Kaboul, AUKUS and Quad brand change

From the US withdrawal from Afghanistan to the recent UKUS announcement and the first-ever face-to-face meeting of Quad world leaders, Japan faces a turbulent geopolitical situation in its own backyard. Corey Wallace, assistant professor at the University of Kanagawa, examines Tokyo’s analysis and reflections and the implications for the country.

The withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan and the recent AUKUS deal would have been seen in Tokyo simultaneously as long-term strategic positives that also raised uncomfortable short-term questions about Japan’s strategic partners.

The chaotic and violent images of Kabul touch as soon as it exists anxieties in Japan that American strength and leadership influence diminish. it even gave rescue to those who doubt the reliability of the United States in defending Japan or ensuring regional stability.

The way the Afghan government dissolved almost instantly on contact with the Taliban would have mortified a lot in Tokyo, given the Japanese contributions to US policy in the Middle East over the past two decades.

A Taliban Humvee in Kabul in August 2021, following the American withdrawal. Image: Wikimedia Commons

While Japan did not fight on the front lines, Tokyo contributed billions of dollars in aid and undertook politically costly combat-free missions in the region – now all seemingly for naught.

The failure of the allies in Afghanistan to to coordinate too Cascade to Tokyo and the crudely stated limitations in the military capability of Japan and the addiction the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) a on the United States. There were also concerns that China would get the wrong message from all of this, which would embolden it to further probe regional alliances and armies dependent on US support – like Taiwan.

Afghanistan may also have dealt a blow to Biden’s national popularity, jeopardizing his chances of retaining slim majorities in both houses of Congress in 2022. This will concern Tokyo. Even before Covid-19 deepened the polarization of U.S. politics, many Japanese commentators favorable to strengthening U.S. relations voiced concerns about domestic political instability crippling U.S. commitments to Japan and the region.

The domestic impact of the withdrawal from Afghanistan could therefore jeopardize the implementation of an allied-centric strategic realignment, just as many in Tokyo eagerly awaited an increased US focus on East Asia. . Perhaps unsurprisingly, three of the four candidates who ran for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party – and for the right to replace Suga Yoshihide as Japanese prime minister – have committed higher defense spending and have approved Japan’s acquisition of enhanced power projection capabilities that would allow the SDF to strike targets abroad. This included the eventual winner, and now Prime Minister, Kishida Fumio.

The AUKUS deal to facilitate Australia’s acquisition of nuclear propulsion for its submarines also raised concerns in Tokyo over relations between US allies. The secret negotiations that resulted in Australia withdrawing from a $ 90 billion submarine contract with France not only stirred Paris but made Japanese analysts think.

Tokyo ultimately wants to see as many world powers as possible, including India, France, Germany, the EU, as well as the US, UK and Australia, “engaged” in East Asian geopolitics and collaborating to restrain China’s growing influence .

However, the fallout from UKUS raised the prospect of a Europe-Anglosphere to divide which could undermine the “Indo-Pacific” balance against China, potentially providing a opening to exploit. Even though the AUKUS countries have emphasized collaboration between democracies, it was not unreasonable to wonder why France and Japan, two democracies that were committed to providing underwater options to the Australia, were excluded of these discussions.

While nuclear propulsion was the centerpiece of the AUKUS deal, it is also a starting point for further collaboration on cyber, artificial intelligence and quantum computing capabilities, all areas identified by the Japan’s defense analysts as needing urgent upgrades.

Therefore, the continued importance of the ‘Anglosphere’ as something ‘more than an alliance ‘ in shaping the political choices of AUKUS nations was difficult for the Japanese commentators To ignore and raised uncomfortable questions about the country’s own security policy, as well as its partners: Is Japan’s lack of cultural capital a reason it struggles to gain traction in its desire to enter Five Eyes ? Could a historically forged lack of trust between “natural allies” stand in the way of future technological and military collaboration between Japan and AUKUS countries, even if Japan remains at the forefront of growing military pressure from China? Will AUKUS replace the Quad as one of Japan’s regional leadership initiatives, reflecting a move away from a larger “Indo-Pacific” vision? Does the provision of valuable technology indicate that Australia is now the only other country with the UK to have a “special relationship” with the US?

Ultimately, the long-term strategic direction indicated by the two developments is viewed favorably by Japanese strategists and these issues could be addressed through diplomacy by the AUKUS trio.

Tokyo has long waited for the United States to fulfill its commitments to engage further in East Asia and compete with China by focusing diplomatic energy, fiscal and military resources, and strategic attention. If Japan and other regional allies worry about the reliability of the United States after Kabul, it will be because of unfulfilled expectations after a decade of saying Asia matters, rather than a direct result. of the abandonment of Afghanistan.

The medium-term look of strategists in Tokyo and other Asian capitals will focus on how the United States is reconfiguring its regional posture and military capabilities to meet the challenges of regional deterrence.

The very first face-to-face Quad meeting took place earlier this year.

The American withdrawal from Afghanistan represented an opportunity for Tokyo and other allies – few see it as a telegraph of impending Allies’ abandonment in the face of coercion from the PRC.

In general, Tokyo has welcomed the AUKUS collaboration. The prospect of Australia playing an important role in the regional balance of power for decades to come is virtually assured not only because of the expectations that arise from AUKUS technological ties, but because the nuclear-powered submarines of the Australia will give its navy the ability to project power. well beyond what is required for the defense of the territory.

Finally, Tokyo would have been reassured by the messages of the first face-to-face Quad meeting from Japan, India, Australia and the United States. The outcome of the meeting suggested a re-branding of the Quad’s focus, including a broad commitment from the four countries to providing international public goods, from vaccines to infrastructure.

The initiatives identified promise an increased role for Japan in the provision of these goods and deepen non-military cooperation, in addition to the military dimensions previously highlighted within the Quad. Along with a commitment to hold annual leadership meetings, this gap some of the concerns coming from AKUS in particular. In the words of the outgoing Prime Minister of Japan, the “Quad initiative [that] Japan promoted is now fully established ”, and this one particular meeting was a “very significant” development in favor of Japan’s “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

If there is one lesson that Japan must learn from these recent geopolitical upheavals, it is the need to recognize the importance of alliances supported by commitments to partners broader than those enshrined in military treaties and anchored in a story of of confidence interaction based on mutual compromise.

– Asia Media Center


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