Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, Japan is considering greater security cooperation with the United Kingdom. London and Tokyo may sign a bilateral status of forces agreement in an effort to conduct more robust joint military exercises, including multilateral drills, between Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the British military. The deal is made more urgent by North Korea’s most recent nuclear test as well. Both countries reportedly plan to work toward signing the pact at a meeting between foreign and defense ministers held in Britain later this year.
The proposed accord gained additional traction after it was publically revealed in 2016 that some British military personnel were training in U.S. bases in Okinawa. That could create legal problems in the case of an accident or criminal incident because British personnel would have been operating in Japan without a clear legal status. A status of forces agreement would resolve the issue.
More important, the prospective deal underlines Japan’s intention to beef up its military exchanges and cooperation with the United Kingdom. Britain is already a primary partner for Japan. The United Kingdom also considers Japan its closest security partner in Asia. In January 2017, the two countries signed the Defense Logistics Treaty, which allows for more direct collaboration on various activities, including U.N. peacekeeping operations and joint humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions.
The SDF and British forces can, in theory, conduct joint drills in Japan without a status of forces agreement. The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force and British Royal Air Force held drills at a Japanese base in 2016, and Japanese and British forces have planned for another joint exercise in Japan in December 2018. But the pact would help clarify rules, ease immigration procedures and bolster force mobility and partnership. In August, the two countries even moved to sign an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, which allows mutual use of equipment and supplies.
Still, Tokyo is looking to expand the scope of its military industrial cooperation with foreign countries in general, particularly ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Japan and United States already have a status of forces agreement. Japan is reportedly holding talks with Australia on a similar security cooperation agreement as well. Britain is just one of several potential partners for Japan, especially as North Korean missile development and other threats persist in the Asia-Pacific region.