Will Japan join the Five Eyes?

Will Japan join the Five Eyes?

There is a hot debate going on in Asia. Will and could Japan join the Anglo-Saxon WASP intelligence coalition „Five Eyes“ (FVEY) which till now consists of the USA, GB, Canada, New Zealand and Australia? Jonathan Eylan in the Strait Times rejects this possibility as practical problems would prevent such a membership. In his article „What´s blocking Japan´s entry in Five Eyes Club?“ from September 7th, 2020 he writes:

„So, why shouldn’t the Japanese be allowed to join it? After all, they are one of the world’s biggest economic powers, bigger than four out of the five members in the intelligence club. And they share the same strategic objectives, including the same apprehension about a rising China.

All very true, but all not enough to overcome the objections to their Five Eyes membership.


First, the technical obstacles. The relationship depends on trust, on the confidence that information shared will not leak. But the Japanese only enacted a new official secrets act in 2013, and that came after decades of urgent pleading from Washington.

Domestic security arrangements are still incomplete and untested. And they still do not cover adequately commercial contractors working with the state; „What the Japanese government needs to do immediately is to understand the sensitive information held by private companies and prevent it from leaking,“ says Professor Ken Otani, a Japanese academic who studied the topic closely.

Furthermore, although Japan’s electronic eavesdropping capabilities are legendary, the country still does not have an established foreign intelligence service, one staffed by professionals who systematically collect information, and do so in a secure and efficient way. So, what they can bring to the club is much less than its existing members.

Japan’s political decision-making structure is also still deficient, with the Cabinet Secretary having too much on his plate to coordinate the flow of intelligence material properly, and police and other agencies fighting with each other for influence over the prime minister.

Meanwhile, other government ministers have little understanding of intelligence, Japanese parliamentarians have zero knowledge of such questions, and the country’s media is only interested in covering procurement scandals, rather than serious strategic thought. For very understandable historic reasons, Japan simply lacks the strategic political community and unity of purpose required to act as a member of Five Eyes.

And at a time when encryption and eavesdropping are the key challenges facing the intelligence community, Japan’s domestic legislation simply does not fit with Five Eyes requirements.

In short, Japan will really have to reinvent many of its structures if it wishes to become a member.


Most important, however, are the political objections. It is simply not feasible to admit Japan into the Five Eyes without considering South Korea’s membership; to do otherwise would threaten the Tokyo-Seoul intelligence cooperation link, which is just about the only one working properly between the capitals of these two Asian states.

It is also difficult to conceive of a situation by which Japan is admitted, but Germany or France – who have similarly expressed their interest in the past – are not. So, a one-off enlargement is precluded, but a big enlargement could well render the current organisation irrelevant.

None of this precludes cooperation between the Five Eyes and other countries; this is already intensive and, in some cases, such as in combating international terrorism, intelligence analysis produced by all five is shared with other countries.

But the fact remains that the existing Five Eyes members still enjoy a unique common perspective of the world of a kind few other countries share and can cooperate in ways few others either can or want to.

Perhaps the best way to look at this strange club is not as one which excludes others, but as one which pioneers and spearheads intelligence analysis, to the continued benefit of a much wider circle of allies.“

Chinese eyes are also closely watching this debate. Wang Guangtao in a comment in the  Global Times published August 16th 2020 also thinks that a Japanese membership in the Five Eyes Club is unlikely:

Will Japan become Five Eyes‘ ’sixth eye‘?

By Wang Guangtao Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/16

Will Japan become Five Eyes’ ’sixth eye‘?

Japan’s prospects of becoming a member of the „Five Eyes“ intelligence-sharing alliance have been hotly debated. With strategic competition between China and the US intensifying, the US is hoping to contain China in terms of intelligence and information. The „Five Eyes“ is traditionally an intelligence-sharing alliance consisting of five „Anglo-Saxon“ countries. It played a vital role in the confrontation between the US and the UK against the Soviet Union and other socialist countries during the Cold War. And yet today, Japan evokes memories of the deeply condemned Cold War by sending the message that it could possibly join this nefarious alliance.

Indeed, it is not new for Tokyo to want to tune into the alliance. Two years ago, the US reached out to Japan in face of the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Washington expressed its will to strengthen cooperation between the „Five Eyes“ and Japan, South Korea, France and Germany. However, the relationship between South Korea and Japan has deteriorated due to economic and historical issues and it was difficult to include both in the „Five Eyes“ alliance.

 In 2020, the China-US strategic competition continues to intensify. This has forced the US and the UK to reach out to Japan once again and ganging up against China has become these countries‘ common goal. At the end of July, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono said Japan would welcome an invitation to join the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. Later, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi visited the UK. It remains unknown whether the Japan-UK foreign ministers‘ meeting has covered the issue of „Five Eyes“. But given Britain’s recent criticism on China’s National Security Law for Hong Kong, it might not be that surprising if London would count on Tokyo to provide intelligence against Beijing.

There is no doubt that in the future, Japan will expand intelligence exchanges with Britain, Australia and other countries. It will certainly strengthen its military relations with the US. For now, Japan has established the „2+2“ (diplomacy plus national security) dialogue mechanism with seven countries, including three countries in the „Five Eyes“ (namely the US, the UK and Australia). This is the foundation on which Japan could deepen cooperation with these countries in respect to intelligence sharing. Nevertheless, it does not necessarily mean that Japan will join the „Five Eyes“ alliance led by US and become a „sixth eye“.

First of all, the „Five Eyes“ alliance was originally formed by English-speaking countries. Once Japan joins the alliance, countries that claim the same ideologies such as South Korea, Germany, France and Italy will have full grounds to participate in the alliance too. For an intelligence-sharing organization, more members mean more access to diverse information. But it also means a higher risk of exposure. Adding Japan to the alliance as a „sixth eye“ is not merely an issue of adding a new member. It also implies reorganization of operation and language systems. It is beyond the core circle of „Five Eyes“ and is presumably not what the founding nations were expecting.

Second, be it „Five Eyes“ or „Six Eyes“, such an alliance reminds the world of the Cold War. In those awful days, countries were forced to take sides and confront one another. The US has previously sent invitations to Germany and France. Even as both „free and democratic“ nations and NATO members, the two countries did not express much intent to join the alliance. Therefore, Japan’s active response might not be acknowledged by the entire international community.

Third, Tokyo has not reached a consensus on the matter. Part of Japan has never stopped calling for strategic autonomy. Yet integrating its own intelligence system into the „Five Eyes“ will no doubt further subordinate Japan to the US. Also, Japan’s China policy differs from the other five countries. It takes precautions against China, but it also needs coordination with China. The „Five Eyes“ has a clear target of „containing China“. This is obviously a dilemma for Tokyo. In the end, Japan needs to weigh between the benefits brought by joining the alliance and the losses caused by deteriorating China-Japan relations.

For China, what matters most is not the number of the „eyes“ in this system. In terms of intelligence-sharing, the content always counts more than the form. Even if Japan has not yet officially become a „sixth eye,“ it has in essence strengthened cooperation with the member states. China should be fully alert and prepare well-rounded countermeasures.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Center for Japanese Studies, Fudan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


The arguments against Japan’s membership in the Five Eye group in the Chinese Global Times are also mentioned in the Strait Times, as well as the alleged language barrier. What is also surprising: The Strait Times author’s assertion that Japan wouldn’t have a real secret service, but maybe too little is known about the Japanese intelligence agency and maybe he is a real secret service. It’s also interesting that Germany and France have already applied to it. But the Anglo-Saxons probably prefer to stay among themselves and remain more of the pioneer in the intelligence community. More members also mean that the number of confidants and the possibility of leaks increases. So far, the special relations between the CIA and MI6 have been legendary. In the 1970s there was the TV series The Two (German: Die 2)-with Tony Curtis and Roger Moore, who subsequently became James Bonds. Maybe a modern TV series would be “The 5” (Die 5) as it seems that there will be no The Six (Die 6) and no Yamamoto Bondo.

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