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On 10th April this year UK Prime Minster David Cameron visited Tokyo. On the agenda, amongst a whole range of proposals on bilateral cooperation, was a series of new defence initiatives, including agreement to work together in development of new defence equipment. Details were set out in a joint statement issued by both Prime Ministers

.Japan has been cautious in making defence agreements since the Second World War, outside of its treaty relationship with the United States. The roles of its Self Defence Forces have been restricted primarily to territorial defence (although some limited peacekeeping has been conducted abroad since the early 1990s) and expenditure capped to 1% of GDP. Further, in 1967 Japan imposed restrictions on arms exports, and tightened these in 1976, isolating its defence industry from international collaboration and competition, apart from very occasional exceptions on a case-by-case basis, such as joint production of Ballistic Missile Defence equipment with the United States in 2003.

In late 2011, the Japanese cabinet relaxed the arms export ban, allowing some exports for peacekeeping purposes, and to allow Japanese defence companies to participate in international collaborative projects. The detailed implications of this change in policy have not yet been published, and it is likely that there will need to be a number of changes in time, including new arms export control legislation similar to that used by other countries, which will allow Japan to control the export of any equipment or technology to third parties.

Since the end of the Cold War, the capacity of individual countries to build and maintain an industrial base capable of supplying military equipment for all eventualities has become more and more constrained. New information technology that has allowed substantially more accurate surveillance together with precision targeting has reduced dramatically the numbers of military systems needed to deliver weapons for military effect, whilst at the same time the unit costs of such equipment has increased substantially. Further advanced technologies such as stealth technologies and unmanned autonomous systems have reinforced this trend. Most western countries realised some time ago that totally indigenous development was unsustainable and, in Europe in particular, collaborative programmes have become increasingly the norm as countries have sought to balance limited budgets with the need to maintain national production capability within key areas. Japan has recognised this imperative somewhat later.

For Japan to enter the world of defence industrial collaboration will require some careful management, to ensure that Japanese defence companies will be able to work on an equal basis with their counterparts. Selecting the UK as an initial partner makes sense; Japan and the UK are island nations, with similar core capability needs, similar strategic relationships with the US, and with similar defence budgets. There is a long historical bilateral relationship, stretching back to the 19th Century, including early collaboration in defence equipment.

The two governments reaffirmed the commitments made by the Prime Ministers when officials signed defence agreements in the margins of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on 3 June 2012. This commits both sides to development of appropriate protocols for sharing of protected information and creation of appropriate procedures in which collaboration can take place, as well as to cooperation in cyber defence and international peacekeeping. It is not yet clear whether the initiative for collaborative defence industrial projects will be government led, or whether both sides will look to industry to identify ways in which companies from both countries can take forward the commitments set out in the joint statement in April.

There are reasons for believing that this new bilateral initiative between the UK and Japan might set a trend for increased collaboration between western countries, particularly in Europe, and the emerging economies of Asia. Put simply, European countries have managed to sustain advanced capabilities in defence technology since the end of the Cold War, but are increasingly finding that the defence budgets to pay for continued development are dwindling. At the same time, in this specialist industrial area, Asian countries are looking to devote some of their increasing wealth to their defence and security capabilities as national security tensions within the Indian Ocean and in the western Pacific Rim gradually assume greater priority. Asian countries will want not just to purchase advanced technologies, but also to increase indigenous defence and security industrial capability. European governments are keen to maintain investment in design capability and to a lesser extent in industrial capacity, but have an open mind on technology transfer. There are clearly deals that can be done.

A showcase for this new era of collaboration took place in London in June this year, at the Securing Asia Summit held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster. Over the three-day programme, delegates from across Asia and Europe discussed key issues of defence and security, and the technological solutions that are increasingly being used in multilateral arenas, and explored the ways in which practical collaboration can take place at the industry level. The summit facilitated vast business opportunities through a series of conferences and exhibitions running throughout with focused workshops on the third day comprising ‘How to do Business in Asia’, covering market entries, strategies and advice. Also included was a session on the Asian Legal Framework which encompassed Anti-Corruption, Anti-Bribery Acts, Defence Offset and Procurement Policies. A further unique feature of the Summit was the one-to-one VIP meetings where interested buyers within this nascent market had pre-arranged one-to-one meetings with western security suppliers, thereby building closer relationships and a deeper understanding of the procurement needs and processes within different Asian markets.

Securing Asia is an annual event and will be held next on 18th-19th June 2013, with the ultimate goal to bring to the western corridor a host of Asian government buyers and influencers looking to source the latest information and solutions on counter terror and homeland security.