While it may appear that both nations have much to gain from an enhanced level of security cooperation, the process of forging closer ties is a far more complex matter. The signing of an Acquisitions and Cross Servicing Agreement (or ACSA) in May 2010, and the signing in May this year (2012) of an Information Security Agreement are the nascent steps in a growing strategic relationship between Australia and Japan, and it is possible to expect further agreements in the coming years, particularly those related to joint exercises involving disaster response and humanitarian missions, along with a possible dispatch of the SDF to join the ADF in inter-regional exercises with the US (as evidenced by the participation of the RAAF in Exercise COPE NORTH) and ASEAN nations.
For Australia, one of the particularly intriguing parts of a potential expansion in security ties with Japan is that of increased access to Japanese conventional submarine technology and the expertise that accompanies this. Restrictions to the export of military technology from Japan had hampered any attempt in the past to realise this ambition, however recent developments in Japan, not least of which concerned the decision to allow joint development in defence projects with the United Kingdom, has given renewed interest in furthering ties with Japanese heavy industry to take advantage of the level of technological know-how such industries possess. While any negotiations on furthering technological exchanges are yet to occur, the very fact that Australia is giving more than a passing thought to Japanese military prowess in submersible vehicles bodes well for the future of joint development projects between both nations.
If such projects do go ahead, then one might expect that they would expand to cover not only maritime technologies, but those related to signals intelligence, in particular access to Japanese satellite technology that might provide the foundation for an expansion of Australia's own signals network. Not only this, Japanese experimental work in robotics and machinery might also provide avenues for joint work on bomb and IED disposal, in additional to mine clearance and drone based technologies.
While both sides are aware of the potential advantages of an increase in security relations, they are also conscious of the restrictions that currently prevent such relations from reaching their full potential. As has often been debated by IR scholars in relation to Japan, questions of constitutional revision and political reluctance to modify Japan's fundamental stance on military cooperation with third party states have undermined attempts to further Japan's security relations in the region, and to that extent Australia is no exception. Throughout the Cold War period, apart from occasional visits by SDF vessels, aircraft and the dispatch of SDF officers to ADF staff colleges, security dialogue between both nations was relatively limited, with far greater priority being given to negotiations with the United States (in the case of both Japan and Australia), along with the Five Powers Nations (in the case of Australia).
The removal of the Soviet Union as a figurative (and occasionally real) adversary and the gradual emergence of China as a regional power forced a rethink among defence policy makers in both countries on how they might secure ties with like-minded states, although on the surface there does not appear to be any significant gains to be made from enhanced security relations between Australia and Japan. For Australia, while Japan is an important trading partner, its reluctance to become involved in any missions bar UN sanctioned humanitarian operations (and this only became a option from 1992 onwards without unanimous domestic Japanese support), together with the strength of the US Pacific Command's ties to the SDF, an increase in Japanese defence spending in the 1980s which boosted Japanese defensive capabilities beyond those that could be provided by the ADF, and the existence in the East Asian region of other manufacturing nations that could supply goods of equal quality to those produced in Japan could all serve as arguments against furthering security ties.
In the case of Japan, while Australia provides a stable supply of minerals, food stuffs, and other raw materials (as well as being a potential tourist destination), the relatively small presence of the ADF in the Asia Pacific, Australia's dependence on the US for its security needs (making it similar to Japan rather than an independent power in itself), and a history of limited interaction between the SDF and ADF have all contributed to a degree of complacency with regard to bilateral strategic relations with the land down under. Given the degree of distance between Japan and Australia, and the complexity involved in attempting to negotiate with other regional partners to allow ADF vessels and aircraft to contribute to the defence of Japan should this prove necessary, there is not a great degree of incentive for Japan to pursue closer security ties with Australia either, particularly when it faces more pressing concerns in securing safe trade routes to ASEAN nations (where Japanese corporations maintain off-shore manufacturing plants) together with attempting to improve defensive ties with South Korea.
The increase in military spending by China, and the possibility of inter-regional conflict sparked by an attempt by China to exert its territorial claims against those of neighbouring countries has changed the security dynamic that used to exist between Australia and Japan, which in itself could be an unintended consequence of Chinese military planning (which, if true, would have seriously miscalculated concerns within both nations). Nonetheless, as Shiro Armstrong has pointed out, both Australia and Japan are dependent upon China's burgeoning economy in order to fuel their own growth, and friction between either nation and China would ultimately prove counter-productive to their economic interests. Yet the existence of any enhanced security relationship between Australia and Japan would have to consider the circumstances under which mutual assistance would be granted. Under current arrangements, the involvement of the US in a conflict between Japan and China could potentially invoke the ANZUS treaty. However if a similar agreement existed with Japan, then there would be no doubt as to Australia's responsibility to assist both of its allies no matter what the potential damage this would wreak on its economic interests (of course, any outbreak of conflict with China would render such concerns moot as trade routes through the western Pacific would be interrupted by one side or the other during the course of the conflict).
If such an argument had to be made, one could state that it would be far better for Australia to forge closer ties with a likeminded state that shares similar (but not identical) interests and which is far less prone to domestic upheavel and capricious foreign policy judgments in response to the threat of such upheavel. In an ideal situation, such a decision would not have to be made as Australia would maintain its neutrality, or would at least seek to remove the threat of conflict through mediation as a 'middle power'. Yet given the potential uncertainties of attempting to preserve the status quo against the belligerency of competing major powers and the nationalism invokved by territorial disputes, it would be far better for Australia to be aligned with a state such as Japan rather than trying to negotiate a multilateral cease fire between states, not all of whom may agree to adhere to the terms of that cease fire.
At any rate, Australia's strategic relationship with Japan might benefit for the foreseeable future in having a much broader degree of cooperation in intelligence sharing. The decision for forge an agreement related to information sharing has provided a solid basis on which to further such ties. In recent years, the revelation that the US had been pushing for Japan to increase its espionage capacities was greeted with optimism among the Australian security community, with one observer stating that having Japan as a potential intelligence partner would prove particularly useful given Japan's ability to manouvre within East Asian societies without raising undue attention. While questions still remain as to whether Japan would be willing or able to expand its intelligence functions, given the amount of domestic backlash that could be expected from such a move and how it would impact upon Japan's purely defensive based security policy, it is an avenue that warrants further scrutiny. To have Japan function as an affiliate of the Five Eyes arrangement, together with South Korea, would create a more solid security apparatus within the Asia Pacific region, although US reservations concerning the degree of reliability of such an framework would need to be placated first.