan’s government has barred the nation’s defense forces from participating in any military activity that is not in response to an attack on the Japanese homeland, while reserving the right of CSD. If the Japanese exercise CSD, the practical effect on US-Japan operational cooperation would be complicated—with little immediate effect, but requiring policy clarity, said Rinehart during a seminar on US-Japan security cooperation sponsored by the East-West Center in Washington, D.C. Although it would be unlikely Japan defense forces would see “frontline combat,” Rinehart said the US-Japan alliance could become more flexible in regional contingencies in Northeast and East Asia. This would open up more potential joint military training with the United States and allies, he said.