Japan and the United Kingdom forge closer security ties: a look at their recent security pact

In recent diplomatic developments, Japan and the United Kingdom have taken significant strides in fortifying their defence partnership, signalling a commitment to enhanced security cooperation.

The Japanese and British foreign and defence ministers met in Tokyo and agreed to deepen military cooperation under a new security pact. This pact allows their militaries to enter each other’s territory for joint exercises. The talks are the first since the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) took effect in mid-October. The RAA strengthens the cooperation between Japan and the U.K., and this meeting reflects their commitment to enhanced military collaboration amid growing concerns over China’s influence in the region. The discussions also occurred on the sidelines of a Group of Seven (G7) foreign ministers’ gathering, where the Israel-Hamas conflict, the Russia-Ukraine war, and tensions in the Indo-Pacific region were expected to be key topics.

The meeting between Japanese and British foreign and defence ministers aimed to demonstrate the enduring strength of their relationship in the Indo-Pacific, despite ongoing conflicts in Europe and the Middle East. The ministers agreed to expand joint exercises, including the annual Japan-UK joint exercise Vigilant Isles 23, starting later in the month.

In addition to military cooperation, the two countries announced collaboration in new areas such as space and cybersecurity, based on an accord reached between Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in May. The December strategy shift in Japan, allowing for the development of counterstrike capabilities, reflects growing security concerns in the region, including those posed by China.

Defense Minister Kihara Minoru welcomed the United Kingdom’s announcement of plans to deploy a carrier strike group to the Indo-Pacific in 2025. This deployment is seen as a demonstration of London’s commitment and capability to enhance its engagement with the region. The Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, led the Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) and made a historic port call to the U.S. Navy’s Yokosuka Base in Japan in September 2021. The visit aimed to support a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and marked the first time a U.K. aircraft carrier had docked at a Japanese port.

Japan’s longstanding territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea adds to the geopolitical dynamics in the region. The meetings and agreements underscore the evolving landscape of security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific amid geopolitical shifts and regional tensions.

 

Hiroshima Accord

The defence ministers emphasized that the security relationship between Japan and the United Kingdom has reached unprecedented closeness, attributing this development to the “Hiroshima Accord” announced in May by the prime ministers of both countries. The Hiroshima Accord outlines a policy framework aimed at strengthening the global strategic partnership between Japan and the United Kingdom, with a specific focus on collaboration in defence and technology.

This affirmation underscores the rapid growth of military and security ties between Japan and the U.K., prompting some observers in both Tokyo and London to characterize the relationship as a “quasi-alliance.” The term “quasi-alliance” suggests that while the two nations may not have a formal alliance akin to a mutual defence treaty, their cooperation in defence and security matters has become so substantial that it resembles a de facto alliance. The Hiroshima Accord serves as a cornerstone for this deepening partnership, signalling a shared commitment to bolstering strategic cooperation in various domains.

 

Israel-Hamas Situation

In addition to discussing defence cooperation and the carrier strike group deployment, the four ministers addressed the deteriorating situation in Gaza. They unequivocally condemned terrorist attacks by Hamas and other militant groups against Israel. The ministers stressed the immediate release of hostages, ensuring the safety of civilians, adherence to international law by all parties involved, and the intensification of diplomatic efforts to prevent further escalation and instability in the broader region.

While recognizing Israel’s right to self-defence by international law, the ministers emphasized the importance of humanitarian access. They called for a humanitarian pause in the conflict and pledged collaboration on the evacuation of foreign nationals. The statement reiterated the ministers’ commitment to a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. It’s noteworthy that the statement doesn’t explicitly label Hamas or other groups as terrorist organizations but strongly condemns their actions and underscores the need for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

 

Global Combat Air Program

The collaboration between Japan and the United Kingdom in the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP) marks a significant milestone in their bilateral defence cooperation, aiming to develop a cutting-edge sixth-generation fighter jet by 2035. The fifth Japan-U.K. Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting, or “two-plus-two” talks, held on November 7 in Tokyo, underscored the commitment of both nations to deepen their strategic partnership in the realm of defence and security.

One of the key outcomes of the meeting was the focus on GCAP, with the ministers discussing and laying the foundation for the signing of a treaty that will formally establish a joint development organization. This organization will serve as the framework for collaborative efforts in designing, developing, and producing the next-generation fighter jet. The signing of this treaty is anticipated to take place before the end of 2023, demonstrating the swift and determined pace at which the two countries are moving forward in this joint venture.

The GCAP is not only a testament to the advanced technological capabilities of Japan and the United Kingdom but also signifies a broader commitment to staying at the forefront of military innovation. The sixth-generation fighter jet, expected to be deployed by 2035, will likely incorporate state-of-the-art technologies, including advancements in avionics, stealth capabilities, artificial intelligence, and networked warfare systems.

In addition to the focus on GCAP, the ministers explored other avenues for enhancing bilateral defence cooperation, including joint exercises. The expansion of joint exercises, such as the annual Japan-UK joint exercise Vigilant Isles 23, starting later this month, reflects a commitment to practical collaboration and interoperability between the armed forces of both nations.

Furthermore, the ministers discussed the signing of a treaty and the establishment of a joint development organization as part of the GCAP. Japan’s commitment to submitting a draft treaty to the regular Diet session next year signals a clear timeline for the commencement of development work on the fighter jet. This timeline aligns with the broader strategic goals of both nations to strengthen their defence capabilities and respond effectively to evolving security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.