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Allies, Modernization at Heart of U.S.-Japan Efforts in Indo-Pacific

The international rules-based order that served the world well, is under attack and the United States and Japan need to work even closer together to defend, maintain and strengthen the order, Ely Ratner, the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Affairs said.

Ratner spoke remotely to the Mount Fuji Dialogue — an annual meeting of experts on the U.S.-Japan Alliance in Tokyo.

Airmen hold U.S., Japanese flags in front of a plane.
Group Photo
Members of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Air Reconnaissance Squadron-81 and U.S. Navy Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron-1 pose for a photo during Raijin 22-1, an annual unit exchange.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Glenn Slaughter
VIRIN: 220328-N-IS471-015

The most egregious attack on the rules-based international order emanates from the other side of the world from Japan with Russia's unprovoked and evil attack on Ukraine. He said the attack has had "far-reaching geopolitical, economic and humanitarian implications. Russia's invasion of Ukraine is an affront to free people everywhere, and its impact has been felt far beyond Europe by constituting a challenge to the order that we've all worked so hard to build and defend."

He commended Japan for seeing the attack for what is: A challenge to the international community. "The United States and Japan, along with the international community, have condemned Russia's invasion, imposed sanctions on Russian entities, and sent necessary aid to Ukraine," he said. "Japan's quick and strong actions helped transform the international response from regional to global. Through the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the United States and our allies and partners are exploring innovative ways to sustain our long-term support for the brave men and women of the Ukrainian armed forces, and to ensure that Ukraine has the capabilities it needs to defend itself." 

The unity against Russia is a model for challenges everywhere. "In the Indo-Pacific, a key takeaway from this conflict is that aggression of any kind will be met with unity of action, as we have seen more than 30 of our allies and partners, including from the Indo-Pacific, join us in rushing security assistance to Ukraine," he said. 

Ratner turned to China's continuing challenges to the order in the East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.  

China's overreaction to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan in August is a concern throughout the region. "Following Speaker Pelosi's visit to Taiwan in early August, China launched an intensified and premeditated pressure campaign against Taiwan to try to change the status quo, jeopardizing peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the Indo-Pacific region," he said. 

China's aggressive and coercive military activities in the Taiwan Strait and in waters surrounding Japan … are provocative and destabilizing, he said. China is seeking to establish a "new normal" concerning Taiwan, and this threatens regional peace and security. 

"Meanwhile, over the last year, we have seen a dramatic increase in People's Liberation Army non-standard and unsafe air intercepts in the region, designed to coerce and intimidate U.S. and allied forces operating lawfully in international airspace," he said.  

Japan and the United States, and partners have been absolutely clear that China's attempts at coercion of Taiwan and throughout the broader region are dangerous and destabilizing, the assistant secretary said. "We are equally clear about our commitment to maintaining a rules-based order and a free and open Indo-Pacific, as well as working together with our like-minded allies and partners to preserve cross-Strait peace and stability," Ratner said. "We will not be deterred by the PRC's brazen attempts at coercion, and we will continue to fly, sail and operate — including with our allies and partners — wherever international law allows."

Jet fighters fly in formation.
Flyover Formation
A formation of Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-35A Lighting II's conduct a flyover during the Misawa Air Fest at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Sept. 11, 2022.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Leon Redfern
VIRIN: 220911-F-MI946-1127M

North Korea is a third threat with its continuing development of nuclear weapons and its missile program in violation of international law, he said. "These hostile activities are dangerous, reckless and damaging to regional and international security," Ratner said. "Moreover, we share serious concerns over the DPRK's escalatory and destabilizing messaging related to nuclear weapons use." 

These threats call for responses and the United States and Japan are working together to strengthen the treaty alliance between the two nations and modernize deterrence capabilities. "We are fundamentally enhancing the alliance's deterrence and response capabilities to ensure that we maintain a competitive edge," Ratner said. "This includes reinforcing extended and integrated deterrence, improving information and cyber security, deepening cooperation in space, cyber and emerging technologies, and coordinating on bilateral planning for contingencies."

The two allies are working to increase military interoperability. They are working to develop new capabilities and improve more established ones.  

"We are working with the Government of Japan to enhance alliance capabilities to keep pace with the growing regional security challenges," he said. "As the PLA is rapidly improving many of its capabilities, including strike, air, missile-defense, anti-submarine warfare and space and cyber, the United States and Japan are stepping up efforts to cooperate on advanced and emerging technologies, such as unmanned systems and counter-hypersonic technologies."

Ratner said the United States welcomes Japan's commitment to resourcing these strategies and programs. "As the government of Japan is preparing to release an update to its strategic guidance documents, including the National Security Strategy, National Defense Program Guidelines and Medium-Term Defense Program, we welcome Japan's commitment to increase defense spending to bolster its military capabilities," he said. "We also support Japan's resolve to examine all options necessary for national defense, including capabilities to counter missile threats. Throughout this process, we are committed to aligning both of our countries' strategies and policies in the year ahead."  

But even economic powers like the United States and Japan cannot do everything and the nations are committed to working with like-minded partners in the region and beyond, Ratner said. These allies and partners realize the stakes in challenges to the rules-based order and are responding.  

Promoting peace and stability in a region that encompasses more than 50 percent of the globe requires cooperation.  

Australia is a key part of this, and both the United States and Japan are deepening these ties. "Earlier this year, Japan and Australia signed a reciprocal access agreement, establishing procedures for cooperative activities that will promote increased defense cooperation between the two countries' defense forces," he said. "Looking ahead, we have agreed to enhance training opportunities [among] the three countries, promote coordinated responses to regional disasters and crises, and deepen cooperation on maritime capacity building and intelligence sharing."

Japanese soldiers descend after jumping from plane.
Bilateral Jump
Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers descend from a U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron during a bilateral airborne jump over Narashino Training Area, Japan, April 19, 2022.
Photo By: Yasuo Osakabe, Air Force
VIRIN: 220419-F-PM645-0005

The United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea have also been strengthening the trilateral relationship in the face of North Korean provocations. 

Ratner noted that President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Secretary of State Antony Blinken specifically underscored the importance of working together to address North Korea's destabilizing behavior and advance the goal of achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  

Exercises are an important part in the cooperation among the nations of the region. The United States, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and many other nations have exercised together on land, sea and air. The nations are working on ways to better communicate, share information, supply each other and more. 

The United States and Japan are also committed to working with the Quad — India, Australia, Japan and the United States. "At the most recent Quad Leaders' Summit in Tokyo in May, we welcomed a major maritime initiative called the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness," Ratner said. "In close consultations with regional partners, [the initiative] will offer a near-real-time, integrated and cost-effective maritime domain awareness picture to countries throughout the region."  

This network of allies and partners can be effective defending the rules-based order. "This burgeoning set of activities demonstrates a shared desire among like-minded countries to increase multilateral engagements as the security environment surrounding Japan and its neighbors becomes more turbulent," Ratner said. "Our trilateral relationships, with Australia and with the ROK, in addition to our efforts to work with the Quad, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Island countries, are vital to promoting regional stability, advancing the free and open Indo-Pacific vision and upholding the rules-based international order in the face of coercive attempts to change the status quo."


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