by H.E. Mr Taro Aso, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan at the meeting with the North Atlantic Council
A New Century, A False Dawn
Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer, Distinguished Representatives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,
Thank you for your warm welcome. I have been looking forward to speaking to you because I am here to convey to you that Japan intends to work more closely with NATO.
Mr. Secretary General,
Your recent remark said that later this year when NATO's leaders meet, you will be discussing building closer ties with non-member nations, such as Japan. I concur with your remark and feel that now is the time for such discussions.
Today, I would like to touch upon why we must work together, point out what we are already doing together, and how we can further promote working together in the future.
September 11th, 2001, I believe, was a dawn of a new era.
During the Cold War, we were familiar with the kind of danger that confronted us.
However, in this post Nine-Eleven world, we realize the difficulty with which to forecast when and where new threats will emerge.
Still, I must remind you that in my part of the world, the underlying security structure remains sharply different from that of Europe. I often hear that in the Asian region, remains of the former era, a Cold-War-type structure still exists. For example, North Korea admits developing nuclear capabilities. Taiwan Strait matters still remain as issues.
What is new in this region is the rise of China.
While we welcome China to play a responsible role regionally as well as globally, we must carefully watch transparency in its military build-up because of the possible implications to the East Asian security environment.
On October 12th, 2002, terrorist suicide bomber killed hundreds of people in Bali, Indonesia among who were Japanese honeymooners.
Indonesia was devastated as tourism is one of the country's greatest industries.
This tragic incident awakened Asians to the reality that terrorists know no boundaries and attacks can take place anywhere.
As a result, discussions accelerated in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF,) on how nations in Asia should deal with acts of violence.
Now, while surrounded by traditional security environment, Asians are building a united front not only against terrorism, but also against international piracy, human and narcotics trafficking, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
No one can just sit still. We all must reach out and act before these new threats reach us.
With this common awareness, I believe Japan has rediscovered NATO's importance and, I hope, vice versa.
Excellencies, we are very well aware that NATO's primary role is collective defense. As you know, for Japan, due to its constitutional restraint, the Self-Defense Forces cannot be part of any kind of collective defense arrangements.
However, despite this constraint, Japan is moving proactively forward to shoulder its responsibilities in order to bring about more peace and security in the world. In this context, I firmly believe that Japan and NATO have much to achieve together.
In The Arabian Sea, In Pakistan
Indeed, as we are meeting here today, a Japanese support ship and a destroyer are on active duty, waiting to be approached by NATO member navies.
On board, more than three hundred dedicated uniformed personnel are working hard to do their part to support Operation Enduring Freedom.
Since November, 2001, Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force has continued to send a group of ships, in rotation, to the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.
One of the officers rightly named it "Operation Arabian Knights" because they are supporting the coalition navies, providing them with fuel and water.
Needless to say, I am very proud that their skills at sea are internationally acclaimed.
Fifteen years ago, shortly after the end of the Gulf War, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force sent a mine-sweeper group to the Persian Gulf region.
The four sweeper vessels that made the core of the group were all small, only 500 tons or so. Yet they had to travel sixty-eight hundred miles away from their home ports.
Five hundred men on board worked hard for 99 days, succeeded in collecting 34 mines left untouched, simply because they were in the most difficult water to navigate.
However, not only were the others impressed with the skills of the Japanese forces but the high morale among the men, impressed them most.
Some of the men involved were as young as 19. Still, they were extremely disciplined throughout the 100 day operation.
I am again pleased to be telling you that Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force is exhibiting the same, or an even higher level of morale daily under the severe and scorching conditions of the Arabian Sea.
As of March seventh this year, 679 pumping operations provided one hundred and ten million US gallons of fuel for ships, one hundred and fourteen thousand gallons of helicopter fuel, and six hundred and twenty-one thousand gallons of water.
Considering its importance to counter-terrorism, Japan has just extended this operation for another six months.
In Afghanistan, one of Japan's major contributions is DDR, to disarm and demobilize the former National Army soldiers and reintegrate them with civil society.
This effort has played a very important role to accelerate Afghan's transition from the old Taliban regime to the new, more peaceful and democratic society.
I am very proud that the DDR process is close to its successful completion.
Here I must stress that the DDR program has owed its success substantially to the activities of the International Security Assistance Force. The local presence of the ISAF has played a vital role in undertaking DDR, for example, on the very spot of disarmament, and in persuading local warlords, collecting weapons from individuals, and so on.
Needless to say, for a country like Afghanistan which is in transition, security is vital for its reconstruction effort.
I believe that Japan's DDR and NATO's ISAF have had tremendous synergy to sustain security, in this region, without which Afghan people could not have come this far.
Also in Iraq, thousands of men and women from the Self-Defense Forces have served the local communities.
They have been working there for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, mending roads, providing medical services, and working closely, first with the Dutch and then with British and Australian troops.
Westward in Golan Heights, a group of Japanese uniformed personnel is engaged in the peace keeping operation, and are also cooperating closely with NATO member countries, namely Canada, Poland and Slovakia.
Furthermore in Pakistan, Japan met NATO yet again, after the strong earthquake hit the country last year.
The SDF unit Japan sent for the rescue, worked side by side with the NATO Response Force troops.
So, you can see, cooperation between Japan and NATO is already taking place.
Over the last several years, both Japan and NATO, have intensified contact.
In May of 2004, at your invitation, the then Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan came to NAC to speak on Japan's effort regarding DDR.
The following month, a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force specialist in submarine operations was welcomed by NATO colleagues in St. Petersburg, joining the meeting of the NATO Submarine Escape and Rescue Working Group.
Following Mr. de Hoop Scheffer's visit to Japan in April, 2005, General Hajime Massaki, Chairman of the Joint Staff Council of SDF, visited Brussels.
Then visits by my colleagues followed.
Yasuhisa Shiozaki, Senior Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Shotaro Yachi, Vice Minister, came to NATO in December last year, and this January, respectively.
The sixth Japan-NATO Senior Officials' Talk was held last month.
Finally, I am here today, the first visit to NAC by a Japanese Foreign Minister.
We Are Peers, Like-Minded: Let Us Move On Together.
I should point out that since Japan and NATO are bound by many commonalities, these exchange of visits has been long over-due.
I believe that by nature, we are like-minded peers, as we all value the virtue of democracy, human rights, and rule of law.
These encounters come with little surprise, as Japan and NATO have long shared a common intention: to contribute actively toward peace and stability of the international community.
Japan is aware of the ongoing discussions within NATO regarding the review of the partnership.
We know also, that NATO is increasingly serving as a forum to discuss political and security issues of interest and concern to its Allies and other engaged countries such as Japan.
Let us enhance our mutual awareness, as we will most likely find ourselves working aside together much more frequently than in the past.
Let us start talking to one another more often and much more on a regular basis, with a view of possibility for operational cooperation in the future.
Let us establish a workable interface in order to coordinate our policies.
I say with conviction that Japan is interested in establishing a regular contact with the North Atlantic Council.
During the course of discussions, Japan will consider the most appropriate modality of cooperation with NATO within its constitutional framework.
So let us begin by doing what is mutually doable, such as defense exchanges, and aim for big and more, over time.
Our efforts may be a small step forward, yet given the past distances between Japan and NATO, it is greatly significant.
Down the road, it is my belief that we will eventually discover how we can cooperate not only in policy coordination but also in operational areas, as Japan and NATO continue to deepen mutual understanding.
So may I suggest that we take the first step together today and let us move forward.