Categories
The News And Times – thenewsandtimes.com - Posts

US, Japan eye alliance upgrades during Biden-Kishida meeting

seoul, south korea — The United States and Japan are considering ways to strengthen military cooperation, with several reports suggesting the alliance could see one of its biggest structural upgrades in several decades. 

The potential changes, meant to better address shared threats such as China and North Korea, will figure prominently when Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meets U.S. President Joe Biden during a state visit next week in Washington.  

During the visit, U.S. and Japanese officials are expected to agree on a review of the framework that has for decades guided interaction between Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the approximately 54,000 U.S. troops in Japan.  

Specifically, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said, the U.S. military will consider ways to strengthen the functions of its command headquarters in Japan amid concerns that the current arrangement would not allow for adequate coordination during a conflict.  

Japan wants the United States to appoint or elevate a four-star commander to oversee U.S. troops in the country. Under the current setup, U.S. Forces Japan is led by a three-star general with little authority over joint operations. That means Japan must coordinate with the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command, located more than 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles) and five time zones away in Hawaii.  

The existing arrangement dates to the 1960s, long before China’s massive military buildup and North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons upended Asia’s security dynamic, prompting Japan to take a much more proactive role in world affairs.  

It is not clear what changes the United States will propose. When asked by VOA about recent reports on the matter, the White House National Security Council declined to comment. Still, the review is being welcomed by many in Japan’s defense community who have pushed for greater integration between the two countries’ forces.  

“This is a very significant step for the alliance,” said Tetsuo Kotani, senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs. “By upgrading our command and control relationship, we are actually preparing for war fighting together, so that the two militaries can operate together in a time of crisis.” 

More assertive Japan 

Until recently, it was difficult to imagine Japan becoming involved in a major conflict. The country has a technically pacifist constitution, which was drafted by the U.S. following Tokyo’s defeat in World War II.  

But in recent years, Japan has loosened some of its self-imposed military restraints, allowing it to become a major player in regional and global security.  

Most notably, Japan intends to increase its annual defense spending to 2% of its gross domestic product (GDP), up from the traditional 1%, by 2027. This will likely give Japan the world’s third-largest military budget, behind the United States and China.  

For the first time, Japan also will deploy missiles that can hit military targets in other countries. In January, Japan signed a deal with the U.S. to purchase up to 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles. 

The acquisition has created further urgency for military integration, according to analysts, who note that Japan would rely on the United States for targeting information, damage assessment and escalation management if the missiles were used.  

Naoko Aoki, an associate political scientist at the RAND Corporation, said Japan’s increased defense capabilities also necessitate greater cooperation with South Korea, another U.S. ally, which hosts about 28,500 U.S. troops. 

“Because if Japan were to use this [counter strike capability] against North Korea, for example, then clearly coordination among the three countries would become very, very important,” she said.  

To allow for smoother integration among its own forces, Japan recently announced plans to establish a joint operations headquarters by 2025. The move was also widely discussed as a possible catalyst toward greater integration with U.S. forces.  

How to proceed 

The U.S. military has not released details about any possible changes to its command structure in Japan. However, media reports point to several possibilities.  

Last week, Reuters reported that Washington will consider appointing a four-star commander, as Tokyo has requested, though it is not clear what responsibilities the position would be given. 

Some analysts say the appointment of a U.S. four-star general may be too controversial in Japan, because it would be widely seen as a possible precursor to the type of unified command that exists in South Korea, where a U.S. four-star general would control both U.S. and South Korean troops during wartime. 

“A four-star general in Japan sounds like too much at this moment,” said Kotani. Instead, he thinks the U.S. could establish some type of joint coordination center to facilitate greater interaction with the Japanese military.  

A similar idea was mentioned as a possibility last week by the Financial Times. According to the British newspaper, the task force would be attached to the Hawaii-based U.S. Pacific Fleet but would shift to Japan “over time.”  

From Tokyo’s standpoint, such a proposal is “probably better than nothing,” said Jeffrey J. Hall, a Japanese politics specialist at Kanda University of International Studies.  

“It does make sense to have decision-making power shifted to a time zone closer to a potential conflict area,” Hall said.  

But, Hall said, U.S. officials are likely to proceed cautiously, perhaps wary of big steps that could spark domestic opposition in Japan, where some are uncomfortable with the idea of Japanese troops being controlled by the United States.  

Kishida is already in a difficult situation at home. The approval rating of his Cabinet remains near record lows amid long-running economic challenges and a political fundraising scandal in his party.  

“For the last year, we’ve been in a situation where Prime Minister Kishida is incredibly unpopular among Japanese voters but loved by the national security folks in Washington,” Hall said.  

For Japan, the question is how to achieve greater military integration while maintaining proper levels of independence, given Japan’s constitutional and political restraints, said Aoki. But she maintains that the effort is worthwhile. 

“The command and control architecture … hasn’t been changed since the 1960s, but the threat environment has changed greatly,” she said. “So, modernizing this will help the credibility of the alliance and help deterrence in the region.”  

The post US, Japan eye alliance upgrades during Biden-Kishida meeting first appeared on The News And Times.