France and Japan tighten military links

No rest for the brave. After spending New Year’s eve with military personnel in Jordan deployed for the Chammal operation, French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was back in Paris for the third round of ministerial political-military discussions with Japan. In addition to strengthening maritime cooperation, Le Drian and his Japanese counterpart Tomomi Inada, accompanied by their Foreign Affairs colleagues Jean-Marc Ayrault and Fumio Kishida, agreed to “open negotiations in view of setting up an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA)” according to a joint statement issued on 8 January. 


Jean-Yves Le Drian and Tomomi Inada at the Japanese Embassy in Paris on 5 January (Photo credit: Japanese Embassy in Paris)

Jean-Yves Le Drian and Tomomi Inada at the Japanese Embassy in Paris on 5 January (Photo credit: Japanese Embassy in Paris)


In the long term this ACSA should strengthen interoperability between the two countries’ armed forces and make it easier for them to participate jointly in various exercises and peace-keeping and humanitarian operations. Launched by the United States and NATO in 1979, ACSAs are international agreements providing for the exchange of logistic support, supplies and services on a reimbursable basis. They are focused on logistical support and do not, in any way, commit a country to any military action. If the talks with Japan are successful, France would become the first European country to establish an ACSA with Japan, which so far has only signed them with the United States and Australia.


This ACSA and the intergovernmental agreement on the transfer of military equipment and technologies which took effect in December 2016, should allow French manufacturers greater access to the Japanese defence market. Although Japan has the third largest defence budget in Asia, set at €41.8bn for 2017, Japan and its defence industry lack experience.


Since 2012, the administration of French President François Hollande has swum against the tide of its predecessors by turning its back on the prevalent China-centrism by strengthening bilateral ties with other Asian nations. Speaking just after his election at the 20th Abassadors’ Conference on 27 August 2012, the French president had admitted that “Japan has not received all the attention it deserves these past few years.” Since then Le Drian has set up two Franco-Japanese discussion groups, one centred on nanotechnologies, robotics and cyberdefence, the other on industrial cooperation, notably in the helicopter sector.