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Will Japan, Israel, Britain fill the US regional security vacuum?

Japan, Israel and Britain are coalescing to fight the rising tide of extremism -- with no help from Obama
World leaders and local officials marching in Paris on January 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Erick  Feferberg)
World leaders and local officials marching in Paris. (photo credit: AFP/Erick Feferberg)

America, leader of the global anti-ISIS coalition, was blindingly absent in the rally against Islamic terrorism in Paris on 11 January. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the image of world leaders ranging from Germany, Italy, Britain, Israel, Jordan, and others standing in solidarity sans US, clearly states that President Obama no longer sees America as a leader of the free world and will continue to “lead from behind.”

When America was wounded in the 9/11 attacks, then German Chancellor Schroeder put aside personal differences with the Bush administration and stood together in solidarity with his NATO ally, invoking Article 5 for the first time in NATO history. He recognized this new war was much bigger than US-German relations—it was about fighting for and defending the free world against rising tides of Islamic extremism and tyranny. Visibly shaken in the immediate 9/11-aftermath, Schroeder told the German parliament the terrorist attack was “a declaration of war against the entire civilized world.”

Now, when France is wounded, and world leaders including German Chancellor Merkel rushed to her side, the US president is nowhere to be seen. CNN’s Jake Tapper, joined by an ever growing chorus of Americans, lamented Obama’s failure to represent America to her allies in this historic march of some 3.7 million people across France, the scale of which is unparalleled since the Liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany in 1944.

He further observed, “it’s not a small thing for the King of Jordan, who…is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, it’s not a small thing for him to be walking in the same line as the Prime Minister of Israel, protesting the terrorist acts committed…” Yet US President Obama was a no-show, and the whole world took notice.

It appears that rather than degrading and defeating ISIS and other Islamic terrorists, Obama is degrading and defeating US credibility as a trustworthy ally across the globe.

Now, nervous allies are diversifying away from Washington and seeking alternative security arrangement in a new geopolitical realignment—especially Japan, Israel, and Britain.

JIB — a New Coalition?

Japan, a close ally of the US with the third largest economy in the world, is upgrading defense cooperation with two other close US allies — Israel and Britain. Collectively they form the JIBs (Japan, Israel, Britain), a concept based on Ian Bremmer’s 2013 Foreign Policy article grouping the triune powers as being most adversely affected by declining US hegemony in East Asia, Middle East, and Europe. As such, there has been discussion in Tokyo to further consolidate defense cooperation among the three powers.


Japan and Israel

This Friday through next Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to visit Israel, following Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Tokyo last May. Despite decades of cool relations, Japan and Israel’s growing ties highlight a common bond — both are threatened by neighbor’s nuclear ambitions, and they both have deep but sometimes-uneasy alliances with Washington.

Presently Abe’s government is bolstering its defense in the face of significant security issues in Asia, and values Israeli military and defense technologies as Japan is modernizing its military capabilities. For Japan, there is a demand for Israeli technology in fields such as cyber and information security, space, medical equipment, green energy, as well as need for intelligence sharing.

Israel likewise recently passed a comprehensive plan to strengthen ties with Japan, and paves the way for a strategic array of partnership with three Asian superpowers—Japan, China and India. In face of tense relations with EU over BDS movement as well as Obama administration’s antagonism and reported threats of sanctions against Israel, Jerusalem is “looking east”.

Japan and Britain

Britain is also looking away from the EU towards the east, and a 6 December Daily Telegraph article announced “Britain returns ‘East of Suez’” with a permanent Royal Navy base in the Gulf. London is also upgrading ties further east with Japan.

In autumn 2013, Japan and Britain signed a series of defense agreements with maritime security, intelligence sharing, and anti-terrorism efforts high on the list. Both countries are close US allies and want to maintain military interoperability with Washington, while Tokyo is also looking to forge new security alliances with nations that have similar defense concerns and an equal commitment to international security.

Simon Chelton, former defense attaché at the British Embassy in Tokyo, said “Britain and Japan are island nations on the edge of large continents, that are dependent on external resource supply by sea, which means that both have similar needs for maritime and air military capability.” As such Japan has relaxed its defense exports regulations and is pursuing cooperation with London on these key capabilities.

Last year Japan and Britain agreed on a deal between Mitsubishi Electric Corp and European missile maker MBDA to develop medium range air-to-air missile for the F-35 stealth fighter, which both countries plan to deploy. Currently Japan plans to sell its P-1 submarine hunting jet to London for $1 billion.

The Japan Technical and Research Institute in Japan’s MoD and its British counterpart, Defense Science and Technology Laboratories at Porton Down, are also developing protective clothing against nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) threats, given reports that ISIS has procured chemical and biological weapons.

Defense cooperation is not new between Japan and Britain. In 1902, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance was signed between Foreign Secretary Lord Landsdowne and Japanese Minister Hayashi Tadasu to counter Russian expansionism, effectively ending Britain’s splendid isolation. It was renewed and expanded in 1905 and 1911, and officially terminated in 1923.

As Obama continues to lead from behind and further international perception of US isolationism, perhaps the JIBs will indeed eventually arise to fill the US security vacuum across Eurasia.

About the Author
Dr. Christina Lin is a California-based academic and consultant specializing in China-Mediterranean/Middle East relations. Specific areas of interest include China's Belt and Road Initiatives, Defense and Peace Economics, Conflict Management, and U.S.-China-Israel relations.
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