The Tense Situation around Japan

——Japan is surrounded by major military powers such as China, Russia, and North Korea. The Japan’s Legislation for Peace and Security came into force in 2016, and the Economic Security Promotion Act was passed in 2022. As the security environment of Japan continues to deteriorate, there are those who say that Japan is being drugged into debate over strengthening of defense capabilities reminiscent of the Cold War era.

Ueta The US is in a confrontational relationship with both China and Russia, more than ever before. Japan, which is geographically close to both China and Russia, is in an increasingly challenging security environment.

During the US–Soviet Cold War, the Soviet Union was considered a threat to Japanese security. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, hope was placed in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE; known at the time as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe [CSCE]), and attempts were made to strengthen it, as can be observed based on its institutionalization in 1995. In 1992, Japan was granted a special participating status in the CSCE and Japan has attended a variety of meetings held by the organization.

In 1991, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) began discussions and cooperation with the former Eastern Bloc countries, including the Soviet Union. Countries that shifted away from the communist political system sought membership in NATO in order to secure US protection, and since 1999, its eastward enlargement started. The NATO continued its dialogues and cooperation with Russia, but with the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea and the subsequent Russia–Ukraine war that started in 2022, the security situation in Europe underwent major changes.

In the midst of these developments, post-WWII Japan sought a defense policy in line with a peaceful nation. The Japan–US alliance is the pillar of Japanese security.

Japan sought to reduce military tension through the creation of a hotline between the Chinese Defense Ministry and its own. As will be discussed below, regional security cooperation has started since the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was created in 1994. It originated in a proposal put forth by Japan. These efforts have been pursued in partnership with its ally, the US government.

——Isn’t the United Nations the proper forum for security discussions?

Ueta The significance of the role of the United Nations in maintaining the international order has been the same as before, in principle. However, in the context of Russia’s invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, the challenges of the United Nations in terms of security cooperation became evident. This is because Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power as well as the party of the armed conflict.

In Japan there is an impression that the UN is the sole official forum for security discussions, the aforementioned ARF also serves this function in Asia. Its members—including Japan, the US, South Korea, China, Russia, India, the EU, and other countries, even North Korea would strive to build cooperation in the region via discussion on security.

To date, it is not well known that Japan had much to do with the establishment of the ARF. In July 1991, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama foresaw the multi-polarization of global politics after the end of the Cold War, and submitted a proposal for the realization of comprehensive peace in the Asia-Pacific region at the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference. This proposal, which at the time was referred to as the “Nakayama Proposal,” was the genesis of the ARF.

Former Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, Ambassador Yukio Sato, who also served as the Director of the Intelligence and Analysis Office of the Foreign Ministry, among other posts, discussed the details of this event leading up to this proposal in an article entitled, “An Attempt at Multilateral and Multidimensional Diplomacy: What Lies Behind the Nakayama Proposal” (in An East Asian Community? NARASIA Publication in Commemoration of 1,300 Years since the Transfer of the Capitol to Nara, Maruzen Co., Ltd., 2010). However, negotiations on its establishment would require enormous political efforts. Effective security talks require repeated meetings among the participants. It is crucial to exploit the positive aspects of forums such as the UN and the ARF, while simultaneously exploring diverse channels for dialogue.

The ARF holds its ministerial meetings and senior official’s meetings only once per year. It lacks a mechanism to hold weekly regular meetings at the level of permanent representatives as well as expeditious discussions during an emergency. China has emerged as a military superpower and there are concerns about its future relationship with Taiwan. Currently, tensions are on the rise in Asia, partly because of trends in North Korea, and thus, continuous dialogue is required to avert a crisis.

Continuous Dialogue Is the Only Option

——On that point, in the January issue of this magazine, former Japanese Ambassador to China, Mr. Yuji Miyamoto mentioned your concept of establishing a “Permanent Security Cooperation Dialogue Mechanism,” emphasizing the significance of such an organization. There was a view that this mechanism might overlap with those of the ARF.

Ueta As mentioned above, tensions are rising in Asia. I believe that given such circumstances, it is extremely dangerous that there exists no permanent forum for discussion that would facilitate security “cooperation” in the region where Japan is located. To have regular discussions on security cooperation, we require a “permanent” regional multinational organization with the permanent missions from member countries and the secretariat of this organization. Europe has the OSCE, which is an organization that encompasses all of Europe as well as the US and Canada. It has an organizational structure that facilitates contact among members via regular meetings and “hotlines.” As a member of the Japanese government’s delegation to the OSCE meetings, I have participated in summit meetings, and other meetings.

In Asia, the ARF deals with security, but its mechanism for handling emergencies is not perfectly well-organized. Some may believe that simply reforming the organizational structure of the ARF would suffice. However, in my opinion, in the context of current regional tensions, it would be next to impossible for all relevant countries to arrive at an agreement to reform the ARF in the short term.

Considering the urgency of the need for measures to mitigate a crisis, I believe the establishment of a permanent security cooperation organization through which the countries of the North Pacific region could cooperate via dialogue would be a positive step toward regional stability.

I understand that one of your goals in this interview is to ask me about my ideas regarding how the building up of defense capabilities and diplomatic efforts can be balanced, but there are elements of the diplomatic efforts side of that equation that are less conspicuous.

People talk about effective diplomacy. The only option available to us is repeated and straightforward discussions among government agencies, senior officials, and statesmen. If we create a system in which “appointments” are not required each time parties intend to talk with each other, but instead, ensure regular meetings that are attended by representatives of all member countries, then don’t you agree that we would have created the most effective environment for mitigating crises via communication and diplomacy?

——What led up to the establishment of the OSCE?

Ueta After WWII, Central and Eastern Europe became communist countries, which led to the confrontation between the West and the communist countries in the East—in other words, the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. Under these dire circumstances, all the countries that recognized the need for dialogue to avert crises were seeking the kind of security dialogue and cooperation that could serve as a forum for security contact between the East and the West. The CSCE, which included neutral countries, was launched in 1975 in Helsinki. The neutral country of Finland, which shared an approximately 1,340-km-long border with the Soviet Union, also endeavored to make the CSCE a reality. The CSCE, known as the “Helsinki Process” where these discussions continued, became a permanent organization and was reorganized as the OSCE.

The OSCE comprises 57 countries, including the US and Russia. Its Secretariat is located in Vienna—the location of the third UN headquarters, where all member nations have their permanent missions to the UN as well as their separate missions to the OSCE.

Utilizing the OSCE, participating states have prevented or attempted to avoid large-scale military confrontations between the East and the West and have cooperated to maintain peace. What is significant is that there is face-to-face contact at each week’s meeting in the Hofburg Palace. It is possible for delegates of the participating states to have contact with each other outside the context of these meetings as well.

After the end of the Cold War in Europe, civil war broke out during the 1990s in Yugoslavia, which is in the Balkan region in the southeast of Europe. In the summer of 2008, war broke out between Russia and Georgia. Nicolas Sarkozy, then President of France (which was the country that held the EU presidency at the time) mediated a cease fire. In September of that same year, the EU sent unarmed monitoring mission (EUMM) to Georgia. The EUMM has been there since then.

The EU member countries and the OSCE participating states have sent their personnel to crisis management missions with the mutual consent of the countries in conflict.

In 2014, Russia annexed the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and in February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Stabilization after the eventual end of this war will be the task of the OSCE.

The characteristic feature of European security is the fact that regional organizations play a central role. The NATO and EU are both regional organizations. In addition to the OSCE, these organizations play a multi-tiered and multi-faceted role in European security. This concept may be unfamiliar to Japanese security experts. Most countries of Europe share a border with another country that may be an ally or an enemy. Thus, several European countries have a tense relationship with their neighbors. Consequently, the significance of dialogue to avoid military conflict is best understood based on the history of the region.

The Japanese conception of security policy is characterized by discussions about a sudden shift from handling security concerns via the bilateral alliance between Japan and the US to handling such concerns at the global level via the UN. However, it is understood that creating a consensus among the relevant countries in the UN would be extremely challenging.

In addition to the issue of choosing between handling security concerns via the Japan–US alliance or via the UN, there has been lack of knowledge among experts in Japan regarding how to establish a permanent dialogue organization for regional security cooperation. One reason could be their idea that it would be a choice between either that or Japan–US security. If a regional security cooperation organization were put in place, it would not be an “either–or” choice. In order to formulate a joint position in the regional forum, Japan and the US, or Japan, US and South Korea needs to have contact and consultation in advance. For example, depending upon the topic on the agenda at the OSCE, the NATO or EU member nations could meet beforehand to align their positions and construct a unified proposal.

The Future Role of the OSCE

——Hasn’t the OSCE’s role been diminished in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

Ueta The CSCE and its institutionalized successor, the OSCE, which became a permanent organization in 1995, has functioned for many years in Europe as a system that has promoted the implementation of military confidence-building measures to reduce tensions among the participating states.

From 2014 until the end of March 2022, OSCE installed the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine(SMM) to observe and report on the security situation in Ukraine and to facilitate dialogues among all the parties of this conflict. In February 2022, Russia launched a large-scale attack against Ukraine. The extension of the SMM’s mandate was blocked by Russia.

Separately, the OSCE also provided support for democratization, reform and other issues in Ukraine from June 1994 to June 2022. In November 2022, the OSCE Secretariat launched the Extra-Budgetary Support Programme for Ukraine. The EU and others contributed to it, which included environmental issues.

According to the data released by the EU in December 2023, the EU and its member nations offered 85 billion euros (approximately 13.6 trillion yen) including the support of Ukrainians who sought refuge within the EU countries since the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Note: In June 2023, Ukraine became a candidate country for EU membership and in December 2023, the European Council decided to open negotiations on Ukrainian membership in the EU).

It would be premature to assume that there would be no role of the OSCE because it was unable to prevent the Russian invasion against Ukraine. A cease-fire may happen in the future, even though the timing is impossible to predict. When that occurs, it will be necessary to incorporate crisis management and prevention that will ensure an end to the conflict and ensure that resurgent conflict does not occur. This effort will require a forum for multifaceted discussions. Both Russia and Ukraine have participated in the OSCE. It will play an important role in preventing a recurrence of conflict as well.

Complementing the Japan–US Alliance

——In May 2023 the Japanese Ministry of Defense announced that it established a hotline with its counterpart in China, and exchanged views with them. However, owing to issues such as Chinese warships traversing Japanese coastal waters, there are no indications that tensions will ease between Japan and China.

Ueta A hotline is necessary to avoid contingencies. It serves as a mechanism for holding a direct dialogue during an emergency. However, if the other party has no intention of answering the phone, the hotline is useless. Then, each party decides its own course of action.

——Isn’t there a danger that the creation of a permanent multilateral security cooperation dialogue mechanism might be of concern to the US?

Ueta It goes without saying that there is a need to maintain trust in the Japan–US alliance. Nevertheless, since the 1975 founding of the CSCE, the US has grown accustomed to multilateral security discussions and cooperation. In terms of the military, NATO’s role did not diminish as a result of the launch of the CSCE. Additionally, as I mentioned above, NATO countries have met for discussions in preparation for CSCE or OSCE meetings and they have then made proposals as NATO Alliances, therefore, have not shown any attenuation at all.

The geographic proximity of Japan to China and Russia necessitates contacting counterpart countries to provide an explanation of incidents such as unintentional clashes. It is significant that we already have in place methods of communication such as the “Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism between Japan China Defense Authorities” and “Japan–Russia Agreement on Incidents Prevention at Sea.”

In the normal course of diplomatic activities, it is usually necessary to make an appointment for an official meeting with diplomats and their representatives from other countries. While I am repeating myself here, what is crucial for security in the North Pacific region is not the need to make appointments but rather a permanent organization that facilitates regular meetings and discussions of security cooperation. If regular meetings were held, it would be possible for the participants to exchange views informally during breaks. Furthermore, it would be beneficial to devise a mechanism for calling emergency meetings.

There is a need for the relevant countries, who might want to participate in such an organization, to discuss what kind of multilateral cooperation system should be implemented as one of many forms of information exchange and cooperation. This would include exchanging information on military capabilities, advanced notice of military exercises, emergency contact methods in cases of military contingency, and creation of a system of cooperation to facilitate the provision of aid during disasters.

US concerns regarding multilateral security cooperation existed when the ARF was created. Former Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations from Japan, Yukio Sato wrote about this as well, as the Bush administration was wary of the creation of a multinational cooperative organization in the Asia-Pacific region. Ambassador Sato wrote, “There were those in Washington who voiced concerns about whether Japan’s talk of multilateral cooperation was an attempt to distance itself from the Japan–US Security Treaty.” (“An Attempt at Multilateral and Multidimensional Diplomacy: What Lies Behind the Nakayama Proposal,” in Japanese, NARASIA, East Asian Community? Maruzen, 2010). However, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs persistently persuaded all the interested countries. The then Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi gave a speech in July 1992 at the National Press Club, stating Japan’s concept of security in the Asia-Pacific region. He emphasized that any such moves would be predicated on the need for US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and the essential nature of the Japan–US security structure for regional stability. As a result of these efforts, Japan was successful in obtaining US support.

Preventing unforeseeable conflicts from developing into major military action requires a regional organization. As regards disaster management, I would also recommend the strengthening of organizations such as the ARF and the Asian Disaster Reduction Center in the city of Kobe, Japan. As it remains entirely ambiguous whether the ARF will be equipped with a system for swift crisis management, at the very least, there is the need to create a permanent system for crisis management among the countries of the North Pacific region.

Disaster Relief Cooperation and Security

——What is the reason for proposing that cooperation on disaster relief should be the first step toward the establishment of a permanent security cooperation dialogue organization?

Ueta The Japanese Self-Defense Force was deployed in the wake of the January 2024 Noto Peninsula earthquake. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, Japan received assistance from the US in the form of a large-scale “Tomodachi [friend] Operation.” There are several instances where the military was deployed for disaster relief efforts.

Hitherto, we have been discussing the need for permanent security and dialogue cooperation among the nations of the North Pacific region. However, military cooperation would be facilitated by commencing with disaster relief cooperation.

It would be natural for the affected country to accept assistance. However, the existence of a system for such cooperation would expedite this process. Although the ARF could provide disaster aid, it lacks a system to facilitate the immediate activation of relief efforts. A concrete cooperative structure in the North Pacific region would be beneficial to the people and countries impacted by a disaster. If military exchanges in preparation for such activities were included, it would also serve as a way to build military trust.

Even if military forces did not conduct on-site relief and rescue efforts, the food, medicine, and other necessary supplies they would provide would be helpful. Japan has had know-how on disaster relief.

The countries of the Asia-Pacific region have a variety of political systems. This differs from Europe, in which the EU serves as a unifying organization. Nevertheless, it would be extremely beneficial to the residents of the region to have a system that could smoothly mobilize assistance.

I would like to mention an organization devoted specifically to disaster relief: the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO). The ECHO has provided support to countries affected by disasters regardless of the political systems in place in the affected country.

The ECHO provided relief in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake as well. During this period, Kristalina Georgieva—the current Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—served as the head of the ECHO. An EU public relations magazine published a photograph of Georgieva during her visit to Japan in an article published after the Great East Japan Earthquake entitled, “EU Humanitarian Aid: 20 Years of Unity and Challenges.”*

The Strategic Partnership Agreement between Japan and the EU includes disaster relief cooperation in the field of cooperation between Japan and the EU. In the case of the Noto Peninsula Earthquake in January 2024, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (equivalent to Foreign Minister) Josep Borrell, and European Commissioner for Crisis Management (equivalent to a cabinet minister) Janez Lenarčič both publicly expressed their sympathy for those affected by the disaster.

——What can be expected from a regional cooperative framework?

Ueta As indicated, cooperation among the countries of the North Pacific must be promoted conflict prevention. Mitigating the danger of conflict escalation between North Korea and South Korea, the US and China, and the US and Russia should be an essential component of the Japanese security policy.

One method of preparing for the so-called “contradiction of security”—namely the more one strengthens an alliance, the more confrontation grows—is contact via interaction for the purpose of cooperation. Dialogue and activities among Japan, the US, and China regarding disaster relief cooperation would also contribute to the management of security crises. I have great expectations for Japan taking the initiative toward establishing a mechanism for security cooperation. In addition to the creation of a new framework, we have to apply all available methods to maintain peace. These include pre-existing frameworks such as those related to disaster relief cooperation among Japan, China, and South Korea; among Japan, the US, and South Korea; and the ARF.

(First published in the March 2024 issue of the monthly publication Komei)

“EU Humanitarian Aid: 20 Years of Unity and Challenges” (EU MAG Vol.3, April 2012 issue, in Japanese)