Relations with Japan

  • Last updated: 07 Apr. 2016 15:17

Japan is the longest-standing of NATO’s “partners across the globe”. Building on initial contacts in the early 1990s, dialogue on common security interests has become more regular and structured. Practical cooperation has been developed in a wide range of areas, including peace-support and crisis-management activities, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, cyber defence, defence against terrorism, non-proliferation, as well as participation in military activities. Stabilising Afghanistan has been a key focus of cooperation over the past decade. NATO and Japan signalled their commitment to strengthen cooperation in a joint political declaration signed in April 2013, during the visit of NATO’s Secretary General to Japan.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Fumio Kishida

The joint political declaration demonstrates how far the relationship between NATO and Japan has been taken in recent years. It sets out shared strategic interests in promoting global peace, stability and prosperity through pursuing a rules-based international order. It also outlines areas where Japan and NATO can develop closer cooperation, such as crisis management, peace-support operations and disaster-relief efforts, as well as defending against emerging threats from missiles, pirates, or in cyberspace.

Japan is one of a range of countries beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, which share similar strategic concerns and key Alliance values and with which NATO is developing relations.

NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept paved the way for a more flexible partnership policy offering all partners the same basis of cooperation and dialogue. Choosing from the wide range of cooperation activities available in the Partnership Cooperation Menu, Japan concluded an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme with NATO on 6 May 2014 - a programme that is tailored to its interests and formalises its relations with the Alliance.

Practical cooperation

Japan has provided much-valued support for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and for reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan. Japan helped mobilise international support for Afghanistan’s ongoing development by organising the Tokyo Conference in July 2012 and has itself pledged US$5 billion to this end over a five-year period (2009-2013).

In the past, Japan supported efforts to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate former combatants, and it continues to support efforts to reintegrate insurgents under the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, to which Japan has contributed US$52 million.

Japan has also provided financial support to human security projects in numerous regions of Afghanistan since 2007. Facilitated by ISAF, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) identify critical areas for Japan’s Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects (GAGP). In 2009, Japan appointed liaison officers to the Lithuanian PRT in Chaghcharan and the Swedish PRT in Mazar-e Sharif to support these programmes. They also maintained a direct presence in the office of the NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan to help coordinate the US$20 million worth of GAGP funding.

Moreover, Japan has made valuable contributions to the Afghan National Army (ANA) Trust Fund aimed at equipping and sustaining the ANA, including US$20 million for literacy programmes as well as funds to procure medical supplies. Additionally, Japan has made generous contributions to a NATO/Partnership Trust Fund project in Afghanistan with a view to enhancing stockpile management and physical security of ammunitions.

Japan has also been contributing generously to the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOTFA) since 2007, mainly to support the salaries and training of Afghan police. Donations over the three-year period from 2010 to 2012 amounted to almost US$600 million.

Japan has supported similar Trust Fund projects in other partner countries. It is supporting an ammunition stockpile-management project in Tajikistan, the destruction of pesticides in Moldova and the clearance of an ammunition depot in Georgia. It also contributed to a project to clear 571 hectares of contaminated land and safely dispose of unexploded ordnance in Azerbaijan and has been supporting a similar Trust Fund project in Azerbaijan since 2011.

In the 1990s, Japan played a role in stabilising the Balkans, where NATO has led several peace-support operations since the mid-1990s – as a major donor nation, it contributed to the successful recovery of the Balkans region and its reintegration into the European mainstream.

More recently, Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force has assisted NATO ships with preventing pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden.


A strategic dialogue involving high-level discussions held alternatively in Japan and at NATO Headquarters in Brussels has been ongoing since the early 1990s. Initial exchanges led to more structured and regular contact.

NATO’s Secretary General visited Tokyo in April 2005 and again in December 2007. In January 2007, during his first term as Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe addressed the North Atlantic Council (NAC). Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto visited NATO Headquarters in May 2011 and met the current Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The Secretary General visited Japan again in April 2013 for talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and top officials in his government on security issues of shared concern as well as opportunities for deeper cooperation. In May 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to NATO Headquarters in Brussels to hold discussions with the Secretary General and address the NAC. It was during this visit that Japan’s Individual Partnership Cooperation Programme was concluded.

Demonstrating the deepening of relations between NATO and Japan in recent years, Japanese officials have participated in a number of informal exchanges of views with Allies on security issues of mutual interest, such as North Korea, assistance to Afghanistan, cooperation with Central Asia, missile defence and counter-piracy.