Brexit: increase in military cooperation between Japan and UK

Since the United Kingdom chose to leave the EU, a new consensus has emerged amongst Tokyo-based policymakers, such as members of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and those close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, myself included. Call it the ‘Tokyo Consensus’. It assumes that, as far as Japan’s national interest is concerned, Brexit may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The benefits of Brexit for Japan, which are largely geopolitical, could offset its costs, which are mostly economic. This assumption appears to be shared internationally. Conversations with diplomats and visitors from Australia, New Zealand, India and the US, amongst others, have given me a sense that the ‘Tokyo Consensus’ may have a wider, Indo-Pacific, application.

The reasoning behind the Tokyo Consensus goes as follows: Post-Brexit Britain will no longer be able to identify with Europe in the way it did pre-Brexit. A soul-searching Britain will instead seek to rediscover, and reinvest in, an older self-image which holds that, relative to nations on the Continent, Britain is still a great seafaring country with global interests that cover much of the English-speaking world, a remnant of the once glorious empire, be that as it may.

For now, Britain’s actions appear assuring. Late last year, the Royal Air Force sent its Typhoon fighter squadron to Japan for the first time. After engaging the Japan Air Self-Defence Force in an intensive joint drill, they returned home by flying through the air space above the sea which Beijing claims as its own, possibly not unintentionally. London has also agreed with Tokyo to scale new heights in jointly developing military technologies, starting with a more robust missile system.

According to current discussions, either the HMS Queen Elizabeth II or HMS Prince of Wales Royal Navy aircraft carriers currently being built might in future be deployed to Asian waters. This writer would welcome such a move, for it could send an unequivocal signal to the wider region that both Japan and the UK have come a long way and that wartime bitterness has long gone. It is said to be likely, also, that the Royal Navy will send one of its boats, soon to be commissioned, to East Asia as a law enforcer. All these developments would be welcome, and it is Tokyo’s hope that they will indeed materialise. …

Tokyo’s view of these developments remains sober, however. Neither Australia nor India are likely to put their servicemen and women in harm’s way should Sino-Japan military conflict ever erupt. So be it, they say in Tokyo. Raising the political price of revisionist policies in order to deter the ambitions of those discontented with the status quo, in itself, does great service to Japan’s safety.

It is against this backdrop that Brexit occurred, and, as expected, Tokyo has since seen a surge in the number of visitors from Whitehall, as well as from UK military organisations.

About the author

Tomohiko Taniguchi is Special Adviser to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Professor at Keio University, Graduate School of System Design and Management.

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