So what was discussed within the ministers' meeting? Upon reading press releases issued later on the same day, the overriding message appeared to be that of "closer cooperation", as evidenced by the sub-headings given to the various parts of the official visit media release - cooperating for peace and stability, cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, cooperation in international security issues, and bilateral defence cooperation. With all this cooperation going on, what did the talks produce? Amid the standard rhetoric of shared values, common goals, and so forth there was this paragraph:
26. Strengthening cooperation on space-security issues, bilaterally, trilaterally with the United States and with other parties, particularly on the development of international norms and confidence-building measures for
space. Working together to take forward the proposed International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. Engaging the region more on space issues, including in the ASEAN Regional Forum.
This apparently builds on sentiment that was originally expressed back in November 2010 during the AUSMIN talks between the US and Australia. This meeting resulted in the signing of a Space Situational Awareness Partnership Statement of Principles, which basically gave Australia access to US satellite technology monitoring "foreign object" traffic passing through the stratosphere of the Asia Pacific. The US and Japan each maintain separate agreements on sharing space related security relations, however the above paragraph indicates that Japan and Australia may in turn pursue their own separate agreement (in coordination with the US), a point made all the more plausible with the signing of the information sharing agreement between Japan and Australia in May of this year (which was not reported via a press release by either DFAT or the DOD in Australia, possibly out of concern that this would impact negatively on Australia-China ties and on the respective visits by Foreign Minister Carr and Defence Minister Smith to China thereafter. The Japanese version can, however, be found here).
A further area of interest was this particular paragraph entered under the sub-heading of bilateral defence cooperation:
38. Deepening the relationship and linkages between the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) of Australia and the Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI) of Japan.
Given the fact that Japan has already embarked upon joint development of weapons systems with the UK and France, the sentiment expressed above will give the DMO cause for hope in the possible involvement by Japanese technical experts in improving weapons delivery systems and (more importantly) submarine engine design. Defence Minister Morimoto, when questioned by an Australian journalist (most likely Hamish McDonald of the SMH, given his past interest in the issue), stated that submarines would not be discussed during Stephen Smith's up-coming visit to Japan. Maybe not, but it would be hard to imagine it being left off the agenda given the degree of interest Australia has in conventional submarines (only last month a parliamentary subcommittee was making its merry way across Europe, touring the manufacturing plants of Navantia and HDW, to name but two - E).
The press release also contained these paragraphs, which really bring the whole point of the talks to a head:
34. Deepening bilateral information exchanges at the strategic, operational and tactical levels in support of interoperability.
35. Expanding people-to-people links and exchanges, including exchanges of strategy, policy and science personnel.
Although Japan and Australia have maintained defence links for 50 years, the actual degree of exchange going on between the defence forces of both countries has been comparatively limited. To fill in the gaps, as it were, both sides need to have a better understanding of how the other operates, what their capabilities are, their force structure, strategies, and how they see security in the region and their role in it. This requires more than the occasional tour by visiting defence delegates - in means that the defence staff from both militaries must be despatched to the respective defence facilities of the other, and there build relations that will produce the degree of interoperability that both sides seek. If this impetus continues (and there is no reason why it shouldn't), then we should see many more SDF personnel in Australia, and, quite frankly, the sooner the better.