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Interview with Michito Tsuruoka

Image credit: The Tokyo Foundation

Image credit: The Tokyo Foundation

In this interview – part of European Geostrategy’s now long-running interview series – Luis Simón discusses the interplay between European and Indo-Pacific geopolitics; Japanese foreign and strategic policy; and European interests in the Indo-Pacific, with Michito Tsuruoka, Senior Research Fellow at Japan’s National Centre for Defence Studies.


LS: Over the last few years you have been advocating for greater security interaction between Europe and Asia. Do you think the Ukraine crisis and the re-emergence of strategic tensions in Eastern Europe shuts the door to a potential European contribution to global security, including in the Asia-Pacific region? Or should Europeans still aspire to play a security role beyond Europe? If so, to what extent, and in what ways, can Europeans contribute to underpinning security in the Asia-Pacific region?

MT: One of the things that I am concerned about regarding the Ukraine crisis is that we might end up finding an inward-looking Europe, preoccupied only with the security problems in its own region. That is not good news for Japan or Asia. But it is not in Europe’s own interest either. Because playing a political and security role in the Asia-Pacific region is no longer about Europe’s aspiration or ambition: it is about defending its own interests there. There is no choice. In other words, it is no longer a question of ‘whether’, but that of ‘how’. What takes place in Asia is likely to affect not only Europe’s prosperity, but increasingly its security as well. Whether you like it or not, and regardless of how the Ukraine crisis unfolds, this trend will continue. I believe Europe’s awareness about this inter-connected nature between the two regions – though slowly – is increasing.

Europe’s security role in Asia should not be dismissed by the fact that Europe is generally not willing or prepared to be involved in military contingencies in Asia and play a direct military role in the region. In the first place, that is not the role Asians expect Europe to play. One of the areas where Europe could play a valuable role is in promoting the importance of rule of law, emphasising the need to respect laws and norms in managing international relations and preventing the status quo from being changed by force or coercion. Europe and Asia face common concerns in this regard, as has been illustrated by the Ukraine crisis. When it comes to enforcing the validity of such rules and principles there should be no room for neutrality.

LS: As a key waterway connecting East Asia with the energy and mineral riches of the Persian Gulf and Africa, the Indian Ocean is increasingly bound up with Asia-Pacific geopolitics. How aware is Japan of the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean and what kind of opportunities do you see for Europe-Japan cooperation there?

MT: India is increasingly seen as an important partner for Japan. And the importance of the Indian Ocean is now being recognised more and more. The area sits in the middle of the important maritime communication lines linking Japan, the Middle East and Europe. In the context of growing India-Japan maritime cooperation and also as a result of Japan’s participation in international counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) has more regular presence in the Indian Ocean region. In the area of counter-piracy there is scope for greater and more direct cooperation and coordination between Japan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU) – particularly in the Gulf of Aden and its surrounding areas. The Japanese, NATO and EU vessels have already been in the same theatre for some time and there have been some successful cases of cooperation in locating pirates and suspicious ships. But more could be done through more direct and structured cooperation.

In terms of Europe-Japan/Asia cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, Australia is in a good position to play a role. At a ministerial 2+2 meeting between the United Kingdom (UK) and Australia (AUKMIN) in London in March 2014, Canberra expressed its interest in letting the Royal Navy ‘utilise’ Darwin and the UK side said it would send British vessels to the region more regularly, while short of permanent stationing. Given the increasing security and defence cooperation between Japan and Australia and Japan and the UK, and considering Britain’s own long-standing strategic ties with Australia, it might be worth exploring the possibility of involving Britain in Japan-Australia cooperation. And the Indian Ocean makes an ideal venue for UK-Japan-Australia trilateral cooperation.

LS: Finally, and moving beyond the Indo-Pacific maritime corridor, what kind of opportunities do you envisage for Europe-Japan security cooperation in places like Central Asia or the Arctic?

MT: Central Asia and the Arctic are interesting areas where there is a potential for Europe and Japan to cooperate more. The strategic importance of Central Asia is indisputable and Japan’s and the EU’s respective approaches to the region – combining economic, political and security tools – seem compatible. European and Japanese interest in the Arctic is also obvious. The Arctic sits in the middle of a new shipment route linking Europe and Japan, one that is much shorter than other traditional routes passing through the Suez Canal. But I do not think there is a consensus in Japan as to what extent we should approach this as a security issues as opposed to a predominantly economic issue. This will largely depend on the evolution of the relationship between the West and Russia – and might therefore be affected, directly or indirectly, by the Ukraine crisis. Other areas where more Europe-Japan cooperation is needed include Africa, where Japan is now expanding its political and security engagement.

Beyond geographical areas, Europe and Japan can think of more dialogue and cooperation in new functional areas such as cyber security and outer space. These are the areas where the international community need a new set of norms and rules.

LS: Thank you for answering these questions.

Vol. 6, No. 34 (2014)


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