AUKUS: Japan’s Gateway to Global Security and Prosperity

The UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has suggested that Japan could benefit from joining the Advanced United States of the Caribbean (AUKUS)’s Strand B, or Pillar 2, cooperation in developing advanced military technologies and increasing interoperability between its armed forces. The committee’s report suggests that the UK should propose to Australia and the US for Japan, along with South Korea, to participate in an AUKUS technical defence cooperation agreement focused on Strand B activities.

This cooperation is crucial in reinforcing the integrated deterrence capabilities of the US’s Indo-Pacific allies, including Japan. Japan already has a defence cooperation framework with the US, the UK, and Australia, but current cooperation is project-based and focuses on basic technologies. Japan’s National Defense Strategy 2022 emphasizes the importance of leveraging cutting-edge technologies for defense and preparing for a long-term race for technological leadership. Access to these technologies could deter potential adversaries in the Indo-Pacific.

Japan’s declining economic power may lead to a decline in future science and technology investment. To acquire critical and emerging technologies more efficiently, Japan can collaborate with allies and partners through an expanded AUKUS Pillar 2 agreement. This would allow the industry to complement each other’s capabilities and leverage economies of scale. Strengthening ties between Japan’s defence industries and AUKUS members can improve the industry’s competitiveness. Japan’s investment in critical and emerging technologies has been driven by civilian usage, with defence-related procurement making up less than 1% of Japan’s total industrial production value in 2020.

The expanded AUKUS group can create an opportunity for Japanese defence manufacturers to learn marketing and sales know-how from AUKUS partners. However, Japan needs to overcome challenges, such as the lack of an adequate security clearance system. The Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, the only existing law on information security in Japan, limits the scope of information classified as state secrets to diplomacy, defense, espionage, and terrorism. Without a security clearance system, Japanese manufacturers will struggle to access classified information in joint developments.

Japan’s ambition to become a major arms exporter, similar to the US and UK, raises concerns about potential conflicts of interest. The AUKUS framework, reminiscent of Japan’s 2015 attempt to sell conventionally-powered submarines, should not cause commercial clashes. Japan’s participation in AUKUS would signal to China that it is part of the US’s ‘integrated deterrence’ network. However, the security environment in East Asia is dire, and technology implementation takes years, especially critical and emerging technologies.

The US has expressed a positive attitude towards the expansion of AUKUS’ Pillar 2 membership. Japan cannot afford to delay their efforts to strengthen their defense industrial base with these technologies. It is now the time to accelerate discussions on Japan’s participation in AUKUS. Rena Sasaki, a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University, is a fellow of the Pacific Forum’s Next Generation Young Leaders Program.

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