The Air Self-Defense Force in Japan concluded Exercise Bushido Guardian with Australian counterparts in Chitose, Hokkaido. The Maritime Self-Defense Force finished up Exercise Malabar with U.S. and Indian participants out of Atsugi Air Base, Kanagawa Prefecture in the last week. The MSDF will be participating in Exercise Joint Warrior in the United Kingdom and the Ground Self-Defense Force will take part in the amphibious assault exercise Kamandag in the Philippines starting this week.
This level of collaboration and interaction with foreign militaries is not just extraordinary, it would have seemed impossible just decades ago for the Self-Defense Force. It is becoming progressively commonplace though, to the point that Japan has been vigorously negotiating international agreements to gain a permit for more routine operations by foreign forces in Japan and vice versa.
Undoubtedly, the Japanese government has made countless strides in expanding its portfolio of active security partners in the current years, but why?
For decades, scholars and analysts have repackaged and given the same answer to that question: Japan is hedging. In this context, hedging means that a country is chasing opposite policies at the same time in case one should fail. In this case, observers debate that Japan is simultaneously seeking to fortify its alliance with the United States while pursuing stronger security relationships with other partners in case the U.S. government decides to withdraw its support from Japan. The prevalent notion here is that the less confidence there is in the Japan-U.S. alliance, the more effort the Japanese government will put into the construct and build relations with other countries.
The subject of alliance credibility is always a consideration for government officials, whether it’s the Japan-U.S. coalition or elsewhere. Particularly now, as cost-sharing and burden-sharing debates take much media attention, there is cause for the perception that substitutes may be necessary to “hedge one’s bets.”