The reinforcement of bilateral defense cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region was declared in a joint Japan-U.S. statement issued in Washington on May 1.
"The Japan-U.S. alliance has reached new heights," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in a joint news conference with U.S. President Barack Obama.
But Noda should have known better than to crow about any "new heights" without first discussing the nation's basic defense policy thoroughly at home.
Under the reinforced defense cooperation, we fear Japan will effectively pick up the tab for the U.S. military. But our greater fear is that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces may find themselves in situations where they will have to deviate from their "purely defensive" role defined by the Constitution.
An interim report on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, released before the Noda-Obama summit, indicates what the reinforced defense cooperation will entail.
First, Japan and the United States will pool their funds to develop training areas in Guam and the northern Marianas and conduct joint exercises there.
Next, Japan will draw upon its official development aid (ODA) budget to provide patrol vessels to the Philippines and other nations. Patrol vessels fall under the category of weapons, but since they are meant to contribute to peace and international cooperation, they will be exempted from Japan's "three principles of arms export ban." These principles were eased last year to require only paperwork for the vessels' export.
These moves are in keeping with the concept of "dynamic defense forces" introduced in 2010 under the new defense program guideline to bolster the nation's defense capabilities in the southwestern islands. We are thus going to see the concept of dynamic defense in practice through increased routine military activities to enhance the power of deterrence.
Holding joint exercises with the United States in the Asia-Pacific region and providing patrol vessels to nations in the region are also intended to keep the increasingly active Chinese Navy in check.
We can see that this kind of Japan-U.S. defense cooperation meets Washington's China policy. But what about Japan's own defense policy?
What benefits are there for Japan to hold military exercises in the seas near Guam? Rather than have a deterring effect, would it not actually stir things up? And what does Japan need those exercises for in the first place?
As for providing patrol vessels, would this not run counter to the ODA guidelines that do not include military-related aid? When Japan supplied such vessels to Indonesia in 2006, the purpose was to fight piracy in the Strait of Malacca. But what is going to be the excuse this time?
We urge Noda and his ministers of defense and foreign affairs to thoroughly answer these questions in the Diet.
In its haste to mend the Japan-U.S. relationship that became strained over the Futenma relocation issue, the Noda administration is being overly eager to bolster defense cooperation with the United States.
The administration will not win the public's support unless it can clearly explain what defense policy is best for the nation.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 2
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