The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research


The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research

Japan and NATO as Global Partners

February 3, 2011

The thirty-seventh Tokyo Foundation Forum—held as part of a two-day seminar co-hosted with the German Marshal Fund of the United States—explored new forms of cooperation between Japan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which in November 2010 announced a new Strategic Concept outlining fresh approaches to extending partnerships with countries around the globe.

Attending the forum, held at the Tokyo Foundation on December 16, were Masafumi Ishii (Foreign Policy Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Gilles Vander Ghinst (NATO Headquarters), Michito Tsuruoka (National Institute for Defense Studies), Phillip Stephens ( Financial Times ), and Craig Kennedy (GMF president). The forum was moderated by Policy Research Director and Senior Fellow Tsuneo Watanabe of the Tokyo Foundation.

Hideki Kato (President, Tokyo Foundation)

For many of us in Japan, the North Atlantic seems very far away. There is not as much exchange as with countries in the Pacific region. A month ago, NATO held a summit where a new Strategic Concept was announced outlining new approaches to many global issues, including terrorism, the environment, infectious diseases, and initiatives with new partners, including Japan.

Japan, too, must think about the role it plays in the world. Its gross domestic product used to be the second largest in the world, but it is now being overtaken by China. We must think about new roles for the country. We cannot continue to bask in our former glory, and for this NATO’s ideas are very relevant.

After all, the biggest member of NATO is the United States, who is Japan’s most important partner, so in that sense, NATO is not such a distant entity. This forum is being held in conjunction with the German Marshal Fund of the United States to give us an opportunity to explore new forms of cooperation with the trans-Atlantic community.

Masafumi Ishii


As Mr. Kato just mentioned, Japan’s role in the world is changing. It used to account for 15% of global GDP, but today the figure is 8.5%. Similarly, it used to contribute 20% of the UN budget, but now it’s 12%. Germany may soon become a bigger donor.

How should Japan relate to the world in this context? This is a very timely topic. NATO’s new Strategic Concept calls for expanded partnerships with non-NATO countries, such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Japan, too, is releasing its new National Defense Program Guidelines tomorrow, which will call for closer networks with likeminded countries, such as South Korea, Australia, India, and Indonesia. NATO is the biggest group with which we share core values.

Before NATO drafted its new concept, there was an exchange of views with Japanese officials. This sort of exchange is likely to continue. In the future, we should discuss three main issues, namely, Russia, China, and Afghanistan, or rather post-Afghanistan issues like antiterrorism and vulnerable states.

Russia is a big country, both in Asia and Europe. Russia-Europe dialogue has always had an impact on Russia-Asia relations, a good example being missile defense. Another example is that if missiles are removed from Europe but are relocated to Asia, this doesn’t contribute to security in Asia.

China is a rising power, and we must find ways to achieve peace and prosperity with China. This is not just an Asian problem but also a European one. Any major developments in relations between China and Europe will obviously have an impact on Japan’s relations with China.

As for post-Afghanistan concerns, Paragraph 20 of the new Strategic Concept states that NATO will become engaged in crisis-prevention and post-conflict stabilization activities when such crises pose a direct threat to the alliance. If we are successful in Afghanistan in our fight against terrorists, they may move to other vulnerable states, such as Sudan. This must be prevented before the situation becomes too complicated. Prevention is an area to which Japan can make a contribution.

Michito Tsuruoka


Geographically speaking, Japan and NATO seem very distant. It would appear unlikely that either will come to the aid of the other if one should become involved in a conflict. So why do we need to cooperate and work together? Security issues that Japan faces now are mostly those that must be dealt with before conflict actually happens, and this is a concern that we share with NATO.

Japan may not make a direct contribution to NATO, but it’s nonetheless a good framework that Japan can utilize. From Japan’s perspective, NATO is potentially important for several reasons: as a political partner with whom we share fundamental values, as an operational partner as an extension of Japan-US cooperation, and as a multilateral “school.”

Although operational cooperation with NATO would seem almost impossible for Japan, there are some areas of cooperation that are possible even under present circumstances, including civilian and police cooperation. The possibility of dispatching the Self-Defense Forces to Afghanistan is often mentioned. If that happens, Japan would surely need NATO’s help in terms of security information and extremist support. Since Japan cannot meet all global security challenges on its own, it needs to work with likeminded partners.

NATO has also been addressing security issues on a multilateral basis for decades and has accumulated a wealth of expertise about interoperability and multilateral planning. Japan can learn a lot from NATO about multilateral planning and operations.

One point I would add to Mr. Ishii’s points about areas of cooperation is deterrence. From the viewpoint of maintaining extended (nuclear) deterrence, dialogue with NATO is going to become more important. The role of nuclear weapons and its links with missile defense will have to be discussed broadly among the US and its allies both in Europe and in Asia. NATO is about to begin a new deterrence posture review. It’s time we share our mutual wisdom, rather than thinking separately.

Gilles Vander Ghinst


I work in the global partnership section at NATO Headquarters, and one country we work with is Japan. Our new Strategic Concept is built on three main ideas. One is that we are no longer a Cold War organization and that we need new concepts to define our role. In 1999, we had 16 member states; now we have 12 more. We’ve launched two major operations outside our territory, in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

The new concept reflects a changing security environment. Risks from conventional threats are low, but we see new security challenges in areas like nuclear proliferation, energy security, and cyber security. These new threats are of a global nature and ignore traditional boundaries. Instability can therefore originate from beyond NATO’s borders.

We want to dispel some misunderstandings about our role. We’re not going global, we’re not competing with the UN and we’re not interested in becoming a global policeman. In a world of global threats, you simply need global dialogue and solutions, working with partners like Japan.

Our second mission is related to crisis management at all stages, including humanitarian crises. A military solution will not always work, such as in Afghanistan, so we’ll be revising procedures with our partners, preventing crises where possible.

The third mission is upgrading international security. Over the last decade, cooperation with Japan has expanded tremendously. Japan has become de facto partner, although we don’t have any formal arrangement. We have political dialogue, and in fact Mr. Ishii was recently at NATO Headquarters to present views. We’re cooperating on a number of fronts, undertaking joint work programs and joint training, such as for disaster relief. We’re adjusting the strategic concept to meet the reality, rather than practicing what our concept dictates.

Phillip Stephens


I’m a newspaper columnist, not an expert, so my comments will try to provide a bit of context on the reasons why partnerships are being advanced between Japan and NATO, and also with the EU.

There are certain obvious reasons. For instance, the world has speeded up. We’re not talking about potential upheavals in the safely distant future, in 2020, 2030, or 2040, but those that are occurring now. We need new systems to deal with them in an increasingly multipolar—although not necessarily multilateral—world. We’re still operating under the post-1945 system, in which Japan is classified as being in the West. This system will not be able to accommodate the emerging states.

Many of the rising states in Asia have tended to accumulate power before they acquire a sense of responsibility. They’re not sure what rules to play by, and so we’re in a period of transition. History shows this can be very dangerous, as this is when wars often happen. So the binding thread of security policy must be one of partnership and cooperation.

The emerging new order must embrace new players, not just China but also India, Brazil, and Indonesia. This will create a certain amount of competition in the international system, which shouldn’t be contained but channeled into positive directions. We mustn’t be narrowly concerned about trans-Atlantic interests, phrasing the situation in terms of “West versus the rest” or “democracy versus autocracy.” This is the language of a zero-sum game. A new order should be designed so as to invite the rising powers into the international system as responsible stakeholders, encouraging a sense of inclusiveness. This doesn’t mean we’re abandoning our values or institutions. We should aim to advance a system of multilateralism alongside the emerging multipolarity.

What we need to keep in mind that the United States remains the lynchpin. There has been much discussion about America’s role in the face of the WikiLeaks cables. They have been a source of embarrassment, but personally, I think the United States comes out rather well, excluding a few cables, as they illustrate a government that is doing all it can to protect and safeguard the global commons.

NATO is coming to recognize is the indivisibility of security. There are linkages everywhere, such as in space and cyberspace. Europeans don’t pay much attention to North Korea, but they do pay attention to Iran, and there’s a big connection between these two developments. A partnership between NATO and Japan is vital to ensuring that the transition to the new system is smooth.

I see two major concerns with regard to building such a system. The first is that the rising states won’t recognize their responsibilities, and the second is that Europe, Japan, and other countries will fall into a state of complacency. Seen from the outside, perhaps it would be more productive if Japan spent more energy in response to the changing global environment than in changing prime ministers.

Craig Kennedy


What is a trans-Atlantic organization like the GMF doing in Tokyo? The answer is that it’s a tremendous opportunity for connecting, for working together on global challenges. The other speakers have already cited all the major reasons, so I’ll just add a few things.

Why has it been so hard to create a tighter connection between Japan and NATO, or between Japan and the EU?

There are a number of barriers, the first being on Japan’s side. The feeling among both citizens and politicians in this country is that, why do we need more when we already have a security alliance with the US? Isn’t it complicated enough already? Why should we get entangled in a new alliance with more decisions and more demands?

To such questions, I would say that engagement with Europe can enhance capabilities, boost political influence, and add legitimacy in the international arena. Europeans have a perspective on the world that is compatible with the Japanese view. Reaching out to Europe—to NATO as a whole or bilaterally to individual states—can provide a kind of insurance, as Washington goes through changes in priorities and interests.

The second barrier is on the European side. Europe also wonders why it should get involved in Asia when it’s already facing so many economic and security challenges at home. Also, it doesn’t have a unified sense of what it wants to accomplish in this part of the world, especially with regard to China. We will have to develop a deeper sense of collaboration and cooperation.

The third barrier is in the United States, which thinks that a bigger European role in Japan would only complicate the situation. The US is now rebalancing its priorities, focusing more on Asia and less on Europe and EU institutions.

The fourth challenge is that neither Russia nor China would welcome greater cooperation between NATO and Japan and other Asian countries. So we need ways to reassure them, building trust and demonstrating that we are not a threat.

There’s a fifth, technical barrier in that there is no easy platform right now to which Japan can hook into in order to coordinate its efforts with NATO on such common issues as development aid and cyber threats.

We hope to continue dialogue with Japan, for we see tremendous potential for closer partnerships between the trans-Atlantic community and Japan. But before we become too enthusiastic, we must recognize that there are also challenges to be overcome.

Questions from the Floor

QUESTION: Russia is currently not a member of NATO. Should Russia join, Japan would need a peace treaty with Russia to engage with NATO. Has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs given any thought to asking NATO to make a resolution of the Northern Territories issue and a peace treaty a condition to membership?

ISHII: NATO and Russia will not grow close so easily. This is a problem that Japan must work out bilaterally, rather than seeking help from NATO.

QUESTION: Pakistan seems to hold the key in addressing issues in Afghanistan. How does Pakistan fit into NATO’s global strategy?

VANDER GHINST : In our dialogue with Pakistani authorities, we’ve not always seen eye to eye, but we must understand their position. We need to forge political dialogue and better explain our policies but must also be frank on issues on which we disagree. Pakistan is a democracy and is courageously achieving some success in improving the security situation, but we need to better explain our position, what we’re doing and what we’re not doing.

ISHII: It is important to consider the situation in a larger context, but we also need to treat Pakistan separately. It has nuclear weapons, for instance, so it is linked with the issue of proliferation. Pakistan is an important factor in Afghanistan’s stability, but the country is important on its own terms as well.

QUESTION: NATO’s aims seem to be to forge partnerships so as to encircle China and Russia.

VANDER GHINST : No. This is not true. We are seeking partnerships, not alliances. We are not advancing a containment policy against China, Russia, or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

ISHII: Alliances are important, but rather than having just bilateral frameworks, we also want to build networks. We also want to coexist with China and India. We’re not ruling out anybody; we’re ready to engage with China anytime. The East Asian Summit is a good example, as it includes the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

WATANABE: This is what might be called a good “provocative question.” The important thing to keep in mind is that we’re no longer operating under the old thinking, which is based on a balance of power, but are seeking a new approach. A containment policy is no longer a viable option. This was the focus of our discussion today.

QUESTION: A comment was made that NATO is no longer a Cold War organization, but some people are not so sure. How do the newer member states in Eastern Europe feel about extending cooperation with Russia? NATO confirmed that it will retain nuclear weapons as long as they exist, so in that sense, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. What place with strategic and tactic nuclear weapons play in your strategy over the next 10 years?

VANDER GHINST : There was considerable disagreement within NATO about cooperation with Russia, particularly with regard to missile defense. I want to emphasize that NATO seeks a nuclear free world. All states are part of the nonproliferation regime.

STEPHENS: When you look at European history, when people start blaming the other in border and other disputes that come up, it ends up being a zero-sum game, which is a very dangerous situation. So that’s a good reason to have a good framework for political cooperation.

    • Tokyo Foundation
    • Tokyo Foundation

Featured Content




Click on the link below to contact an expert or submit a question.