Five Eyes, the 75-year-old intelligence alliance between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, may soon see greater cooperation with Japan, as rumors of the alliance’s expansion once again emerge.
In a recent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Japanese Ambassador to Australia Yamagami Shingo spoke of his hope “for this idea to become reality in the near future.” Adding that he is “very much optimistic about the near future” and that “the sky is the limit” for the Australia-Japan relationship.
Expansion rumors have long surrounded the intelligence alliance and it does already maintain high level cooperation with many other countries. However, any step-up in engagement would require Japan and other members to navigate myriad challenges and could realistically be a way off yet.
Risks lie in the “high hurdles” that Japan would be required to pass, as outlined by Akita Hiroyuki. There is a need for Japan to bolster its domestic security apparatus and ensure it has an ability to provide valuable insights to its putative “Six Eyes” partners. Akita adds that failing to carry the weight of full membership could lead to disappointment and arouse distrust among other members.
Ankit Panda and Jagannath Panda from the Center for Strategic and International Studies point to the longevity and sustainability of Five Eyes as originating from “decades of cultural and bureaucratic synergies between the five constituent states.”
It should be expected that any new formal addition would realistically come step-by-step and not via any swift elevation to membership. If Japan is greenlighted in any form, a more likely outcome will be that it would join in an official “5+1” format. This would allow for it to ease gradually into deeper cooperation.
In the 2013 leaks from Edward Snowden, it was revealed that Five Eyes had already been maintaining what was described as second and third tiers of intelligence sharing with other countries. Other known groupings include one focused on the pariah state of North Korea, which has engaged with France, Japan, and South Korea.
Bringing Japan into the Five Eyes fold would be principally focused on the rising threats of China and North Korea. Just how Beijing would view such an expansion can be seen in the vitriol expressed toward the grouping by state media outlets.
In February, Chinese state mouthpiece Global Times labeled Five Eyes an “axis of white supremacy.” It went on to say, “such an axis is destined to erode international relations and allow hooliganism to rise to the diplomatic stage in the 21st century.”
In the last few days, a Global Times opinion piece sought to capitalize on the tensions within Five Eyes brought on by New Zealand’s musings over the expanding remit of the intelligence grouping, accusing the U.S. of undermining solidarity by using human rights “as a cover to suppress and contain Beijing with its allies.” It concluded that that any attempt to incorporate Japan into the Five Eyes fold would not be worthwhile.
Speaking to the benefits of the alliance, Rory Medcalf, director of the National Security College at the Australian National University, referred to it as a “force multiplier.”
Incorporating Japan further into Five Eyes would provide the alliance a new and valuable anchor in Northeast Asia. By gradually integrating a like-minded democratic country such as Japan through a rigorously controlled membership and engagement process, Five Eyes members could effectively compartmentalize the greatest risks associated with expanded membership: gradually building up trust, minimizing leaks, and assuring the standard and quality of contributions from a nation that could, in time, become the alliance’s sixth member.