29. What are the 2015 Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation?

2 September 2016


The Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation (hereafter Guidelines) are intended to provide guidelines for military cooperation between the US forces and the Japan Self-Defense Force. First established in 1978, they were revised 19 years later in 1997 (The 1997 Guidelines), then were further revised to become their current version on 27 April 2015 in New York.

     Around the time that this second revision was announced, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito Party reached a consensus on the draft for the 2015 Japanese security legislation (21 April), which was subsequently formally approved by the ruling parties (11 May) and by the cabinet (14 May). Its announcement also came just before Prime Minister Abe travelled to the US to meet with President Obama (28 April) and give a speech to a joint session of the United States Congress (29 April).

     Both the timing and content of this revision can be seen as closely related to the 2015 security legislation.

     With regard to timing, it might be said that Prime Minister Abe hurried to establish the new Guidelines before his trip to the US, and he decided on the contents of the security legislation in line with this. In his speech to the US Congress, he called the security legislation “the first [reform] of its kind and a sweeping one in our post-war history,” and went on to refer to the new Guidelines as “a framework to better put together the forces of the US and Japan… in line with the legislative attempts going on in Japan.” Further, even though it had not yet been brought forward for discussion in the Japanese Diet, he promised the American people that “we will achieve this [reform] by this coming summer.” But for whose sake are these reforms?

     According to the Prime Minister, the 2015 security legislation serves as the premise for the new Guidelines and is indispensable legislation for the implementation of the alliance between the US and Japan. In fact, the new Guidelines contain specifics on the actions that Japan is trying to take via the security legislation. For example, the 1997 Guidelines established that any actions related to Japan-US defense cooperation would be restricted to incidents that occurred around Japan. However, the new Guidelines state that the aim of the security cooperation is “to promote a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Asia-Pacific region and beyond,” effectively removing the limitations on where the cooperation will take place whilst emphasizing “the global nature of the Japan-US alliance.” Further, it breaks the taboo surrounding Japan’s right to collective self-defense with “Actions in Response to an Armed Attack against a Country other than Japan” appearing for the first time as one of the main initial items relating to Defense Cooperation. 

     The US is able to deploy its military anywhere in the world, making itself the only global superpower. However, as maintaining this status has become financially more difficult in recent years, the US military has viewed the Abe administration’s security policy as presenting it with a convenient opportunity that it can now take full advantage of. 


Hiromichi Umebayashi



Umebayashi, Hiromichi, “Features of the New Guidelines – Unrestricted US-Japan Military Cooperation,” Sekai, July 2015, Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten (in Japanese).