Japan and the United States unveiled new guidelines for defense cooperation on Monday, reflecting Japan's willingness to take on a more robust international role at a time of growing Chinese power and rising concerns about nuclear-armed North Korea.
The first revision to the guidelines since 1997 allows for global cooperation militarily, ranging from defense against ballistic missile, cyber and space attacks and maritime security, following a Japanese Cabinet resolution last year reinterpreting Japan's pacifist constitution to allow the exercise of the right to "collective self-defense."
When China's power projection capabilities were nonexistent and when the USSR's power was concentrated north of Japan, the U.S.-Japan alliance worked fine if Japan could defend their own territory with our forces supporting them while our forces handled the fighting away from Japan.
Having a "self defense force" with narrowly defined missions was fine.
China's rise means that American forces outside of that bubble of direct defense of the Japanese home islands could now face Chinese attack and need Japanese support.
Other countries under attack by China--say the Philippines, Vietnam, or Taiwan--would likely need more than just American support to hold off the Chinese.
And a smaller U.S. Navy could use Japanese help--especially in mine warfare assets that we lack--as far away as the Persian Gulf.
If these things seem very normal, you are right. What nation couldn't do that sort of thing with allies?
That Japan did not think those activities were legal within their system cried out for changes to make them legal in the new security environment that we face in the western Pacific.
Don't think that this is just Japan helping us. This helps Japan. Without our forces, Japan cannot secure their sea lines of communication away from their local bubble of defense. Japan does not have a power projection capability. So enabling American forces nearby helps us keep Japan's trade routes open.
Oh, and the Russians are still all Russian-like north of Japan. So American-Japanese military cooperation would help there, too, for that smaller threat. For now. Who knows when Russia's Far East (formerly Chinese land) becomes a core interest of China?
UPDATE: Stratfor has more. If Japan is to make good on its efforts to be a security partner with America in the face of rising Chinese power they will need to get their economy growing again.