DWP 2016: a Japanese perspective

I’d like to make some comments about the recent Australian Defence White Paper, comparing it with some strategic documents published by the Government of Japan (GoJ). I have great respect for the effort that’s been put into the DWP. It’s a comprehensive, well-balanced, fully costed and challenging defence plan, particularly when compared with previous Australian DWPs.

I’d especially like to praise the Australian government for funding the DWP’s key goals by increasing the defence budget to 2% of GDP by 2020–21, providing an unprecedented investment in Australia’s defence capability of approximately $195 billion over a 10-year period. The GoJ increased its defence budget in fiscal year 2013—the first time it has done so in 11 years. It has continued to increase each year since, and currently sits at around ¥5 trillion (AU$600 billion)—less than 1% of Japan’s GDP. Japan’s budgetary situation is severe, with social security costs increasing by ¥1 trillion (AU$120 billion) each year due to an aging and shrinking population and massive budget deficits. As such, it’s difficult for the GoJ to drastically increase Japan’s defense budget. And it’s not clear yet whether the Abe Government will raise consumption tax from 8% to 10%—a decision that appears to be on hold until the Upper House election in June or July 2016.

In December 2013, the GoJ issued a National Security Strategy (NSS), and the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG), which together are almost equivalent to the DWP. The NSS sets out three ‘National Interests’:

  1. Maintain the peace and security of Japan and ensure its survival
  2. Achieve prosperity for Japan and its people, thereby consolidating its peace and security
  3. Maintain and protect the international order based on universal values and rules

In contrast, the Australian government’s DWP sets out three ‘Strategic Defence Interests’:

  1. A secure, resilient Australia with secure northern approaches and proximate sea lines of communication
  2. A secure nearer region, encompassing maritime South East Asia and the South Pacific
  3. A stable Indo–Pacific region and a rule-based global order

The similarities between the two sets of interests shouldn’t be surprising. They reflect the values written in the Joint Communiqué of the sixth Japan–Australia 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations held late last year. The communiqué reaffirmed the existence of a ‘special strategic partnership’ between Australia and Japan ‘based on common values and strategic interests, including democracy, human rights, the rule of law, open markets and free trade’. Japan is a maritime state and largely dependent on international trade through sea routes, so securing maritime and air transits is essential for Japan, just as it is for Australia.

In terms of force structure, the GoJ’s organising principle for the Japanese Self Defense Forces (JSDF) is the ‘Dynamic Joint Defense Force’. The policy intends to make the JSDF more robust and capable of quickly implementing joint operations. So too in the DWP, the Australian government envisages a ‘more capable, agile and potent force structure’ for the ADF. Again, both governments understand each other’s positions, budgetary constraints and limitations.

Australia and Japan are both allies of the US; neither country has nuclear weapons or large scale power projection capabilities. So it’s natural for both countries to seek more effective and efficient conventional forces, as well as to move to strengthen their alliances with the US by supporting realignments of US Forces and enhancing interoperability in a trilateral setting.

As written in the DWP chapter 5 (5.59–5.63), Australia and Japan have already enhanced bilateral defence cooperation under the auspices of the 2007 Joint Declaration on Security. As for the 2015 Joint Communiqué, Ministers identified new initiatives to further enhance bilateral defence engagement. They also welcomed substantial progress in negotiating an agreement that would improve reciprocal administrative, policy and legal procedures to facilitate joint operations and exercises. Australia and Japan aren’t formal allies, but are now able to work together in a wider range of situations around the world. In an illustration of just how far our bilateral relationship has developed over the last decade, last month a submarine and two destroyers belonging to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces called into Sydney Harbour for joint exercises with the RAN.

The DWP’s Integrated Investment Program and the Defence Industry Policy Statement both offer great support for Australia’s defence industry and seek to improve predictability of government procurement processes. Establishing a Centre for Defence Industry Capability is a particularly good idea. We’ve seen similar developments as Japan has adjusted to the new security environment. In April 2014 the GoJ set out the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology to guide arms sales to other countries. And in June 2014, the GoJ also issued the Strategy for Defense Production and Technological Bases with the aim of establishing long-term government–industry partnerships, strengthening international competitiveness and ensuring consistency in the effective and efficient acquisition of defense equipment. While the GoJ is progressing bureaucratic reforms for acquisitions and logistics, Australia’s efforts in that area seem to go a bit further than Japan’s. The net result is a better alignment of industry and procurement policy. Australia and Japan have signed agreements on cooperation in defence science and technology and information sharing, so it’s most likely that we’ll find more opportunities to cooperate in this area.

Japan and Australia are close partners who share similar values and interests. I believe that the degree of strategic alignment that’s evident between the DWP and the equivalent documents released by the GoJ indicates that the tightening of our security and defence relations is likely to continue apace as we face regional challenges together.