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Politics & Security

E.U. Turns to Japan as It Seeks to Enhance Security Cooperation in and with Asia

Japan and the European Union have similar approaches to peacekeeping that can become the basis for cooperation in their regions and beyond.

Dr Philip Shetler-Jones

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EU Naval Force Somalia – Operation Atalanta

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The European Union and Japan have built what may be the most intensively structured relationship that exists between the E.U. and an Asian country. They have a history of long standing cooperation, common values and principles, such as democracy, the rule of law, human rights, good governance, multilateralism, and open market economies. And so they have reached progressively more advanced agreements ー on economic partnership, on strategic partnership, on sustainable connectivity and quality infrastructure. 

Today, as the E.U. puts into practice its commitment to enhance security cooperation in and with Asia, it is therefore only natural that it turns to Japan. 

EU Naval Force Somalia – Operation Atalanta

Strong Common Elements in Peacekeeping 

Japan and the E.U. share a remarkably similar set of common and complementary interests and experiences in security cooperation, yet they have hardly worked on it together. In Japan, this area is called International Peace Cooperation activities. In the E.U., it is referred to as “Crisis Management.” 

In either case, the terms cover multinational operations mandated with tasks from conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance to disarmament, and other post-conflict stabilization actions. 

EU Naval Force Somalia – Operation Atalanta

Japan came to peace-keeping operations (PKO) with a desire to make an international contribution to world peace shortly after the end of the 1991 Gulf War. However, it was in 2003, following a series of conflicts in the Balkan region, that E.U. member states agreed to pool resources and take on a larger share of responsibilities for crises in their neighborhood.  

Since then, the E.U. has launched more than 30 missions (including a monitoring mission in Aceh, Indonesia), and Japan has taken part in more than a dozen PKO activities, not just under a United Nations flag but also through the Multinational Force and Observers monitoring peace on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. 

Despite coming to peacekeeping under different circumstances, and the fact that they have not operated together in such missions up to now, Japan and the E.U. actually have an unusual amount in common in three aspects of their approach to peacekeeping. These can provide the basis for cooperation in this area. 

EU Naval Force Somalia – Operation Atalanta

Civilian Participation in Peacekeeping

First, both are strong believers and pioneers in civilian contributions to peace and security. The E.U. has conducted a range of all-civilian peacekeeping missions, from unarmed ceasefire monitoring (like that in Georgia since the 2008 war) to border monitoring (in Libya) and missions that focus on security sector reform and training police and other security personnel in countries like Somalia and Mali. In fact, among the 17 operations and missions the E.U. has running today, 11 are civilian. 

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has developed a Program for Global Human Resource Development for Peacebuilding and Development, or Global Peacebuilders Program, to strengthen civilian capacity. In the Hiroshima Peacebuilders Center — the home of the Global Peacebuilders Program — over a hundred professionals from Japan as well as other Asian and African nations have been trained to work in peacebuilding all over the world. 

Today one of its graduates is serving in Ukraine as part of a civilian mission of the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Why not imagine if we could see a Japanese civilian join an E.U. mission soon?

EU Naval Force Somalia – Operation Atalanta

Encouraging Other Partners to Contribute More

Second, in addition to their own peacekeeping activities, Japan and the E.U. are both engaged in helping the capacity-building efforts of partners who are looking to contribute more to security and peacekeeping. 

As already noted, a significant number of E.U. missions are built around the task of training security personnel like soldiers and police, but also judges and border forces. As part of Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” vision, it is engaged in capacity-building in 15 countries as well as with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in areas from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to maritime security and, of course, PKO. 

And it is notable how much the E.U. and Japanese efforts overlap. For example, the E.U. has a military officer inside the Vietnam Department of Peacekeeping Operations (VNDPKO) as part of its project to Enhance Security Cooperation In and With Asia (ESIWA). Japan has also been working alongside Vietnam in building up the capacity of the VNDPKO and is co-chair with Vietnam of the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus Expert Working Group on PKO. This is surely the basis for much potential trilateral cooperation between the E.U., Japan, Vietnam, and other partners with strong PKO experience, like India. 

EU Naval Force Somalia – Operation Atalanta

Women in Peace and Security

The promotion of women in peace and security is a third area where the E.U. and Japan share a common goal. Both are working to break down barriers and develop opportunities for women to play a full role, including in peacekeeping. 

The E.U. and its member states are committed to the full implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda, which consists of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 and its follow-up resolutions, ensuring that it is fully integrated into all E.U. efforts in support of sustainable peace, security, human rights, justice, and development. This strategy is being put into action by integrating gender perspectives into all E.U. policies, including the E.U. Foreign and Security policy addressing conflict prevention and resolution, as well as long-term peace building. 

Japan is similarly committed to the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and is mindful of the growing importance of broadening the Self-Defense Forces’ (SDF) recruiting base in a period where Japan’s working population is in sharp decline. Japan has a female personnel empowerment initiative that aims to double the percentage of women in the SDF from its 2016 level of 6.1%, and to reach at least 9% by 2030. 

Practical needs and a rights-based approach are dual drivers for both Japan and the E.U. to make progress in their own gender equality priorities, as well as learning the best ways to include these considerations in their cooperation with partners in peace operations and crisis management. 

As champions of multilateral solutions and experienced supporters of efforts to bring peace not just in their region but around the world, Japan and the E.U. are well-positioned to make peacekeeping a field of closer security cooperation in the coming years. 

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Author: Philip Shetler-Jones

Dr Philip Shetler-Jones is a James Cook Associate Fellow in Indo-Pacific Geopolitics at the Council on Geostrategy. He works in the field of Europe-Asia security cooperation, with a personal focus on United Kingdom-Japan defense and security relations.