Is Japan Part of NATO?

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NATO (which stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was established by 12 countries in April 1949. It was a direct response to the aftermath of WWII, which saw ties between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies weaken. Worried about security, the 12 original NATO members established NATO as a shield against threats to European peace and freedom. Japan has had a long history with NATO, but is it a member? In this article, we’ll explore why Japan is not a part of NATO, what its relationship with the organization is, and what Japan’s activities in global affairs look like.

Japan is not a part of NATO because NATO is only open to European states. Regardless, Japan and NATO cooperate on many issues such as maritime security, disaster relief, science and technology, and much more.

Why isn’t Japan a part of NATO?

NATO’s treaty, which 12 founding members signed after WWII, only opens the organization to European states. Article 10 reads: “The Parties [which in 1949 included countries like the United States, Canada, France, Iceland, and Norway] may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty.” Only European states can be invited to join NATO, and since 1949, 19 other countries have joined in nine rounds of expansion, the most recent of which was in 2023. This process is known as the “open door policy,” although every member must agree to a country’s addition. There’s no majority vote.

Several countries work with NATO on a partnership basis, and while many aspire to membership, Japan is not one of them. Japan cannot legally join NATO unless the treaty opens membership to countries not in Europe. However, Japan and NATO have engaged in talks and cooperation since the early 1990s. Japan is often called a “partner across the globe.” In 2013, Japan and NATO signed their first joint declaration, which explained their shared commitment to global peace, security, and prosperity. Their work goes through an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme, which is the standard document for partners who want to deepen their NATO relationship. Japan renewed theirs in 2020.

What do Japan and NATO work on together?

NATO was founded in 1949, but talks with Japan didn’t start until decades later. There are a few reasons why, including Japan’s history of isolationist foreign policy and its lack of political recognition by Europe. However, as an article in The Japan Times describes, things slowly started to change. The Soviet Union fell, and NATO and the world at large understood stability and peace would require looking beyond Europe. NATO began to engage with Japan in the 1990s in an informal way and contact strengthened. In 2007, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first Japanese leader to address NATO, saying they shared responsibilities and should work together. In 2014, the Individual Partnership and Cooperation Program was established, making Japan one of NATO’s first “global partners.” In 2018, Japan set up a formal mission at NATO Headquarters.

Where do Japan and NATO interests align? Both are committed to global peace and security – NATO in the West and Japan in the East. According to the NATO website, Japan is especially interested in how NATO can help support its maritime security. Japan has a liaison officer to NATO’s Maritime Command. Going the other way, Japan helped stabilize the Balkans in the 1990s, gave support to development and reconstruction in Afghanistan, and made contributions to Trust Fund Projects in partner countries. Trust Funds help countries with tasks like the safe destruction of surplus landmines, grenades, ammunition, and other weapons. Projects can also support defense capacity-building for countries experiencing security challenges. Japan and NATO also work together on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, human security, science and technology, and cyber defense.

What does the future look like for Japan and NATO?

In 2022, the Japanese Prime Minister met with NATO’s Secretary General, and in 2023, there are talks of Japan establishing a NATO office. The war in Ukraine and resulting global instability accelerated Japan and NATO’s interest in strengthening ties. Having an office in Japan would make it easier for NATO to communicate with security partners like South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia. While Japan still can’t officially join NATO, it will likely continue to strengthen its ties with the organization in the coming years.

Is Japan a member of any international organization?

While Japan isn’t part of NATO, it is a member of other international organizations, including the United Nations. The UN was founded in 1945. Japan joined in 1956 as the organization’s 80th member and became a very active participant. In 2020-2021, it contributed 8.56% of the UN peacekeeping operations budget, which made it the third-highest contributor. Japan is a member of many other international and intergovernmental organizations, including:

The African Development Bank (non-regional member)

The African Development Bank is a development finance institution that contributes to the economic development of African countries in the bank’s Regional Member Countries. The AfDB was founded in 1963. Japan joined in 1982. Collaborations include the Japan Policy and Human Resources Development Grant and the Joint Bank-Japan Enhanced Private Sector Assistance Initiative.

The Group of 7 (G7)

G7 is a political forum group of seven of the world’s most powerful economies: Japan, Italy, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, and the United States. Russia used to be part of the group (which was known as the G8), but it was suspended in 2014. The G7 focuses on global coordination on the world’s most urgent economic crisis. The G7 can’t create or enforce any policies.

International Atomic Energy Agency

The IAEA is an intergovernmental organization created in 1957. It’s within the UN system, but it works as an autonomous organization with its own treaty. It was created to address concerns about nuclear weapons as tensions increased between the US and the Soviet Union. Japan joined the same year the organization was founded. The IAEA has an office in Tokyo.

The East Asia Summit

EAS is a regional forum held every year. It was founded with 16 countries but has now expanded to 18, including the United States and Russia. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a political and economic union of 10 member states (Japan is not one of them) leads the EAS. It’s the only leader-led forum for all major Indo-Pacific partners to discuss security, economic, and political issues in the region.

World Trade Organization

The WTO, which cooperates with the UN system, is the world’s largest international economic organization. Japan has been a member since 1995. The WTO facilitates the trade of goods, services, and intellectual property among participating countries. In 2019, Japan contributed 4.04% of the WTO’s budget, which made it the fourth-largest contributor. Contributions are set based on a country’s share of international trade.

What is Japan’s role in global politics?

Japan has had a fascinating history with global politics and international relations. During the Edo Period, the country was essentially locked for almost 300 years. Relations and trade were severely restricted, and people weren’t allowed to enter or leave the country. In 1954, Japan opened to the world again. Japan was also a colonizing nation that expanded into Korea, Taiwan, and other areas. At its peak, Japan was one of the most powerful empires in the world. When the US dropped two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and forced Japan to surrender in WWII, Japan’s economy was devastated.

Despite losing the war to the United States and its allies, Japan has long depended on the United States in global politics. It aligned with the US against the Soviet Union and played a support role in the Korean War. By the 1960s and 70s, Japan’s economy was one of the strongest in the world. In the past decades, Japan has played an important peace-keeping role, strengthened its ties with the US, and worked to rebuild relationships with other Asian nations. It’s also one of Asia’s oldest democracies.

What countries are a part of NATO?

Japan is not part of NATO, but 31 countries are. As of June 2023, NATO had 31 member countries, which are known as “NATO allies.” They are:

Country Country Country
The United States Canada The United Kingdom
Turkey Spain Portugal
Slovenia Slovakia Romania
Norway Poland North Macedonia
Belgium Bulgaria Albania
Croatia Czechia (the Czech Republic) Denmark
Estonia Finland Germany
France Greece Iceland
Hungary Montenegro The Netherlands
Luxembourg Lithuania Latvia

NATO has a lot of members, but there are some surprising omissions. Sweden is one example. Why are close nations like Norway, Finland, and Iceland on the list, but Sweden isn’t? For years, Finland and Sweden weren’t pursuing NATO membership because they hold policies of military non-alignment. Then Russia invaded Ukraine. Both countries viewed NATO as a critical security measure. While Turkey originally objected to both Sweden and Finland, it eventually approved Finland’s membership, but not Sweden’s. The two countries have a history of tension. Sweden has criticized Turkey over human rights abuses and democratic standards, while Turkey claims Stockholm is protecting terrorist groups. Hungary has aligned with Turkey in its opposition to Sweden. It’s unclear when Sweden will join NATO, but many experts believe it’s inevitable.