A new era has begun in which the U.S. Armed Forces and Japan’s Self-defense Forces can move in sync around the globe as if they are a single team. That marks a dramatic transformation of yesterday’s enemy into today’s ally. On the occasion of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to America, the two countries agreed to new defense cooperation guidelines that could expand the stage for the two nations’ military cooperation on a global scale.
The move reflects Washington’s strategy to keep China in check through rebalancing and Tokyo’s ambition to become a mighty military power through rearmament. The new alliance between America and Japan heralds a tidal change in the existing geopolitical order of East Asia, not to mention poses serious diplomatic and security challenges to Korea.
With the announcement of the historic revision of the defense cooperation guidelines - last updated in 1997 - the Abe government has opened the way to exercising the right to collective self-defense after a controversial reinterpretation last year of the nation’s pacifist constitution. The revision of the guidelines translates into a full-fledged expansion of the level of U.S.-Japan military cooperation in accordance with Japan’s acquisition of collective self-defense rights. The guidelines detail diverse areas of collaboration from peacetime to wartime. The Self-Defense Forces have cleared the way to send troops to the Korean Peninsula and other neighboring countries at times of crisis to support the U.S. Forces in Japan. On areas calling for Korea’s consent, the guidelines simply state that Washington and Tokyo respect the sovereignty of a third-party nation.
Despite our government’s explanation that that sentence reflected our persistent demand that the dispatch of armed forces require Korea’s consent, we are not fully reassured as the U.S. Forces still retain wartime operational command in Korea. If the territorial dispute between Seoul and Tokyo over the Dokdo (Takeshima in Japanese) islets in the East Sea turns into a military clash, we cannot exclude the possibility that the U.S.-Japan alliance could clash with the Korea-U.S. alliance. If America and Japan collide with China in the East China Sea, where Beijing has territorial conflict with Tokyo over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands, Korea could be in a quandary.
Even if the augmented U.S.-Japan ties have a positive role deterring North Korea, there are just as many negative aspects. The government must be prepared for all possible scenarios.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 29, Page 34