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The quiet achiever: Australia-Japan security relations

10 January 2011   |   Analysis   |   By Dr Malcolm Cook and Thomas Wilkins

In the last decade, Australia has quietly and quickly become a close security partner to Japan, second only to the United States. For Australia, no security relationship outside the foundational alliance with the United States has deepened more in this same period. Despite changes of government and political transformations in Australia and Japan towards the end of the decade, the bilateral security relationship has quietly prospered and looks set to continue into the foreseeable future.

“Both Japan and Australia have to balance their growing economic interdependence with China and Sstrategic concerns about China’s growing might but these concerns are closer and weigh much heavier on Japan than on Australia.”

Key Findings
Changes in Japanese foreign policy posture and improved allied relations speak to a more proactive role for Japan in the region and globally
The rise of China has served as a catalyst in Australia-Japan relations, and there is a strengthening confluence of interests between the US, Australia and Japan
Future prospects for Australia-Japan security relations are strong, with multiple opportunities for closer operation cooperation on a diverse range of contingencies

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    Observing achievements in Australia-Japan defence cooperation from an historical perspective highlights their significance. After World War Two, the ANZUS alliance was an Australian initiative driven by our fears of Japan. In the last decade, however, Australia has quietly and quickly become a close security partner to Japan, second only to the United States.

    The political changes in Australia and Japan over the last three years have provided a very good test of this burgeoning security relationship, a test it has passed easily despite initial worries. Relations will only improve as changes in Japanese foreign policy posture and improved allied relations speak to a more proactive role for Japan in the region and globally. Japan is one of the three major strategic players in the Asia-Pacific region, alongside China and the United States. It has one of the largest military budgets in the world, with a high degree of technical capability and professional competence.

    The quiet achievements look set to continue in the foreseeable future due to four interconnected factors. First, Japan and Australia have multiple opportunities for closer operational cooperation for a very diverse range of contingencies. Second, the mutual strategic concerns that have motivated these quiet achievements are intensifying not moderating. Third, US defence policy is increasingly reliant and demanding of support from its region allies. Finally, both Australia and Japan are committed to increasing their force projection capabilities in similar manners. However, there are areas for possible friction in Australian-Japanese relations, such as popular perceptions and Japan’s possible shift of focus from global to regional security cooperation, which should not be ignored.