Technology & Trade

Japan’s Progressive Approach To Coordinated Capacity Building

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A common theme in international relations debates today centers on the need to move beyond stove-piped bureaucracies and policy solutions to more effectively respond to the interconnected challenges of a world defined by the forces of globalization. In particular, numerous governmental and multilateral strategic policy directives over the past few years have emphasized the importance of combining efforts that build defense and security capacity with projects that further development needs. While widespread operationalization of this powerful rhetoric at a broader strategic level remains a relative rarity, recent efforts by the Japanese government offer a good example of one way forward for this kind of hybrid policy.

For the past six years, Japan has demonstrated an increasingly progressive approach to coordinating capacity-building in defense, security, and development. It has pursued these efforts with the stated goal of utilizing development activities to meet the needs of developing states while furthering Japanese strategic objectives. For example, in June 2006, Tokyo announced its decision to donate three patrol boats to Indonesia through Japanese official development assistance (ODA). The boats did not carry weapons and were banned from being transferred to another country. Instead, the vessels were intended only for limited use, covering primarily counterterrorism and anti-piracy efforts.

In April 2009, under a grant aid program, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) transferred high-tech equipment to the Philippine Coast Guard for use in maritime safety and security. Transferred equipment included satellite communications systems, a VHF/HF radio system, a microwave communications system, and transmitting and receiving equipment for various stations. Members of the Japanese coast guard have also conducted joint anti-piracy and counterterrorism exercises with their Filipino counterparts.

Likewise, in 2011, Japan delivered night-vision goggles, binocular range finders, and digital portable radios to the Malaysian police’s Marine Operation Force. Rigid-hull inflatable boats were also donated to enhance surveillance of Malaysian waters for “more effective suppression of sea crimes committed using high speed boats.”

These initiatives were followed in April 2012 by Minister of Foreign Affairs Koichiro Gemba’s public declaration that Japan intends to pivot toward a “strategic use” of ODA to promote safety and security in the Asian region. Gemba mentioned, in particular, the provision of patrol boats to developing coastal states to enhance their maritime security capabilities, adding that such vessels could be used effectively for anti-piracy measures. Japan’s policy trajectory was again reaffirmed by JICA newly appointed president, Akihiko Tanaka, during a visit to Washington in July. Tanaka noted that, in light of myriad transnational security challenges threatening sustainable development, ODA must be used for technological assistance and training.

By more holistically targeting development, security and defense objectives with its capacity-building initiatives, the Japanese government is able to meet the needs of its developing-country partners while at the same time pursuing its own broader strategic goals. Japan’s reasoning for building security capacity, particularly maritime security, through the strategic use of aid is closely tied to Tokyo’s national security and economic interests and represents a savvy deployment of its soft power. The country is heavily reliant on secure trade and maritime transport in Southeast Asia, particularly the Malacca Strait. And because Japan’s efforts to build security capacity coincide with Southeast Asia’s development needs, the effort is both cost-effective and mutually beneficial.

None of the efforts were aimed at militarizing a country or region, nor do the initiatives seek to “securitize” aid. Instead, the programming is closely coordinated with recipient states’ development needs, while seeking to respond to a more complex global environment in which sustainable development through security capacity building is a critical component. Moreover, this development assistance illustrates the role of technology as a force multiplier to enhance globalization’s benefits by combating the potentially negative consequences of greater integration.

In addition, Japan’s strategic use of aid goes beyond Asia. In May, Jordan and Japan signed an agreement for a $6.7 million grant to improve Jordan’s security equipment at border checkpoints. Japanese officials asserted that the grant was part of Japan’s aid program for cooperation in counterterrorism and security and would include the installation and replacement of security screening and customs inspection equipment. Jordanian officials noted that the two states were in continuing discussions about additional grants for security enhancement projects.

Similarly, this summer, JICA donated patrol vehicles, radio communication systems, night-vision scopes and portable search lights to Uganda and Rwanda to enable those two countries to jointly carry out border surveillance operations against smugglers along their border. The equipment will meet a range of institutional needs critical for national economic development, including assessment of customs duties and effective tax collection at border posts. Similar assistance in the past has boosted the capacity of Ugandan tax authorities to prevent illicit traders from exploiting weak border controls.

Thus, Japan has piloted an innovative approach to using ODA beyond its traditional focus. After initial successes on the ground, the political leadership acted to shape a broader policy, “strategic use” of aid, which can serve as an instructive example for policymakers elsewhere. The rest of the international community would do well to follow Japan’s lead to integrate defense, security and development activities in a world increasingly defined by the interconnectedness of this triad.

Note: This piece reflects a longer article previously published by World Politics Review. Read it in full here.


Photo credit: Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)

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