A Military Agreement Between Japan and Britain: What Is Its Importance and Repercussions?

Murad Jandali | a year ago




Japan and Britain recently signed a defense deal that will move military relations between the two countries to a new level and constitute a fundamental shift in Tokyo’s relationship with Western countries during the coming period.

The deal comes amid Western interest in the Asia–Pacific region, framed by the British strategy that the government revealed two years ago. In addition, it represents the West’s latest endeavor to create a series of alliances surrounding the Chinese threat.

Meanwhile, the fundamental military changes that Tokyo is experiencing in its modern policy indicate the possibility of straining its relations with China, North Korea, and Russia, who are following recent developments with caution, apprehension, and disapproval.


Landmark Deal

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida signed on January 11, 2023, a defense deal that is the largest and most important between the two countries since the Anglo–Japanese alliance of 1902, as reported by the Japan Times.

This deal, which was signed in the Tower of London, is a sign of London’s growing interest in the Asia–Pacific region on the one hand, as well as Japan’s efforts to strengthen its alliances to face what it calls an unprecedented strategic challenge to its national security on the other hand.

Thanks to the deal signed between London and Tokyo, the UK (the fifth most powerful army in the world) became the first European country to have a mutual access deal with Japan (the eighth most powerful army in the world).

The deal also accelerates the already growing defense and security cooperation between the two countries and allows the British and Japanese militaries to plan and carry out military exercises and deploy their forces on each other’s territory.

It establishes a legal framework for their cooperation in the event that a service member commits a crime or causes an accident in another country.

The UK and Japan agreed to the RAA in principle in May 2022, and efforts have continued since then to finalize preparations before the two countries recently signed it.

Commenting on the historic event, Rishi Sunak said in a statement: “This Reciprocal Access Agreement is hugely significant for both our nations, it cements our commitment to the Indo–Pacific.”

“In this increasingly competitive world, it is more important than ever that democratic societies continue to stand shoulder to shoulder as we navigate the unprecedented global challenges of our time,” he added.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry described the deal as a breakthrough, saying in a statement: “This deal will take Japanese–British cooperation in the field of security and defense to new heights.”

Japan’s Foreign Ministry called the agreement a breakthrough, saying in a statement that “this important security agreement will take Japan–UK cooperation in security and defense to new heights.”

In December 2022, the UK and Japan announced cooperation with Italy in a new program to develop the latest combat aircraft in the world (Global Combat Air Programme), which will see the light by 2035, and it is the first joint project that brings together the three countries.

Last month, the UK and Japan launched a new digital partnership to step up cooperation in the areas of cyber resilience, online safety, and semiconductors.

On his part, researcher Abdulrahman Salah el-Din said in a statement to Al-Estiklal that “the agreement is part of the British move to strengthen its global presence within what is known as the Anglo-Saxon Alliance, and to restore British weight in the East Asian region, especially after its exit from the EU.”

On the other hand, Mr. Salah el-Din explained that “the agreement reflects Japan's need to expand its alliances in the face of China's rapid rise, especially since the Sino-Japanese disputes include issues of sovereignty, in addition to historical grudges dating back to World War II.”

As for the reactions opposing the new British-Japanese alliance, Mr. Salah el-Din indicated that “there are no signs of Chinese punishment for either country for such a step, especially since the economic situation in the world makes such a task difficult for Beijing, which is already under enormous economic pressure from Washington.”


Common Interests

The UK’s acceptance to sign a joint defense deal with Japan, despite its military security sensitivities, is in line with its new military doctrine expressed by the vision of Global Britain after Brexit.

The deal will allow Britain to obtain military bases in the Pacific Ocean and move its naval and nuclear fleet toward Japanese ports.

On the other hand, The Times newspaper, in a report on January 11, 2023, questioned Britain’s ability to tip the scales in Japan in the face of Chinese threats.

“The presence of dozens or hundreds of British soldiers and military equipment will not change much in the equation there, based on the fact that the United States is the guarantor to deter China,” it said.

The deal is also expected to increase the growing convergence in defense relations between the two countries, which witnessed in September 2021 the visit of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to Japan.

In the latest military moves, the forces of Japan and the United States, in addition to Britain and Australia, for the first time, on January 8, 2023, carried out parachute maneuvers and joint exercises to recover an occupied island, as reported by the Japanese NHK agency.

The main objective of the British army from this deal is to benefit from Japan’s decision to raise its military budget to reach $320 billion over the next five years, a budget that tempts the UK, which seeks to conclude huge deals with the Japanese army.

As for the second goal, it is to benefit from Japanese technology to serve the British project called Tempest, for which the UK has allocated a budget of more than £2 billion to develop the latest aircraft in the world after when the famous Eurofighter Typhoon goes out of service in four years.

In addition, the UK is trying to preserve its interests in the Pacific region and undermine the growing Chinese influence as a threat to its interests in the region, in addition to restoring its role as a major global power.

Its military cooperation with Japan comes after the UK signed the AUKUS pact with the United States and Australia in September 2021 to build nuclear submarines whose mission is to monitor the Pacific Ocean and form a deterrent weapon against Chinese moves in the region.

As for Japan’s benefit from the deal with the UK, a Reuters analysis on January 13, 2023, indicated that “there is a growing feeling among Japanese military leaders that the permanent dependence on the United States has made Japan weak in terms of developing military technology, especially after it completely changed its military strategy.”

In view of the above, Japan decided to agree with the UK as the second largest exporter of weapons and military technology in the world, and because it is the closest ally of the United States; therefore Washington will not oppose any military cooperation between Tokyo and London.

Japan had also armed itself with a similar military deal with the United States, followed by a similar deal with Australia last year, while Tokyo is in talks with the Philippines on a new military deal.

The recently signed military deal between Japan and the UK joined a series of Western deals aimed at tightening the zone around China in the Asia, Pacific, and Indian regions, like the Quad, which is an informal strategic alliance between the United States, Japan, Australia, and India.


Unprecedented Shift

Japan is witnessing a shift in its vision of military power in recent times, represented in amending its national security strategy, most notably: Raising its military spending to 2% of GDP by 2027 by allocating $320 billion to strengthen its military capabilities, concluding new deals with Western and Asian countries, and supplying missiles capable of hitting China.

In turn, the Wall Street Journal, in its editorial on December 16, 2022, described the new Japanese strategy as amounting to a revolution in its domestic policy and a radical historical shift, as it essentially bypasses its pacifist constitution after World War II.

The newspaper added that “the new strategy firmly entrenched Japan in the US alliance, which may enhance deterrence in the Pacific Ocean.”

It is noteworthy that this is the largest five-year plan to enhance Japan’s military capabilities since World War II, and thus Japan’s defense budget becomes the third in the world after the United States and China.

The new Japanese defense policy document describes China as an unprecedented strategic challenge, Russia as a national security concern, and North Korea as a more serious threat than ever before.

In the Chinese response to the Japanese plan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that “the Asia–Pacific is a pacesetter for peace and development, not a wrestling ground for geopolitical games.”

On her part, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned in a statement of the dangers of Tokyo’s pointed evasion from recognizing the World War II results, which provide the foundations for the modern international order, raise new security challenges, and exacerbate tensions in the Asia–Pacific region

The Russian Foreign Ministry added, in a comment on the matter, that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government is rejecting the country’s peaceful development and has embarked on the path of an unprecedented build-up of its military power.”

It is noteworthy that relations between Tokyo and Moscow have been very strained over the past year, especially after Japan joined the Western sanctions imposed on Russia as a result of the Ukraine war; knowing that relations between the two countries are already tense for many reasons, most notably: the dispute over the Kuril Islands.

Russian experts believe that Tokyo’s decision to raise military spending comes in the context of Japan becoming a basis for forming a new military alliance against Moscow, noting at the same time that Japan is obliged to take into account the situation in the region in its actions, especially with regard to the escalation over Taiwan and North Korea’s missile programs, as well as its territorial disputes with its neighbors, for example with China over mining in disputed waters.

On her part, Amy King, associate professor at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, said that Japan wants to normalize its role as a great power, adding that Japan is insuring itself against a decline in US capacity and working to draw other major democratic states into Asia, as reported by AFP.

In turn, Daisuke Kawai, a research fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, said that Japan’s expansion of its military network is definitely an effective way to counter or try to deter China.

On the other hand, Chinese analysts linked the new Japanese defense policy to Japanese expansionist thought before the end of World War II, and the possibility of Tokyo launching a future attack on East Asian countries.

It is noteworthy that China and Japan, the world’s second and third largest economies respectively, are important trading partners, but their relationship has deteriorated significantly in recent years, as Japan regularly complains about Chinese maritime activity around the Senkaku Islands, which are disputed by both countries.