At a time of reduced certainty surrounding the security of both the UK and in particular Japan, these two island states are looking at increased military cooperation in order to maximise their respective capabilities.

This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Rob Clark.

The year ahead presents both nations with a set of unique challenges which if addressed appropriately can have positive impacts for both their defence and their national security.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the UK in January highlighted the emerging relationship between the two great powers. Building on previous high-level ministerial visits over the last 18 months, including 2+2 engagements in addition to May’s visit to Japan in 2017, this latest summit sought to strengthen defence ties further. In particular the domains of cyber warfare, counter-terrorism and increased defence engagement between the Royal Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force. Great emphasis is being placed upon this developing relationship between the two naval forces, and for good reason.

HMS Albion proves big in Japan on landmark visit to Tokyo
HMS Albion in Tokyo.

It was announced during Abe’s visit that HMS Montrose will visit Japan later this year, becoming the fourth Royal Navy warship to do so in 12 months, in addition to monitoring illegal ship-to-ship transfers of oil and other sanctioned goods to North Korea in line with UNSC 2375. This builds upon the joint drills conducted last year between HMS Argyll and Japanese forces, in addition to the work of HMS Sutherland and Albion; crucially upholding the protection of the international rules-based order in a region of unquestionable significance for both UK and Japanese interests.

From the UK’s perspective, maintaining access to both the emerging economies of south east Asia and to the international shipping lanes across the Indo-Pacific region are crucial to ensuring economic growth once the UK leaves the EU. From Japan’s perspective, a slightly fragmented, though still dependable, security alliance with the US has left Tokyo seeking additional means of securing its core national interests. This diversification of traditional Japanese security structures has been as a result of both the current US administration and by an increased Chinese military presence across east Asia.

While the US have sought to ensure Japan’s security since the end of the Second World War in the forms of The Security Treaty Between the United States and Japan 1951, and The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security 1960, agreements which shows no sign of impending termination, it has come under increasing strain. In 2016 as then Republican-nominee, Trump asserted that as President he would consider ending the US defence commitment to Japan, even encouraging them to ‘go nuclear’. Whilst these eventualities have fortunately not materialised, Trump has maintained that the security arrangement favours Japan over the US; an increasingly shared opinion in Tokyo which leads to assertions of potential Japanese vulnerability.

In seeking to minimise this vulnerability in light of perceived US revisionism under Trump, and in addition to an increasingly assertive and expansionist People’s Republic of China, Japan has sought three means of bolstering its own security. The first is to refit its Izumo class helicopter carrier into a limited aircraft carrier, able to accommodate approximately a dozen F35 stealth fighters; over 100 of which Japan aims to purchase from the US over the next decade in a deal worth between $US 8 – 13 billion.

HMS SUTHERLAND undertaking a Replenishment At Sea with JS TOKINWA.

This significant uplift in stealth fighter capability is made possible by the second Japanese defence policy; increasing the defence budget between 2019 – 2024 to £188 billion. This represents a yearly average comparable to that of the UK at around £36-7 billion. The defence budget was passed by the Japanese Cabinet in a widely perceived attempt to mitigate against the PRC’s increased naval and air operations surrounding Japanese territory, in particular the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

The third defence policy by Japan attempts to offshoot the vulnerability of the at times uncertainty of the US alliance, by attempting to seek new partners in security and defence through bilateral agreements. This is the culmination of Abe’s visit to London, May’s visit to Tokyo before that and the various high level ministerial visits conducted over the last 18 months between the two states.

As the UK prepares to leave the EU, the security of Europe is in a relatively robust place; underpinned by the Anglo-American relationship committed through NATO; two nuclear armed member states in the EU; and a combined defence spending far surpassing any potential adversary. European security reassured enough, it is to the East of Suez which the UK must now seek; the emerging global markets of Malaysia, Vietnam and Hong Kong; reaffirming economic ties with partners such as Indonesia, Singapore and India; and developing existing defence relations with Australia, New Zealand, India and Japan.

Image result for Ship
A British frigate sails with two Japanese vessels in the Pacific.

By encouraging increased interoperability with the Japan Self-Defence Force, the UK is developing a crucial relationship which serves UK national interests, including the maintenance of trade and capital, in addition to maintaining the global rules-based order across an increasingly competitive region.

By working closer together throughout this year, building on the last 18 months of success, the strategic alliance formed between the UK and Japan seeks to benefit both nations going forward.

4 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Geoffrey Hicking

What a wonderful thing to read just before work.


Both nations could pose a significant alliance in an increasingly worrying situation in the South China Sea. In combination with Australia and New Zeland, a meaningful naval presence might just address the balance of power in the region?


It would be good if Japan became a partner to develop Tempest.

Evan P

I can’t imagine America allowing it, Japan is very much under the thumb at the moment.


Being from the U.S. I suspect we would welcome it. Let’s face it, the U.S. is broke. Due to internal politics we can’t do what’s necessary to avoid the debt trap. There is a good chance the U.S. will go through their own version of a Soviet collapse. Seeing what the U.K. and Australia are doing with their defense is promising. Having those relationships expand and the leadership that goes along with it could go a long way in minimizing the chance of an Asian war. And it goes a long way in securing vital U.K. strategic aims of energy… Read more »

David Steeper

1 little niggle. There are 2 not 3 nuclear armed states in EU. On increasing defence partnerships in S.China sea region. We need to be realistic. Our contribution to any war between China and her neighbours would be largely symbolic. The ‘trade follows defence’ argument is a throw back to the 50’s and before. It was comprehensively demolished at the time and since. The presence or absence of military forces has no measurable impact on trade. Whatever we do on defence relationships we should keep 2 facts in mind. Our military dispositions should have 2 goals. First as a statement… Read more »


I thin defence and trade are still linked in some cases. One of those cases is the South China Sea. If that route is closed to non Chinese shipping then our trade with the countries in the area will suffer greatly.

David Steeper

Why would the Chinese even attempt to close the S.China sea to non-Chinese shipping ? What they could they possibly gain from such a move ?

Steve R

It’s not so much closing the shipping lanes but controlling them. They want everyone else to know that they rule the roost there.

They wouldn’t want to close it, but they want the world to know they can if they want to and decide who goes through.

Anthony D

If they don’t win a trade war perhaps?

James Noble

The presence of military forces has no significant impact on trade around areas such as Somalia or the Caribbean?

Your rule does not apppear to be as watertight as you suggest, David. Also in the example made by this article, China progressively claiming areas of international waters as it’s own would appear to affect trade.


Who is the 3rd nuclear power in the EU after France and the UK?

Daniele Mandelli


More reliable partners I feel than certain supposed friends elsewhere.

barry white

Id pull our troops and everything out of the front line in Europe and then i think they will realise how much they need us
Then i would invite the US to use our bases a lot more and even let them share Devonport as that is not being used to its full capacity
Moan and rant time
Im really fed-up now with their attitude

Daniele Mandelli

Morning Barry. So are many of us. Unfortunately too many if our own MPs share the EU attitude rather than support their own nation and respect a vote. As for Devonport, why not? But what advantages would it hold over Rota in Spain? Perhaps USN SSNs coukd use it if the need arose? As for Europe I myself identify with NATO. Not the EU, which is a political union mascarading as a free trade block. When it should just be the latter, and we would all be happy. And as NATO comprises our friends in the USA, Norway, the Dutch,… Read more »


Daniele I’m not so rosey about NATO, in truth it’s full of nations we have no shared history with, close cultural understanding with or actually impact significantly on our geopolitical and strategic needs, it’s even more so with the USA. Let’s be totally honest with ourselves, do we think for a second we should go to a state of total war with a geographically close peer nation that has a nuclear arsenal that would render our nation and all our citizens to dust ( and yet survive our nuclear response) for a tiny Eastern European state or even a totalitarian… Read more »


I seem to remember statements like that in the past. Then bombs dropped on the U.K. Sometimes you go to war. Sometimes war comes to you. Such is the difficulty of international relations.

Suggesting, “Screw the little countries. We’re not going to war over them” turns out to ensure you are going to war and that your position will be weak for the initial attitude. Perhaps by then Vlad will suspect you are one of the little fish?

Daniele Mandelli

Points taken Jonathan.

Especially the idea of a US/UK bilateral defence agreement, which I would welcome.

I’d go further and desire closer co operation with the Anglosphere nations, the 5 Eyes group.


Bryan, I’m afraid you must be very sure of your red lines and commitment of you and your alliance members when you are talking a commitment to going to war and in a nuclear age, it may mean the total destruction of your nation. If you committ to this in treaty it must be based on an abiding friendshipand shared interests/understanding. Can we say that about all nato members ? If not the alliance will fail, it’s only a matter of when.


A fantastically reliable partner with complementary capabilities and expertise. Nurture and mature that relationship for a long term benefit.

Geoffrey Roach

A strategic partnership with an ally whose navy in particular has traditions very similar to our own. This could be a real step forward. As D.S. posted earlier I have long believed our place within NATO and Europe is to underpin the North Atlantic working with the Netherlands, the Scandinavian states and maybe the Baltic countries as well. We can gear parts of all services to this end, train together and buy in what additional equipment we may need. A permanent NATO command. East of Suez the Royal Navy has a real role to play, especially with Five Nations and… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Agree with all of that Geoffrey.


The UK has a vested interest in that region and always has even when military forces were withdrawn. The rise of China and its attempts to bully its way into global poll position just reflects the fact the CCP has always done the same at home and doesn’t comprehend the fact other nations are ready to protect their long standing interests when the newcomer on the block tries to coerce change without consensus. What’s good for China is NOT good for pretty much any other nation – even for the ones that share borders with it. China’s history has been… Read more »


One little ray of hope if china tried any thing is that they have not been at war since 1979 against vietnam, it was a very short war and they lost.


That’s the problem. The Chinese military has never fought a modern war and relies on stolen technology which they do not full understand and have no proven doctrine or command and control structure to back it up.

A disastrous military foray would cause great unrest among the Chinese population who have been spoon fed a line about the invincibility of the CCP and the military. This would cause the CCP leadership to double down in a frantic attempt to save face and preserve themselves in the face of great public anger.

A cornered animal is always most dangerous…



China is dangerous. On Chinese history being like the Borg? I prefer to think of it like a particularly fratricidal broken record. The cycle goes like this they create vast wealth but it is mostly propagated on the Coast and in the Capital with only a fraction going to the interior. Causing a dependence and on foreign trade and a massive security apparatus to control the population. This culminates in a war or wars to distract the people from their everyday woes (Opium War, Boxer Rebellion). These wars inevitably fail due to the Army having been only designed and built… Read more »

captain P Wash.

My Two penneth worth, If we all just stopped buying Chinese Crap, Their economy would crash and The Chinese Government (Dictator) would have more than enough problems to deal with than Territorial Disputes. 1.4 billion Problems !

Steve R

All well and good until we have to stand shoulder to shoulder with Japan against Godzilla! :-p

Steve R

I’d prefer Goku!

Mr Bell

I am happy for the Royal Navy to return to East of Suez. Just so long as we have the ships and subs to support that policy. 13 type 26 rather than just 8. An additional 3-4 astute class taking us back to at least 10 SSNs Type 31 at least 10 Another QE or 2 light carriers LPHs to replace Ocean. Replacement for MCM vessels Retain all batch 1 River class. Simple. Just need to find the money for a Navy centred defence policy. Withdrawing from Europe to leave our friends and allies to defend themselves should save a… Read more »

David Steeper

Mr Bell. The Army and the RAF would fight to the death to prevent any change in the funding formula in favour of the Navy. The Army with some justice. The RAF with none but either way it will never happen.


Not sure about a strategic Alliance, but Mitsubishi and MBDA have signed an agreement to develop the Meteor AAM. Japan, rather than going for the AMRAAM, are looking at the Meteor to arm their F35s. Their current advanced missile, the AAM-4B, is too large to fit internally, as it has a diameter of 203mm compared with 178mm for the Meteor. Mitsubishi make the missile’s active radar seeker which is an AESA rather than the type fitted to Meteor, which uses a derivative of the J-band pulse Doppler AD4A radar seeker, used in the Aster missiles manufactured by Thales. The antenna’s… Read more »


Going back as far as the 1870’s, the Imperial Japanese Navy essentially modelled itself after the RN, and maintained close ties well into the early 1900’s. We should seize the opportunity for closer ties, we are both Island nations, depend on import and exports, and both value ‘navy traditions’. The opportunity to have Japanese F-35B’s operating from a QE and vice versa, a Japanese DDG assigned to our carrier group (and vice versa), Royal Marines training with their Japanese counterparts… the list goes on. Given the build up of Chinese submarines, dare I suggest the possible sale of the Type… Read more »

captain P Wash.

Hmmmmm , OK but They Ain’t Getting HMS POW.


Let’s be honest once you have a newly refurbished Izumo in your fleet as a Hybrid carrier and that many heli carriers too they won’t find a use for POW.
Also come on UKDJ we don’t expect perfection from you guys but 3 EU Nuke powers?
Keep up the good work!


The last time the Japanese had their eyes on HMS PoW, they sunk her… off the coast o Malaya…

Just saying…

David Flandry

Yes, because the RAF escort got lost, is my understanding. Pardon me if I’m wrong.


Your understanding is correct David. However, the RAF escort were Brewster Buffaloes, which were outclassed by what the Japanese were flying at the time. It would have only delayed the outcome, and caused additional losses on both sides.

Paul Bestwick

Not so sure, the attack planes were land based twin engine bombers, not the IJN carrier strike force. They may have made all the difference.


Indeed my own great grandfather worked on building Japanese battleships in the 1890s and beyond when he worked at Thames Ironworks and these ships were highly regarded by the Japanese. Indeed Japan’s whole journey into a modern industrial power was based on British cooperation. Sadly the 2nd WW wiped out all desire in Britain to acknowledge these very close links for obvious reasons whereas in Japan many in power still understand how much they owe to that early cooperation. Indeed even earlier the present Japanese Royal Dynasty only gained power with British support which is how it all started and… Read more »

David E Flandry

A bipolar alliance between two medium size powers, one nuclear, would represent something new in geopolitical influence. It would complicate the calculus of potential opponents and increase the soft power of the UK.

John Paul Cassidy

Hi you have forgotten about Northern Ireland again !!

John Clark

Absolutely, I would love the Japanese to become partners in team Tempest. As for Chinese tactics, well I suppose they are mainly aimed at staring down the US and letting them know that China is the super power in SE Asia. They undeniably are…. You have to remember that China entirely depends on world trade to support their economy, so any overtly aggressive moves in the area, would be entirely self defeating and economic suicide for them. A UK Japanese alliance across military and economic areas makes perfect sense, as the UK moves towards a worldwide pivot. Much to be… Read more »

[…] new strategic alliance forged with Japan in particular is an example of how increased bilateral defence engagement with […]