Assessing Japan-India Relations: A Japanese Perspective

07 Mar, 2014    ·   4329

Tomoko Kiyota suggests that by focusing only on the China factor, Tokyo's expectations from the Japan-India security cooperation will be misunderstood

Since the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori visited New Delhi in August 2000, Japan-India relations have changed dramatically. While only four Japanese Prime Ministers visited India from 1957 till 1999, six Japanese Prime Ministers and over forty other ministers have visited India since 2000. Remarkably, beyond mere economic or cultural cooperation, the two governments have also enlarged bilateral activities in the domain of security. In October 2008, Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso signed the ‘Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation between Japan and India’. Tokyo and New Delhi also held the Subcabinet/Senior Officials-level 2 plus 2 dialogues in July 2010 and October 2012. In July 2012, the first Japan-India naval exercise ‘JIMEX 12’ was held in the Bay of Sagami, followed by the second ‘JIMEX’ in the Bay of Bengal in December 2013. Although there is no doubt that the rise of China is one of the push factors for this honeymoon between Tokyo and New Delhi, it should not be forgetten that this would have not happened without the reform of Japan’s security policy and the expansion its Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF)’ sphere of activities. By focusing only on the China factor, what Tokyo expects from Japan-India security cooperation will be misunderstood.

After World War II, Japan adhered to the Yoshida Doctrine, which relied upon the American security guarantee, permitting the country to have a minimal defense capability and to concentrate on economic development. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which bans Japan from using its military forces, has been a convinent excuse to avoid such burdens. The trigger for the drastic change in Japanese security policy was the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Minesweepers were dispatched to the Persian Gulf in April 1991; this was the first overseas operation of the SDF. Since then, the SDF has participated in over thirty peace-keeping and humanitarian missions and a number of bilateral/multilateral joint excercises. The security cooperation between New Delhi and Tokyo can be seen as a continuation of this activism and expansion of the SDF.

The same school of Japanese strategic thought seems to have promoted the activism of SDF and Japan-India security cooperation. According to Mike Mochizuki, there are four schools of strategic thought in Japan: political realist, unarmed neutralist, Japanese gaullist, and military realist. The differences between political realism and military realism are the motives and approaches to expand the SDF’s activities. The political realists are concerned with the political and diplomatic implications of Japan’s security policy, so they stress that Japan’s contribution to international security should be commensurate with its economic strength. On the other hand, the military realists promote a strategy that would address the most likely military threat and advocate closer military cooperation between Japan and the US. They differ from the Gaullists which are call for an independent policy from Washington.

Although the expansion of the SDF’s capability and sphere of activities is often seen as the rise of Japanese gaullism, the mainstream of Japanese politics is still political realism which is not comfortable with a rapid military rise. However, due to North Korean missile and nuclear developments, Chinese assertive actions and some other domestic issues such as the Tokyo Metro Sarin gas terror attack, military realism is gradually catching up with political realism today. It could be concluded that the military realists, such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, are promoting the SDF’s overseas activities and security cooperation with India. Political realists were reluctant to accept the opinions of military realists who insist that Japan should take more responsibility to contribute to international security, and hope that this will enhance the US-Japan alliance.

While military realists believe that Japan still needs the US to meet its military threats, they also find merit in the Japan-India security cooperation. First, it enhances the US-Japan alliance in a multi-layered way. Second, it provides Tokyo the ability to show Washington that it has other options. Third, bilateral exercises with India will help the SDF (especially the Maritime Self-Defense Force) officers to gather more expertise. Fourth, it will also help to increase Japanese diplomatic influence to dispatch the SDF abroad. Although military realists do not expect that the MSDF will fight with the Indian Navy against China in the near future, they tend to emphasise the achievements of the Japan-India security cooperation to cover the SDF’s limitations.

Japan cannot rely upon the US-Japan alliance forever, Indian strategists might say. However, the Japanese political mainstream is still populated by political realists who believe that the US-Japan alliance could be enough to counter military threats. The more China builds up its military capability and acts aggressively, the more military realists will rise. Although they will not abandon the alliance, military realists have been trying to adjust Japanese capability both militarily and legally in light of the evolving security environment. When the time comes, military realists will strengthen and utilise India-Japan strategic ties more flexibly.