Why Japan Should Join Five Eyes Intel-Alliance

A talk is in progress for Japan to join the Five Eyes, a classified information-sharing agreement consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

By Masatoshi Fujitani

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A talk is in progress for Japan to join the Five Eyes, a classified information-sharing agreement consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. This agreement (also known as the UKUSA Agreement) was triggered in the 1940s by the close information sharing between the U.S. and the U.K. against Germany and later expanded to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

The five member countries of the UKUSA Agreement have shared information on a level that sets them apart from other European and Asian countries, with the U.S. as the primary agent and the U.K. as the second. After the war, these two countries fought severe information warfare against the intelligence agencies in Russia, China, East Germany and other Eastern countries. Their organizational scale, information capabilities, information gathering technology, and human resources excellence are second to none.

Under the UKUSA Agreement, the five member countries mutually and jointly use SIGINT (signals intelligence derived from wiretapping, electromagnetic waves, electronic signals, and other intelligence activities) set up around the world. Their computer network is called Echelon.

The agreement covers all communications made by governments, militaries, factions, political parties, ministries, government agencies, individuals, and entities in countries excluding its members. It also covers foreign communications that may have military, political and economic values.

In recent years, as the conflicts between the U.S. and China intensify, and as the Chinese intelligence agency further penetrates the member states of Australia and New Zealand while increasing their political maneuvers there, various fraying around the edges of the Five Eyes have become exposed.

In response, the U.S and the U.K., the core members of the agreement, are seeking to strengthen their stance against China and have made their positions clear that they want to incorporate Japan, which is playing a leading role in the G7 (seven developed countries) and the Quad group, into the Five Eyes alliance.

In September 2021, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee approved the fiscal year 2022 totaling $778 billion. In the document attached to the bill, the committee stated that “the committee recognizes the special intelligence sharing relationship that the United States has maintained with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom (the Five Eyes) since World War II… The committee acknowledges that the landscape has vastly changed since…with primary threats now emanating from China and Russia. The committee believes that, in confronting great power competition, the Five Eye countries must work closer together, as well as expand the circle of trust to other like-minded democracies.” Furthermore, the committee required the Director of National Intelligence to look into expanding intelligence coordination with Japan, Germany, India, and South Korea and submit a report by May 20, 2022.

The bill increased the budget to respond to the threats from the two great powers China and Russia, and the expansion of the Five Eyes is part of this. Of course, there will be complicated procedures and administrative work to overcome, and the approvals of the member states are necessary. But one can say that it is a big progress that there was a deliberation of new memberships with specific countries named.

U.S., U.K. and Australia Support Japan’s membership

On July 21, 2020, Japan’s defense minister Taro Kono expressed a willingness to become the “sixth eye” of the alliance at a virtual meeting of the China Research Group (CRG) set up by, U.K.’s conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who welcomed the proposal. In an interview conducted by Nikkei back in August, Kono showed support for a broader Five Eyes alliance, stating that as a defense minister responsible for Japan’s national security, he was very concerned about China’s aggressive activities in the East and South China Sea.

On September 16, 2020, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson showed support for Japan’s participation in the Five Eyes in parliament and said it would be “a big opportunity for the U.K. to bring together like-minded democracies.” He also said the U.K. “…has a fantastic relationship with Japan, a very close defense and security partnership,” and Japan’s inclusion “might be a very productive way to build on it.”

Professor Rory Medcalf, Head of the National Security College (NSC) at the Australian National University, points out that Japan has a detailed understanding of China, and when taking into consideration its interest and capabilities in China, it would make the best candidate. Furthermore, he explained that although the alliance had fixed members for a long time, it needs to evolve with changing times.

He believes Japan’s high intelligence and evaluation abilities will likely provide beneficial added values to the group. He added that the Five Eyes member states can only share top secret information because they have a relationship of mutual trust, and Japan will need to overcome major institutional challenges for it to accept the rules and customs of the alliance.

In the U.S., Patrick M. Cronin, chair of Asia-Pacific Security at Hudson Institute, wrote in an opinion piece for , “Japan is inching closer toward becoming a de facto sixth member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangement, and the Biden administration should encourage that trajectory.” The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published the fifth annual Armitage-Nye Report report titled “RESOLVED: Japan is Ready to Become a Formal Member of Five Eyes.”

As such, the U.S., U.K., and Australia are keen on Japan’s accession to Five Eyes and are valuing Japan’s intelligence capabilities and its geopolitical advantage.

New Zealand and China are Against It

Opposing this move is New Zealand. China is New Zealand’s largest export market and has revised its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China in January 2021, expanding New Zealand’s access to the Chinese market in the areas of environment, aviation management, real estate, and education. Moreover, exports to China are expected to grow further, with the elimination of tariffs planned for 12 wood and paper products exported from New Zealand to China over the next 10 years.

Reflecting this relationship with China, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta expressed her opposition to the expansion of the role of Five Eyes on April 19, 2021. “We are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes,” she said, adding that the country will make its decisions independently.” This appears to be in response to the move by U.S. to share classified information obtained through Five Eyes with other allies that are coordinating their stance against China.

Meanwhile, the Chinese media published an article explaining why Five Eyes won’t agree to Japan’s membership. It accused Five Eyes of being an organization that has been breaking international laws and related laws to wiretap and monitor other countries in a large-scale and systematic way. “Japan is wagging its tail trying to join hoping to get a tiny share of what the members enjoy.”

In addition, the article asserts that the Five Eyes would not agree to let Japan join, the reason being that the alliance was originally formed during World War II to break Japanese and German military codes.

It’s not surprising that China would oppose Japan’s participation. As for New Zealand, pro-Chinese politicians who are accepting China’s intentions are gaining influence. They are not just creating discord among the Five Eyes but they may also cause rifts among democratic states.

In fact, New Zealand did not sign the January 2021 joint statement by U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia condemning China’s crackdown of the Hong Kong democratization movement, and instead issued a separate statement. New Zealand also did not participate in the ceremony held in Canberra on September 1st to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty (U.S.-UK-Australia-NZ Military Alliance Treaty).

Japan’s Role

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Now that the U.S.-China conflict has become clear, it is of great significance to create a strong international network of alliances against China in the Asia-Pacific region as security risks diversify. Japan is already part of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, Quad partnership that involves the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India, the D10 coalition of democratic countries which include the G7 countries, Korea, India, and Australia, as well as the Biden Administration’s initiative to form “T-12” of technologically advanced nations.

For Japan, joining Five Eyes in addition to these multiple alliances means it will be incorporated into multiple security regimes and can have a strong influence on its allies. Furthermore, Japan has a long history of exchanges with China going back to the ancient times with diverse research on the country. Japan probably has one of the world’s leading accumulated knowledge of China and can contribute greatly to the Five Eyes alliance.

The first reason the Five Eyes members would want Japan is because its Defense Intelligence Headquarters possesses valuable information; accumulated data on Russia, China, and North Korea acquired through wiretapping and radio signals. For example, when the Soviet Union shot down the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 on September 1, 1983, and denied any involvement, Japan provided the U.S. with a tape of intercepted Soviet communications which helped reveal the Soviet’s barbaric acts to the world.

Second, leading Western nations need to work together to counter China’s cyberattacks. Grasping the weaknesses of viruses in cyberattacks early is extremely effective in containing them.

Third, from the perspective of economic security, it is necessary to restructure the current supply chain that depends on China by creating a community centered around the Five Eyes that include Japan, a technologically advanced country. It is a serious security problem that China almost exclusively produces not just rare earths, which has been a concern for some time, but also masks and other medical equipment.

As mentioned before, New Zealand is moving away from the U.S. as a result of China’s political efforts. Japan’s participation will supplement the information field that New Zealand has been spearheading and further augment the intelligence collection related to China.

Merits of Joining the Five Eyes

So what are the benefits of joining Five Eyes for Japan? Information agencies such as Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency have been actively exchanging information with democratic nations for a long time. However, if it joins Five Eyes, higher levels of classified information can be obtained in a timelier manner, which is likely to have a significant impact on Japan’s decision-making in emergency situations.

In addition, Japan’s membership in the Five Eyes may greatly promote the establishment of an external intelligence agency and an anti-spy law. Under the surface of the international community, there is information warfare brewing every day. The theft of not just military information but also economic, advanced science and technology information will weaken national security and harm national interests. Since postwar Japan has been relying on the U.S. for its security, which includes not just national defense but information security as well.

Japan should use the opportunity of entering the Five Eyes to form full a-fledged foreign intelligence agency and establish anti-spy laws. Furthermore, in recent years, the cyber domains of security have expanded from the land, sea and air to cyber and space. In March 2014, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces formed the Cyber Defense Group as a joint unit under the SDF C4 (Command, Control, Communication & Computers) and are monitoring communication networks and responding to cyberattacks round-the-clock.

In May 2020, the country formed the first Space Operations Squadron as part of the Air Self-Defense Force. The Space Operations Squadron is organized at Fuchu Air Base and is carrying out activities that contribute to ensuring the stable use of outer space, such as running a space monitoring system. For such multidimensional defense, it is extremely effective to build an information and communication system that spans multiple countries, such as among Five Eyes members.

Information must be accurate, quick, and useful, but an information analysis by an agency in one country may sometimes be short of accuracy. In such cases, intelligence agencies often verify information with other intelligence agencies of friendly countries. In that sense, an alliance with the Five Eyes countries will enable multifaceted and advanced information analyses, which will be a great advantage for Japan.

Counterarguments to the Objections to Japan’s Membership

Despite these merits, there are quite a few people inside and outside the country who oppose Japan’s participation in the Five Eyes, and others who claim that it is impossible. They are politicians, bureaucrats, scholars and journalists. I laid out counterarguments to their claims.

1.Japan does not have an anti-espionage law, so it cannot prevent information leakage.

In Japan, a lack of a system to protect confidentiality has become an issue, and the government enforced the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets Act (SDS) in 2014, which imposes strict punishment on those who leak highly confidential information on diplomacy and defense. In June 2020, it expanded the range of information that can be classified as a specially designated secret. It does not subject the entire population like an anti-espionage law, but it is considered to act as a certain deterrent from the perspective of minimizing risk.

As for laws related to private companies, although the government toughened the Unfair Competition Prevention Act (revised in 2015), there is still no security clearance system that are used in Europe and the U.S. This system grants access to confidential information to only those who are recognized as having no risk of information leakage in the company and is used by companies with highly confidential information in areas of advanced technology and communication fields.

Currently, Japan is moving to strengthen its economic security and is planning to submit to the parliament a security clearance system bill for sensitive economic information this fiscal year.

2.Japanese intelligence agencies have low capacity due to a lack of budget and personnel.

If we were to evaluate Japan’s information capabilities, at least for Asia, it is not low. Indeed the U.S. has information in diverse fields and has a sophisticated information network, but it has made mistakes. For example, it believed that there was a weapon of mass destruction in Iraq which became the basis for starting the Iraq War.

Despite having strong intelligence organizations such as the CIA and FBI, it could not prevent the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. In short, the world of information is beset by misassumptions, and accurate analysis of information is extremely difficult even for the U.S.

The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has only about 1,500 to 2,000 intelligence officers, but it is deemed extremely effective in pursuing Nazi war criminals and analyzing the situation in the Middle East. This is a good example of how budget and staff size are not the only immediate links to the capabilities of an intelligence agency.

In Japan, the Public Security Intelligence Agency is an organization of the same scale as Mossad and historically has been strong on countries like China and North Korea. If it can utilize its characteristics, it can play a significant role in the Five Eyes alliance.

3.Japan is not in step with the member countries and does not share their values.

Japan has so far not participated in the resolutions by the Five Eyes members to condemn China’s suppression of the Hong Kong democratization movement. It did not jointly condemn the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, and expel Russian diplomats. But why should one judge whether Japan can keep in step with the Five Eyes members before it even joins the alliance?

Diplomacy varies from country to country due to their international affairs, geopolitical positions, and histories. Due to its vicinity, Japan has a history of repeated battles and cooperation with China, Russia, and North Korea. It is wrong to say Japan has a diplomacy different from other democratic nations solely because of its values.

We cannot be too optimistic about Japan’s accession to Five Eyes given New Zealand’s opposition and the cautious stance of some conservatives in the U.S. and the U.K. But think of what the Five Eyes countries and Japan would lose if Japan itself were to be reluctant to join the alliance? This loss would mean significant benefit to nations such as China. In any case, Japan should not hastily try to join the alliance, and instead should first develop information-related laws and systems to lay the foundation for its membership.

Masatoshi Fujitani
Senior researcher at the Economic Security Management Agency (ESMA). Born in 1954. He graduated from Gakushuin University and completed the master’s program at Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. He has worked at the Public Security Intelligence Agency for research and analyses of international terrorism, China, North Korea, Russia, and economic security, and has been in his current position following his post as the director of Kanazawa office at the Public Security Intelligence Agency. He is the co-author of “Third Generation Service Innovation” (in Japanese, published by Shakai Hyoron Sha).

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