Pranamita Baruah - 1/14/2010

It is often difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between purely bilateral activities from the myriad multilateral activities in which both Australia and Japan are engaged, and particularly from collaborative activities undertaken as part of their security alliance arrangements with the US. Still, these arrangements can offer an insight into the framework for bilateral connection between Tokyo and Canberra.

Historically speaking, security cooperation between Australia and Japan started back in mid-1970s with the establishment of formal liaison for intelligence sharing between the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) and the Japanese Cabinet Research Office (CRO or Naicho). Soon, effective contact and exchange arrangements between the Australian Joint Intelligence Organization (JIO) and Japan Defence Agency (JDA) were established. By 1989, the arrangement between JIO and JDA was substantially expanded to incorporate the intelligence directorates of the Japanese Self Defence Force (SDF) as well. At present, the Japanese and Australian signals intelligence (SIGINT) are involved in the most extensive and productive cooperative intelligence collection activities, although most of the aspects of such activities are managed by the US and very little direct collaboration can be witnessed between Tokyo and Canberra.

The bilateral security dialogue between Australia and Japan was initiated in March 1990. Australia became the second country, after the US, with which Japan engages in regular bilateral security dialogues. In 1996, the Japanese side agreed to the institution of annual political-military and military-military consultations. The first of this series of talks was held in Tokyo in February 1996.

Over the years, the SDF and the Australian military had several opportunities for unit-level interaction in security cooperation. For example, the UNPKO in Cambodia in 1992, which marked the SDF’s first involvement in such an operation, was commanded by Lt. Gen. John Sanderson of the Australian army. The SDF also worked with the Australian army during its deployment in East Timor (February 2002- June 2005) and later on in Iraq. So far, the involvement of both the states in high-level, working-level, and unit-to–unit exchange has been based on the Australia-Japan Creative Partnership announced in May 2002 Summit, and on a memorandum for promoting defence exchange signed in September 2003 by the then Minister of State for Defence Shigeru Ishiba and Australian counterpart Robert Hill.

The closest defence cooperation between Japan and Australia is unsurprisingly in the maritime sector. The defence forces of both the states participate regularly in the US Navy’s Ocean Surveillance Information System (OSIS), a world-wide network of airborne maritime surveillance platforms. The SIGNIT stations of theirs also contribute to the global OSIS high-frequency direction finding (HF DF) system, although through their respective arrangements with the US Navy. Over the years, active cooperation between Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces (MSDF) elements has remained fairly modest. In early 1990s, minor combined exercises, called PASSEXs (‘passage exercises’), were conducted. In 1997, however, comined exercise activities were expanded further by including search and rescue exercises. Recently, more substantive combined exercising has occurred under the auspices of the US-led RIMPAC (‘rim of the Pacific’) series of exercises, which are the largest, best-planned and most sophisticated joint exercises in which the RAN and JMSDF participate, together with US and South Korean Navy elements.

Another significant area of bilateral cooperation is space. Following its agreement with the Australian government in October 2001, Japan’s National Space Development Agency (NASDA) established the satellite ground station at Landsdale in Perth. The primary role of the station is to support the insertion of the satellites into the correct orbital position and their maintenance at the desired altitude through their operational lifetimes.

In early 1990s, both Japan and Australia became leading proponents of institutionalized multilateral security cooperation mechanisms. As part of such efforts, the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) emerged as the premier second track organization in the region. The Australian and Japanese CSCAP committees cooperated closely (along with the committees in Canada and Indonesia) in the sponsorship and organization of a CSCAP General Conference in Jakarta in December 2003, which provided a venue for discussion (with other foreign ministers and ministry officials) of practical measures to enhance regional cooperation on the issue of counter-terrorism.

The RAN and the MSDF also cooperate in regional multilateral forums dealing with naval and other maritime matters. Both have been prominent participants in the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS), a biennial conference which brings together representatives of the ASEAN states, the US, Japan, South Korea, China, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.

The March 2007 Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation opened a new horizon in Japan’s security strategy, as it was the first time in the post war history that Japan jointly issued a bilateral statement on security with a nation other than the US. To many, it was the beginning of transformation of the bilateral Japan-US and Japan-Australia mutual security arrangements into a trilateral security network oramore formal Japan-US-Australia Security triangle. The new declaration pledges cooperation in such areas as law enforcement on combating transnational crime, border security, counterterrorism, disarmament and counter-proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery, peace operations, exchange of strategic assessments and related information, maritime and aviation security, disaster relief operations, and planning for pandemics and other contingencies. With the inclusion of international peace cooperation in the SDF’s list of primary missions in 2007, Japan is expected to be able to participate in international peace cooperation activities more actively along with Australia. In the meantime, the war on terror, embracing many fronts, has opened up a wide expanse of new areas for cooperation, ranging from law enforcement measures to air and marine security practices to joint participation in US-led ‘coalitions of the willing’ and post-war reconstruction operations. The decisions by Australia and Japan in December 2003 to participate in US ballistic missile defence (BMD) programs also raise collaborative possibilities. The Japan-Australia relationship also has the potential to develop into a variety of global-level partnership, as was the case during Japan’s involvement in Iraq. Given these possibilities, both the states need to build and reinforce that platform for cooperation by continuing to discuss their common strategic interests through bilateral talks and other channels.

The expanded MoU on defence cooperation signed between Japan and Australia in December 2008 mentions further cooperation in counterterrorism, disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping and maritime security, cooperation in the fields of science and technology, emphasis on multilateral and trilateral defence cooperation with the US etc.

Thus, from modest beginnings earlier in the decade, the Japan-Australia security relationship is now progressing on a number of fronts. The depth of the relationship however is to be determined by the breadth of engagement that both the states actively pursue. Exchanges, dialogues and cooperation will gradually build personal links between respective political leaders, foreign affairs and defence organizations. Beyond this, both will need to work out what they want from their bilateral security relationship (and equally what they want from their joint strategic relationship through the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue with the US). This cannot be decided overnight. Rather both the states will need to move forward concurrent with the emergence of other relationships and institutions in Asia. Still, one of the most valuable things that the security relationship can offer is that it will give the concerned states the opportunity to talk through and further develop their thinking on how Asian security affairs can develop constructively and peacefully.