Japan and Australia Strengthen Defense & Economic Ties

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Japan and Australia took steps last week to strengthen their defense ties, and deepen relations at a time when concern about China’s growing strength in the region is rising. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison met on Friday in Darwin, the northern Australian city that was bombed by the Japanese during World War II. The two leaders visited a war memorial there and paid tribute to the war’s casualties.

Abe’s one-day visit gave the leaders the opportunity to present a united front for their shared vision of promoting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,  the rule of international law and continuing infrastructure projects from Asia to Africa.. It was also a sign of the success the United States is having in forging an alliance in the Indo-Pacific region to act as a counterbalance to China’s increasing influence and power.

Some television pundits, and academics think otherwise, and made their opinions known over the weekend. They believe the tightening of relations between Japan and Australia is an indicator that America’s traditional allies in the region are coming together in the face of a rising China, and an unpredictable US president who might not be there to help  when the chips are down.

The Trump administration’s foreign policy record since January 2017 proves their theory holds no water. From the beginning of his term, President Trump has adopted a firm position on China and acted on it. He has tackled the North Korea nuclear crisis head on. Although real progress has been slow in coming, Trump’s efforts have things moving in the right direction for the first time in over a decade. Regarding America’s allies in the region, Trump has openly engaged Japan, South Korea, Australia, and other friendly nations in the Western Pacific. He has also moved towards closer relations with India, recognizing the South Asia nation as a natural equalizer to China.

It has taken a long time, but Western Pacific nations are finally recognizing the potential threat China poses to their interests, and to their sovereignty. Expect to see relations between Japan and Australia continue growing closer, and similar interactions involving South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines will likely be seen in the near future.

Saturday 7 April, 2018 Update: Japan Activates Its First Marine Unit Since WW2

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Today the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) activated Japan’s first marine unit since World War II. The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB)  has come into being to help Japan meet the evolving security situation in that part of the world. The troop strength of the brigade will be around 2,1000 troops, NCOs, and officers. It’s equipment will include V-22 Ospreys, and AAV7A1 amphibious landing vehicles. Although a brigade in name, the ARDB more closely resembles a US Marine Expeditionary Unit in size, organization and capabilities.

The main role of the marine unit will be to retake islands from an occupying force. In recent years Japan and China have seen a rise in tensions over Japanese islands at the edge of the East China Sea. As access to the Western Pacific becomes more of a priority for China, Japan is not taking the potential threat likely. Chinese military capabilities continue to increase and Japan is making strides in its own rearming process. The ARDB marks a significant increase in Tokyo’s ability to defend its most exposed territories.

Creation of the marine unit has brought controversy too. Amphibious and expeditionary forces have the capability to project power far beyond a home nation’s borders. Japan’s post-World War II constitution renounces the nation’s right to wage war. Japan’s neighbors could point to the creation of the ARDB as a provocation if they wanted.

In any case, Tokyo’s rearmament is moving at full speed ahead. The Japanese Self Defense Forces are loading for bear….or dragon, as the case may be.

 

 

US Military Options Against North Korea- Part One

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Deep inside of the Pentagon there exists a collection of Operation Plans (OPLAN) covering nearly every possible scenario the US military could potentially face one day, from a possible war against Russia in Europe to an invasion from another world. The US military is an institution that places immense value in contingency planning. There’s a need for plans to be available and ready to go at a moment’s notice. They don’t have to be perfect operational blueprints, but they need to exist.

There are regularly updated plans that cover conceivable events in Korea. OPLAN 5027 is the general US war plan for contending with North Korean invasion of the South, and a resulting general war in Korea. OPLAN 5029 covers a possible collapse of the North Korean government and the chaos it could unleash. Though it is reassuring to know that plans are available in theory, the OPLANs focused on North Korea do not automatically translate to a concrete US military option for North Korea in the real world.

There will certainly never be an Operation North Korean Freedom where US forces surge north across the DMZ to liberate North Korea from its despotic government. The US went down a similar road in the Middle East and it ended up being an enormous strategic miscue. The ghost of the first Korean War and Vietnam, the classic blunder of becoming involved in a land war in Asia, is alive and well in the minds of many American policymakers. Bearing this in mind, it is safe to assume that the shape of a military option against North Korea will be limited in scope and predominantly involve air and naval forces, with the exception of North Korea moving across the DMZ. In the case of a North Korean invasion all bets are off. US Army and Marine forces would be introduced into the fighting as quickly as possible. Given the geopolitical, economic, and military realities of East Asia any US military action will probably be defensive in nature. Conceivably, there are very few scenarios where the United States would strike preemptively or unilaterally.

One concept gaining traction at the moment is what might happen if North Korea does successfully build a long-range missile capable of reaching US territory. I touched on this in Friday’s post. As the North devotes more time and energy to its missile development, and makes boastful claims of being able striking the US mainland, the Pentagon is taking a hard look at what a pre-emptive strike against North Korea would entail. Initially, work has to be undertaken on a host of issues to ensure that the foundation for pre-emptive action will exist if and when the time comes.

Basing is a significant concern. With the exception of those on Guam, every US military base in the region is located on foreign soil. A pre-emptive operation can only be undertaken with at least the tacit approval of the host nation’s government. Since any future effort will involve a large amount of airpower, open access to US airbases in Japan and South Korea is essential. Of course, missions can be flown from the decks of US aircraft carriers, and TLAMs launched by US warships operating in international waters. However, sea-based airpower and cruise missiles do not give PACOM the wide array of flexibility and options that land-based airpower does.

To ensure that US bases are not restricted by their host nations in some way, Washington needs to think about how it can enlist the diplomatic support of America’s Pacific allies before any future military operation. South Korea is on the cusp of a political shift that may see the next administration in Seoul seeking political and diplomatic rapprochement with the North. The desire for better relations with North Korea could dissuade Seoul from supporting an American effort. Another important factor will be the reason for the United States to take action against North Korea. If the US objective is to neutralize North Korea’s missile program it could find a lukewarm reception to the idea in Tokyo and Seoul. After all, the South Koreans and Japanese have been living with the threat posed by North Korea’s missiles for almost twenty years now.

Part Two of this article will be posted on Wednesday. It will cover the other potential roadblocks facing potential US military action against North Korea in the near future, as well as offer a descriptive summary of how pre-emptive action might play out.