For reasons a senior defense official said included North Korean provocations, treaty commitments to Japan and U.S. national security interests, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today that the United States will send Japan two more Aegis-equipped ballistic-missile defense ships by 2017.
The ships are designed to intercept ballistic missiles post-boost phase and before reentry. When delivered, Japan will have a total of seven such ships.
Hagel made the announcement this morning during a joint press conference with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera after the two leaders met earlier to discuss a range of alliance issues, including the threat posed by North Korea.
“In response to Pyongyang¹s pattern of provocative and destabilizing actions, including recent missile launches in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, I can announce today that the United States is planning to forward-deploy two additional Aegis ballistic missile defense ships to Japan by 2017,” Hagel said.
The secretary said he visited one of the U.S. ballistic missile defense ships when he was in Japan on October 3, 2013, for the “2 plus 2” meeting of U.S. and Japanese secretaries of state and defense.
“This deployment follows our October announcement to establish a second missile-defense radar site in Kyoto Prefecture and my decision last year to increase ground-based interceptors in Alaska,” Hagel said, adding that these steps will enhance the United States’ ability to defend Japan and its own homeland from North Korea’s ballistic missile threat.
Significantly bolstering the U.S. naval presence also strengthens the U.S.-Japan alliance and increases deterrence against North Korean aggression, the secretary said.
In late March, on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye sat down for the first time to discuss the shared threat they face from North Korea. They agreed that they would consider specific steps they could take to deepen diplomatic and military coordination to deter the threat, including joint exercises and on missile defense.
Building off that meeting, Hagel said today that he and Onodera had “discussed ways to help deepen trilateral defense cooperation,” including through the upcoming Defense Trilateral Talks to be held in Washington this month.
Hagel and Onodera also discussed plans for consolidation on Okinawa, and the secretary thanked the minister for Japan’s efforts in securing approval in December for the Futenma replacement facility¹s landfill permit.
“We look forward to the facility¹s construction beginning soon,” Hagel said. “I reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to continue exploring ways to reduce the economic impact of our facilities on Okinawa and our desire to be a good neighbor.”
The secretary said these issues will be part of revising the guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation as the United States adjusts its posture in the Asia-Pacific region and Japan expands its roles and relationships around the world.
“The United States welcomes Japan’s efforts to play a more proactive role in contributing to global and regional peace and stability,” Hagel said, “including reexamining the interpretation of its Constitution relating to the rights of collective self-defense.”
It is Japan’s responsibility and sovereign right to review its self-defense guidelines in the interests of what is best for the Japanese people, the secretary added.
“We encourage and support that effort and believe the decisions made by the Japanese government on behalf of the Japanese people will continue to enhance and strengthen this important alliance between our two countries,” he said.
During their meeting, Hagel and Onodera also discussed key challenges in the East China Sea.
“I restated the principles that govern longstanding U.S. policy on the Senkaku Islands and other islands,” the secretary said, “and we affirmed that since [the Senkaku Islands] are under Japan’s administrative control, they fall under Article 5 of our Mutual Security Treaty.”
According to Article 5, “each party recognizes that an armed attack against either party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.”
It continues, “Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations in accordance with the provisions of Article 51 of the Charter. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”
“We take seriously America’s treaty commitments and we strongly oppose any unilateral coercive action that seeks to undermine Japan¹s administrative control,” Hagel said. “A peaceful resolution of territorial disputes is in the interest of all nations of the region.”
America has no stronger ally or better friend in this region than Japan, he added.
Going forward, the secretary said, there’s “no doubt that, as the United States continues to rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific, the enduring friendship and alliance between our two nations will only grow stronger.”
Tomorrow, Hagel said, he continues his Asia-Pacific trip with a stop in China at the invitation of Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan.
“I look forward to spending time in China and having direct conversations with the leaders in China about many issues,” the secretary added. “Certainly many … of those issues will revolve around the Asia-Pacific issues, the East China Sea, the South China Sea, [China’s] neighbors [and] the continued dangerous and provocative actions of the North Koreans.”
Great powers have great responsibilities and China is a great power, Hagel said.
“With this power comes new and wider responsibilities as to how you use that power, how you employ that military power,” he added. “And I want to talk with the Chinese about all of that, particularly transparency — a key dimension of relationships. Transparency, intentions, what governments are doing, why. The more transparent and open governments can be with each other, the better for everyone. That avoids miscalculation, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and hopefully that lowers the risk of conflict.”
Hagel said he’d also like to speak with the Chinese about respect for one’s neighbors. Coercion and intimidation are deadly and lead only to conflict, he added.
“All nations, all people, deserve respect no matter how large or how small. I think we’re seeing clear evidence of a lack of respect, along with intimidation and coercion in Europe today in what the Russians have done in Ukraine,” the secretary said.
“We must be very careful and … very clear, [to] all nations of the world, that in the 21st century this will not stand,” he added. “You cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations by force, coercion and intimidation, whether it’s in small islands in the Pacific or large nations in Europe. Nations must be clear on this and speak plainly. It takes courage from leaders.”
Hagel said he’d like to speak with the Chinese about common interests and building relationships, especially military-to-military relationships, and opportunities for engagement with neighbors like Japan and South Korea.
“I look forward to an honest dialogue,” he added. “I look forward to listening carefully to the Chinese, and only then do we help move forward, not just with opportunities but with possibilities and the processes to fulfill those prospects.”
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service