Japan’s Deepening Ties With NATO: A Shift In Strategic Objectives In The Indo-Pacific – OpEd


Japan is one of the most significant countries in East Asia and a powerful ally of the United States in the Indo-Pacific region. With the changing global scenario and new realities of the Russia-Ukraine war, there has been a greater strategic alignment between NATO and Japan.

In addition to this, excluding the European Union from the discussion, Japan is not a member of NATO. As a result, it should not come as a surprise that the NATO summits serve as a bridge between Japan and NATO members, primarily the US, to fulfill Japan’s strategic objectives for the Indo-Pacific region.

Fumio Kishida made history by being the first Japanese Prime Minister to attend the 2022 summit. In 2023, on the 11th and 12th of July, he is again scheduled to attend the NATO summit. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is attending the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, with three agendas that outline Japan’s new Indo-Pacific strategic objectives. First, Japan is anticipated to increase its support for Ukraine and vigorously promote its relations with China, Russia, and North Korea.

The inauguration of a new NATO facility in Tokyo coincides with China’s expanding assertiveness in the South China Sea. Finally, the signature of a new collaboration agreement with the world’s strongest military alliance Since the beginning of the 2010s, Japan and the leaders of South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand have been members of NATO’s “global partners” group and are colloquially known as the Asia-Pacific Four.

Additionally, these nations would develop closer ties with the trans-Atlantic alliance. Japan is seeking strategic gains by joining the Individually Tailored Partnership Program at this NATO summit. The intended transition to the new ITPP of NATO appears to be considerably further along. At the summit in Vilnius, it is probable that each of the four nations will ratify their respective new partnerships. However, it remains unclear what the ITPPs will entail for each of the Asia-Pacific countries.

In general, however, these engagement frameworks are founded on a partner’s particular talents, requirements, and interests, which would provide opportunities to develop interoperability with NATO forces and a platform for collaborating and communicating information on a variety of security challenges. In addition, these collaboration frameworks provide a foundation for developing NATO integration. Bringing the ITPPs to Japan will undoubtedly be a significant step for Kishida’s leadership in the Indo-Pacific, but it is primarily a bureaucratic innovation.

Japan has already established itself as a participant in the Indo-Pacific region by taking part in various cyber, air, and naval exercises with NATO. These exercises were conducted with the goal of establishing Japan as a player in the region. In addition, Japan plans to participate often as an observer in the North Atlantic Council, which is the major political decision-making body of the alliance, as well as in the meetings of the ally’s military leaders in the near future. In the past, Japan has participated in NATO drills in cyberspace, the air, and the sea. Japan considers greater cooperation with NATO a way of increasing its security engagement with the organization’s members. It was conducted as a means of achieving Japan’s desire for deeper collaboration to accomplish this goal.

The objective of Japan’s efforts is to strengthen deterrence by consolidating strategic partnerships and enhancing interoperability, all while concurrently working to build bridges between allies of the United States in the trans-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions. Building bridges between the United States’ relationships in both areas may be one way to achieve this goal. At the same time, Tokyo is working to engage as many allies as it can in an effort to prevent itself from being caught in a precarious position between Washington and Beijing. It is anticipated that the goals of Japan’s ITPP will include enabling the interchange of information, increasing resilience against common dangers, and solving challenges in the internet, outer space, and maritime domains.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Kishida, Japan is anticipated to underline the necessity of Japan-NATO collaboration for protecting the Indo-Pacific region. By doing so, Kishida is serving to further cement Tokyo’s own security agenda. In addition, Japan is emphasizing the specific regional security threats posed, for example, by China with regard to maritime security and peace across the Taiwan Strait. In addition to this, it is anticipated that Japan will emphasize the specific regional security concerns posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. Japan is further expected to work toward linking expanding security frameworks such as “the Quad” and multilateral groups with NATO.

In the meantime, Kishida will try to make the case for establishing a liaison office in Tokyo, which would be the alliance’s first location in Asia. It is anticipated that Kishida will place a high priority on bolstering assistance for Ukraine as another item on his agenda. Not only has Japan’s response to the war in Ukraine been prompt, but it has also been thorough. Tokyo has provided Kyiv with a mixture of humanitarian, financial, and nonlethal military assistance in the form of surveillance drones, bulletproof vests, helmets, transport vehicles, tents, and medical supplies. Because of laws that practically forbid arms exports, Japan has not provided any weapons, in contrast to the United States and a large number of European nations.

However, there is a change in the wind direction in Tokyo as the government coalition works toward a consensus on how to amend the standards for the export of lethal arms. As of March 2023, the overall volume of aid pledged, which includes financial support, had reached $7.1 billion, making Japan one of the largest providers to Ukraine. The assistance Japan provided to Ukraine also had a significant effect on NATO. Japanese representatives continue to attend the meetings of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which NATO chairs, despite the fact that Japan has not provided Ukraine with any lethal weapons.

In addition, Japan has contributed $30 million to the trust fund that NATO has established for Ukraine. This money will be used to support the Ukrainian military with non-lethal equipment and resources. Japan has revised both its evaluation of Russia and its approach to dealing with it as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in violation of international law and without provocation. As a result of this, NATO and Japan now have a more similar perspective towards Russia, which has led to a deeper level of engagement between the two organizations. Russia’s role in the relationship between NATO and Japan has shifted from one that complicated the relationship to one that now helps to promote it.

Also, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Kishida considered the invasion to be an immediate threat to Japan.
But Kishida has faced multiple challenges, including from European allies. Japan’s plan to open a NATO liaison office in Tokyo has faced the opposition of French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron believes that NATO should maintain its primary emphasis in Europe. It is anticipated that other member states will argue whether the office is essential for the implementation of Individually Tailored Partnership Programs. Also, Japan is trying to win over France, which has the power to reject the proposal. In the matter of opening a new office in Japan, France may be more amenable to the idea if it can be shown that the creation of a small NATO office in Tokyo would directly contribute to the coordination of ITPP with local partners from Europe.

In concluding remarks, it can be added that Japan is keeping a careful eye on the conflict in Ukraine and the reaction of the international community. The language of the government of Kishida is now firmly entrenched as opposing any change of the status quo by force anywhere in the world. Japan fears that what is happening in Ukraine today may occur in East Asia tomorrow. The continued development of China as well as the growing strategic cooperation between Russia, North Korea, and China have pushed this sense of urgency, which was still nonexistent in 2014. So, with enhanced partnership with NATO members, Japan is securing its interests through strategic partnership and ensuring its powerful position in the Indo-Pacific region.

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Associate at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). She is a research analyst in security studies. She obtained her Master's and Bachelor's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *