Japan’s Abe confirms country’s first mission to defend U.S. military aircraft, warships

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed this week that, for the first time, his country has defended U.S. air and naval forces in what is being seen as an escalation of Japan’s military presence in Asia.

“With tensions growing over North Korea, the Self-Defense Forces carried out a mission to protect U.S. vessels and aircraft for the first time,” Abe said on Monday. “An alliance gets stronger if the partners can help each other. The Japan-U.S. alliance has without a doubt become stronger than ever.”

Abe’s confirmation were the first of a joint U.S.-Japanese air mission. In the spring of 2017, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier JS Izumo escorted the USNS Richard E. Byrd off Chiba Prefecture as it sailed to resupply an unnamed warship that was at the time defending against North Korean missiles.

Japan’s national Diet passed the controversial security laws in September 2015 allowing Japanese forces to defend close allies if under attack. The legislation went into effect in March 2016 despite opposition from most Japanese citizens.

Prior to that change, Japanese forces were not permitted to step in and help defend U.S. forces unless Japan itself was attacked. The change also is seen as making it easier for Japanese forces to deploy around the world. [source]

(Analyst comment: As I noted yesterday, Abe is Japan’s most militarily aggressive PM in recent memory, and perhaps since World War II. He sees his part of the world getting more and more dangerous, and he understands that unbridled pacifism is no longer an option. And as this report notes, it won’t be easy convincing his country that it must rise to meet these security challenges; most Japanese are content with their pacifist status. But there are rising dangers for Japan that will require a more robust military with options — options that include defending allies. I expect it will become easier for Abe to make his case as threats begin to loom larger, especially from China. — JD) 

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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