The ANZUS rhymes of Australia’s quasi-alliance with Japan
31 Oct 2022|

Australia’s quasi-alliance with Japan becomes less quasi and more alliance.

The Australia–Japan partnership now uses language sourced from the 70-year-old ANZUS treaty, as the shared alliance with the US is emphasised.

In Perth on 22 October, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Australian PM Anthony Albanese signed a joint declaration on security cooperation (JDSC).

Albanese said the ‘landmark declaration sends a strong signal to the region of our strategic alignment’. Kishida said the partnership had ‘risen to a new and higher level’, responding to ‘the increasingly harsh strategic environment’.

Quasi-alliance wording drafted by the previous Liberal–National government for this second iteration of the declaration—JDSC 2.0—becomes a Labor government achievement. In its first version 15 years ago, the alliance potential of JDSC 1.0 was a point of Labor–Liberal difference.

Today the quasi-alliance is part of Canberra’s strategic consensus.

In expressing the latest formal step, Australia sought ANZUS-treaty rhymes. Comparing key sentences from the two documents is illuminating.

ANZUS Article III: ‘The Parties will consult together whenever in the opinion of any of them the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened in the Pacific.’

Article 6 of the new JDSC has this echo: ‘We will consult each other on contingencies that may affect our sovereignty and regional security interests, and consider measures in response.’

This is ‘new territory’ for Japan, which does not have such a security arrangement with any other country apart from the US, as the Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith reports: ‘Sources in Tokyo close to the process say it was the former Morrison government that originally proposed the ANZUS-style provision, which would demonstrate a greater alignment of strategic intent to stand up to China.’

Savour the irony that ANZUS was a US treaty promise to Australia and New Zealand that they’d never again have to worry about Japan as a military power. Today’s worry is how much more power Japan can offer.

In the ANZUS treaty, the ‘consult’ provision is followed by an article declaring that if any party is attacked, each ‘would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes’.

The ‘no war’ article in Japan’s constitution is a political minefield, so the new declaration doesn’t go near that language. The quasi-alliance has to evolve as Japan broadens and reinterprets the meaning of ‘self-defence’.

The military basis for the new JDSC is the Japan–Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement, signed on 6 January by Kishida and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, covering reciprocal access and cooperation between Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the Australian Defence Force.

Negotiations covering training, base access, logistics and security protocols began in 2014, ASPI senior fellow Thomas Wilkins noted, as Japan ventured beyond its exclusive reliance on the US as a military partner. The reciprocal access agreement is another piece in the jigsaw of what Wilkins calls ‘the second most important security relationship for both Canberra and Tokyo’.

The shift in Japan’s military posture has produced a more muscular version of the JDSC, prepared to talk about war as well as the problems of peace.

Article 7 of the new declaration grounds the approach to common danger in the trilateral and the Japan–Australia leg of the alliances with the US:

Our bilateral partnership also reinforces our respective alliances with the United States that serve as critical pillars for our security, as well as for peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific. Deepening trilateral cooperation with the United States is critical to enhancing our strategic alignment, policy coordination, interoperability and joint capability.

The Perth statement of JDSC 2.0 updates the original signed in Tokyo in March 2007 by Shinzo Abe and John Howard, affirming a ‘strategic partnership’. Back then, Labor leader Kevin Rudd said there should be no move beyond JDSC 1.0 towards a full defence pact with Japan, warning: ‘To do so at this stage may unnecessarily tie our security interests to the vicissitudes of an unknown security policy future in northeast Asia.’

The Labor caution about JDSC 1.0 at its creation was the same sentiment that helped sink Quad 1.0 when Labor won office in 2007. Back then, the Rudd government had high hopes for China and doubts about a strategic bet on Japan or India.

The quasi-alliance with Japan has grown for the same reason that the Quad was reborn in 2017. Quad 2.0 arrived, Rudd later commented, because Chinese President Xi Jinping had ‘fundamentally altered the landscape’ in the way he sought to project Chinese power. Strategic circumstances, he said, had ‘changed profoundly’.

Kishida’s reference to the ‘harsh strategic environment’ explains much about why he and Albanese have met four times since Labor won office in May: the Quad summit in Tokyo; the NATO summit in Madrid (attended by Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea); the Tokyo funeral for Abe, where Albanese was accompanied by three previous Australian prime ministers (John Howard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull); and the annual Australia–Japan summit in Perth.

Over the past decade, I’ve put a range of qualifiers around the idea of the strategic partnership with Japan as an alliance: ‘quasi-alliance’‘small “a” ally’ and ‘alliance lite’. The ‘quasi-alliance’ usage has had some currency in Japan since JDSC 1.0 in 2007.

Wilkins comments that ‘quasi-alliance’ and ‘semi-alliance’ are more characterisations than official policy. Rather than bearing ‘the consequences of announcing a formal military alliance or treaty,’ he notes, the phrase ‘strategic partnership’ serves as an effective proxy.

The 2.0 version revs up the proxy.

In taking the next alliance step, Japan and Australia have set an interesting timeline: the next 10 years. The new declaration says that ‘over the next ten years, Australia and Japan will work together more closely for our shared objectives’.

The timeline describes a dangerous decade, but also the time for further evolution of the JDSC.

The quasi-alliance can grow the strategic qualities and quantities Japan and Australia need.