Japan's new program to allow its self-defense forces to take on greater responsibility is being debated in Japan, but it is fully supported by the United States, and for good reason.
An increased Japanese defense posture greatly strengthens security and the prospects for peace in the Asia-Pacific region.
The U.S.-Japan alliance has long been the cornerstone of our defense policy for Asia, but Japan's role has been constrained by post-World War II constitutional requirements. This has meant, for example, that even if a United States Navy ship were under attack and a ship of Japan's navy, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, sailed nearby, the Japanese ship could not assist.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet recently adopted a resolution that allows such assistance, authorizing collective self-defense and aid to a friendly country under attack. Japan's parliament still must approve the change.
U.S. forces, particularly the Navy's Seventh Fleet headquartered in Yokosuka, will be prime beneficiaries of a new Japanese defense policy, this at a time when our special relationship with Japan grows even more crucial.
North Korea continues to rattle its nuclear-tipped missiles, and the defense of the Korean peninsula is a major assignment of the Seventh Fleet. China encroaches on its maritime neighbors. Congress squeezes the U.S. defense budget.
What most Americans don't realize is that Japan and the United States already share much of the same military burden. U.S. troops, planes and ships defend Japan, but Japan contributes significantly in support of our military, to the tune of $2 billion a year. Our Navy ships are constantly deployed throughout the region from rent-free Japanese ports and bases, and they are supported directly by skilled Japanese workers who help maintain bases and shipyard operations.
Without Japan's support, the United States simply would not be able to afford our Navy in the numbers and quality of ships that we enjoy today.
Now Japan will be able to do more, in its own defense, assisting its allies, and contributing to greater security and peace in Asia. Our officials are working on revisions to the 1997 military cooperation guidelines to produce "a more robust Alliance and greater shared responsibilities," according to a joint announcement by Japan and the U.S. last October.
With the historic change from restricted self-defense to the norm of other countries, Japan's defense forces will be able to assist an American Navy ship that comes under attack outside Japan's coastal waters. Japanese minesweepers will be able to enter regional waters to assist U.S. forces operating there. Japan's advanced technology can be integrated with the U.S. military and used to shoot down a ballistic missile directed at U.S. forces or ships, as well as Japanese population centers or defense forces.
Beyond military coordination, more defense responsibilities for Japan also mean a greater ability to form coalitions with neighboring countries that can deter aggression.
The United States, particularly our military and especially our Navy, is fortunate to have Japan as a partner in the Asia Pacific, where our alliance has stood for more than 50 years as a bulwark of stability and peace.
Japan's defense forces will now have the flexibility to realize the full potential of this robust alliance with the United States. Not only both our countries but the entire world will benefit, and prospects for enduring peace will be significantly increased.