As Germany and Japan debate more assertive military policies, many analysts are examining the security concerns of the two countries and whether Tokyo and Berlin will deal with them independently or in tandem with their post-Second World War allies. Some experts say two new powers are emerging in regional and global security.
Emblematic of the change in German military thinking was a recent snapshot of Chancellor Angela Merkel on a submarine watching warships sail by. The occasion marked a new German mission in the Mediterranean Sea for the United Nations, which has a stronger mandate than any of country's other nine peacekeeping forces. Its navy is allowed to pursue and board ships suspected of smuggling arms to Lebanon. Still, many analysts note that Berlin's more active military posture is unlikely to lead to an autonomous German defense policy.
An Evolving German Role in NATO
Stephen Szabo, a foreign policy expert with The German Marshall Fund in the United States, says Germany's recent defense review, or White Book, emphasizes that NATO will remain central to the country's security.
"The Germans are very clear that they can't be unilateral, that they have to be deploying their forces as part of a multilateral structure. The White Book was very clear in its preference for NATO, that this is German's primary security option and that as long as NATO is willing to act and intervene, Germany would move with NATO first," says Szabo.
But Szabo adds that Germany's ties with the European Union will affect Berlin's relationship with NATO.
"I think what you can see happening is a slow movement toward Europe rather than NATO. My suspicion is that one of the lessons of the Afghanistan experience will be that Germans will say, 'We can't get that far a field from Europe and we are going to concentrate on places like the Balkans and the areas on the periphery of Europe and do that through the European Union,'" says Szabo.
Many analysts contend that Germany can't fulfill its ambitious new military goals with its current levels of spending. Less than one-and-a-half percent of the country's nearly $2.5 trillion gross domestic product goes to military spending, which is substantially less than Britain and France and below the target of two percent for NATO countries.
Kelly Longhurst, an expert for European security at the University of Birmingham, says German forces are constrained in other ways too.
"I think it's the most parliamentary controlled armed force in Europe -- [there is] huge parliamentary oversight. Deployments are hotly debated and lengthily debated in the German parliament. So any deployment, any issue to do with the armed forces comes to pervade all levels of the society and politics," says Longhurst.
Like Germany, Japan has recently stepped up efforts to eliminate some of the constitutional prohibitions that have limited the role of the country's self-defense forces since the end of World War II. Japan spends less than one percent of its more than $4.2 trillion GDP on the military. Due to the size of Japan's economy, the country has one of the largest military budgets in the world. Its armed forces are comparable to those of Britain or France, for example.
Bruce Klingner of The Heritage Foundation in Washington says that Japan's long-term security concern is the rise of China, while its immediate worry is North Korea.
"Right now, Japan is under a North Korean nuclear shadow. But looking a bit further down the road, Japan sees it should extend its own coverage of its defense further away from Japan's shores and that any threat from China could impact on Japanese national security and, therefore, it should implement measures so that it can better defend itself if China were to adopt a more belligerent posture," says Klingner.
Many analysts, including Michael Green of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, say although Japan could develop nuclear arms, it is reluctant to do so.
"They have nuclear reactors. They have a space system, a very high technology society. But the cost to them would be enormous. It would be isolated in Asia. They would be isolated from the U.S. So they would end up being in a much more dangerous situation," says Green. "The Japanese public broadly understands that. The only way it would happen would be if the U.S. pulled out of Asia, which given U.S. interests and U.S. economic and political ties to Asia, is a very unlikely scenario."
U.S. - Japan Ties
According to most security experts, Tokyo wants to build on its strong military ties with the United States.
Christopher Hughes of London-based Oxford Analytica says Japanese and American forces in Asia were likely continue to develop their long standing complementary relationship.
"The U.S. handled the offensive capabilities and Japan developed a whole series of defensive capabilities, like air cover for U.S. bases in Japan and destroyers to keep the sea lanes free from enemy submarines. In the post-Cold War period, we are seeing again this sword and shield function, but a much closer integrated one. Japan is for the first time actively connecting its self-defense forces with U.S. forces. And we are beginning to see more joint strategy planning for particular contingencies."
Most analysts agree that Tokyo sees its military partnership with America as a long-term strategic interest, while Germany will continue to pursue its security goals within multilateral structures, such as NATO.