NATO Parliamentarians discuss deepening Japan-NATO cooperation, implications of Russia’s war against Ukraine for East Asian security

30 September 2022

Photos of the visit

A delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly visited Japan from 19 to 23 September to review the deepening cooperation between the Alliance and Japan, particularly in the realm of Science and Technology (S&T), as well as Japan’s broader security and defence priorities.    
During the week-long programme, the Assembly’s Science and Technology Committee (STC) met with senior Japanese officials and visited several research centres to discuss a broad range of technological, security, economic as well as environmental issues. The delegation consisted of 15 national lawmakers from 13 NATO member countries and was led by Chairperson of the STC, Kevan Jones (United Kingdom). Key issues raised during the visit included security challenges in East Asia, evolving Japan-NATO relations, as well as disruptive technologies and the security implications of climate change.  

Kenji Yamada, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, and other host country officials stressed the need for a free and open Indo-Pacific. The security situation around Japan has become increasingly severe and, unlike in Europe, there is no regional cooperation framework in the security realm. The changes in the balance of power are accelerating and more complex, thereby increasing uncertainty over the existing order. This includes, among others, the rapid expansion of new domains like space and cyberspace for contemporary warfare, the delegation learned. Japan has therefore been adjusting the priorities for the development of its military capabilities, which put increasing emphasis on the build-up of multi-domain defence forces, according to senior officials from the Ministry of Defence (MoD).  

Japan, whose security policy is exclusively defence-oriented, is currently drawing up a new National Security Strategy and discussing a considerable increase in defence spending. In this context Japan is examining options to develop counterstrike capabilities. Japan plans to bolster its stand-off defence capabilities, unmanned equipment and cross-domain capabilities. Still, Japan’s defence policy remains based on three pillars: the country’s own defence architecture, the Japan-US Alliance and its security cooperation with like-minded partners.  

Japanese interlocutors, including Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada, noted that recent events had demonstrated that “the security of Europe and North-East Asia is inseparable” as State Minister for Foreign Affairs Yamada said. Host country officials noted that Prime Minister Kishida participated in the recent NATO Summit in Madrid and repeatedly stressed that Japan is ready to strengthen cooperation with NATO. Underscoring this point, the delegation learned that the Japanese government is considering upgrading its representation at NATO headquarters to an independent body with its own ambassador. Moreover, two ships of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) recently held a joint exercise with NATO in the Mediterranean Sea. Masaki Ikegami, Deputy Director-General, European Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and members of the delegation welcomed the intention of the renewal of Japan’s Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme (IPCP) which outlines the main guidelines for Japan-NATO cooperation. Ministry officials also welcomed a more visible NATO presence in the region. This view was echoed in briefings the delegation received by United States Forces Japan (USFJ) during the visit to Yokota Air Base. 

Japan also seeks closer cooperation in the area of S&T, the delegation learned. “We want to expand our activities with NATO”, underlined Dr. Shigenori Mishima, Vice-Commissioner and Chief Technology Officer at the Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA). He emphasised that the conversion of civilian technologies to military use could significantly change the future of warfighting. He noted that technological differences can determine victory or defeat in battle and that warfighting innovation has been accelerated due to the rapid progress in S&T. It is therefore necessary to invest in and protect technologies that are important for the future defence of Japan. 

The implications of Russia’s war against Ukraine for Japan and security in East Asia also featured on the agenda of the visit. Host country interlocutors denounced Russia’s attempt to change the status quo by force and stressed that “Russia’s aggression has shaken the very foundations of the international order”. Whether or not a Russian success in Ukraine could encourage the PRC leadership to seriously consider an invasion of Taiwan was also discussed in meetings with independent experts. Participants agreed that it is important to act together and coordinate policies and demonstrate strength as a way to prevent any aggression in Asia. 

The PRC is rapidly improving its military capabilities, including its naval and air forces. The PRC is also investing heavily in new domains like space, cyberspace and electronic warfare. Japan is very concerned about Beijing’s increasingly assertive language and provocative actions, the delegation learned. MoD officials noted that the PRC has not explicitly renounced the use of force to take control of Taiwan and that the military balance between the PRC and Taiwan has become advantageous for the former. MoD representatives argued that peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is important for the stability of the international community. It is therefore necessary to pay close attention to the situation in the region.  

A large scale Russia's military exercise "Vostok 2022", which China joined and took place in the Far East shortly before the visit, underlines these tensions. Stronger military cooperation between the PRC and Russia in North-East Asia not only has a direct impact on Japan but may also have strategic effects on the United States and Europe and should be monitored with concern, the delegation heard.  

Briefers at the MoFA and MoD underlined that North Korea remains a grave and imminent threat to Japan’s security and undermines the stability of the region. It has conducted six nuclear tests and continues to develop ballistic missiles at an extremely rapid pace. Japanese speakers considered it possible that North Korea will engage in further provocative actions.   

Emerging and Disruptive Technologies (EDT) like AI, quantum computing, big data and biotechnology “are fundamentally changing the current state of security worldwide”, according to Dr. Hirokazu Hokazono, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Future Engineering. The timeliness of the visit was underscored by the fact that the Japanese government was planning to identify strategically indispensable EDTs for Japan’s national security as well as the economic growth and prosperity by the end of September in 2022. Japanese interlocutors, including Dr Hokazono and Dr Mishima, stressed the importance of Japan cooperating with allied or like-minded countries which share common values and respect the rule of law in developing and protecting strategically important technologies as well as in the rulemaking for an appropriate international framework.   

Among the highlights of the visit was the meeting with Mr Hiroyuki Hosoda, Speaker of the House of Representatives and particularly the intensive exchange with Members of the Diet Members’ Council for Comprehensive Security (DMCCS) on a wide range of political, security, economic as well as environmental issues. The DMCCS effectively serves as the Japanese delegation to the NATO PA. Japan has been a NATO PA partner since 1982 and holds the status of parliamentary observer. The Japanese Diet’s members and staff participate regularly in Assembly meetings.  

The delegation also visited the Naval Systems Research Center which focuses on the development of Unmanned Maritime Vehicles and the enhancement of stealth capabilities of submarines, among other things. Presentations at Toshiba’s Corporate Research and Development Center, which is on the forefront of developing cutting edge technologies, provided the delegation with valuable insights into the latest advances in quantum technology, next generation power devices and AI.   

The programme kicked off with a set of briefings hosted by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Office in Tokyo which provided the delegation with a general overview of the security landscape of the region.  

Supply chain challenges and solutions were discussed during visits to APM Terminals and Narita International airport. The airport is crucial for the exportation of Japanese semiconductors and semiconductor machinery while APM Terminals plays an important role for seaborne trade. Ninety-nine per cent of Japanese imports reach the country by sea, according to Sakura Kuma, CEO of APM Terminals. Delegates also raised the question if and how climate change impacts future designs and operations of the ports. 

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