Pacific Power: A New Japan-Australia Alliance

By Jiang, David | Harvard International Review, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Pacific Power: A New Japan-Australia Alliance


Jiang, David, Harvard International Review


Upon announcing his country's security pact with Japan in March 2007, Australian Prime Minster John Howard proclaimed, "Japan and Australia have a common destiny in this part of the world." This new agreement between two major democracies, which calls for increased military ties, has the potential to increase regional stability through cooperation on issues such as North Korea, terrorism and drug trafficking. However, future steps toward greater security ties must not destabilize the region, and care must be taken to avoid accelerating a strategic contest for regional ascendancy.

Australia and Japan have much in common. Both are populous democracies with market economies, and both are major allies of the United States. While it is true that Japanese atrocities against Australian prisoners during the Second World War are still well within living memory, the significant economic bond between the countries makes the alliance not at all surprising. Today, Japan is the largest purchaser of Australian exports, thanks in part to a bilateral trade pact signed 50 years ago when the wounds of the Pacific war were far fresher than they are now.

While the pact does not stipulate mutual defense, its other conditions will put the armed forces on much closer terms. The agreement calls for some joint training of their armed forces, increased sharing of intelligence, and annual meetings of defense and foreign ministers to further the security dialogue. Australia's pact with Japan does not parallel its alliance with the United States, with which it has a mutual defense treaty, but it is a major step in strengthening ties. It makes Australia Japan's only official military ally apart from the United States. Japanese soldiers may now train on Australian soil, and conversely, Australia will become more involved in East Asian affairs as it cooperates with Japan on North Korea.

The signing of this pact is consistent with both Australia's increased military assertiveness abroad and its growing security ties with Japan. It has thousands of peacekeeping troops in East Timor and hundreds in the Solomon Islands. As a US ally, it has participated in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, where Australian soldiers have provided security for Japanese non-combat personnel. Australia and Japan have also cooperated in East Timor, Cambodia, and on relief efforts following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

There are worries in Australia that the pact will increase the country's foreign entanglements. …

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