The same week in which the Royal Navy held the naming ceremony for the first of its new carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and in which Tokyo approved a reinterpretation of Article 9 of her Constitution to provide for a measure of collective self-defence, was witness to a little-reported but still significant fact which, by stressing both nations' naval soft power, serves as a reminder of the potential for a renewed Anglo-Japanese alliance as an engine of peace and stability all over the world, including the Mediterranean: a draft blueprint for the return of the Catalan Navy, (lost, together with all other state institutions, by force of arms in 1714) outlining its potential initial shape and capabilities, refers to the Maritime Self-Defence Forces (MSDF) when defining “escort duties”, while recommending Catalonia reach an agreement with the United Kingdom whereby the Royal Navy would help train a first generation of naval officers.
The adoption of Japanese doctrinal and operational concepts by a Western Navy is a testament of the growing prowess of the MSDF and its prestige in an increasingly wider range of areas. While Japan has not engaged in combat operations since the end of the Second World War, her naval forces have deployed a significant amount of advanced assets, trained intensively, participated in joint drills and cooperated with fellow navies in counter-piracy and anti-terrorism operations, and been responsible (together with the country's Coast Guard) for checking hostile advances into Japanese territorial waters and EEZ. Furthermore, recent years have seen Tokyo help train and equip coastguards in South-East Asia, as a necessary complement to Japan's drive to promote the rule of law at sea and the peaceful resolution of territorial conflicts. Faced with revisionist threats, both Hanoi and Manila have turned their gaze towards Tokyo. Thus, it should not be surprising to see Japanese influence in the blueprint for a new or rather re-born navy. Rather, it is a small but significant gesture confirming that, despite the mistrust still pervading relations with Beijing and Seoul, a growing number of countries not only recognize the technical abilities of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) but also see Tokyo as an international actor having much to contribute to global peace and security. Of course, Japan's main strategic focus is, and due to the difficult circumstances in the area will remain in the foreseeable future, the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region, limiting the degree of attention devoted to the Mediterranean. However, this should be no bar to regular exchanges with the reconstituted Catalan Navy, in addition to multinational cooperation arising from, for example, participation in RIMPAC exercises. The 100 anniversary of the Great War, in which the Imperial Japanese Navy played a vital role in the Mediterranean, provides the ideal historical background. In addition, the recent relaxation by Japan of her long-standing ban on weapons exports means that procurement and joint development and production are also areas where Catalonia and Japan may cooperate in the future, in a development facilitated by the already extensive presence of Japanese enterprises in Catalonia. Last, but not least, mentions of the MSDF in Catalonia's unofficial white paper should serve as a reminder, and evidence, that despite the rumblings of many pundits in Japan and some other countries, a clear majority of maritime democracies see Tokyo's move towards collective self-defence as right, both in moral and in practical national security terms.
Concerning the Royal Navy, seeing her cooperate with the Catalan Navy would be nothing new, but rather a resumption of a process cut short by the outcome of the War of Spanish Succession. After all, it was a combined Anglo-Dutch-Catalan force which took Gibraltar in 1704. It is precisely the Rock which provides one of the best reasons why it is in the British national interest to help train the Catalan Navy, since the stronger and more proficient Catalan naval forces are, the more secure Gibraltar will be. In an uncertain world, you need allies near any potential hot spot. Actually, Japan's reasons to help train and equip the Filipino and the Vietnamese coastguards are very similar to London's rationale for contributing to the re-emergence of the Catalan Navy. As made clear by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the debates leading to Tokyo's adoption of a limited version of collective self-defence, nowadays no country can ignore others in preparing to safeguard the security and well-being of its citizens. In case there is any doubt, the 1982 Falklands War should serve as a reminder of the absolute necessity of being able to rely on regional Allies in order to effectively project power. Thus, even if we leave history and shared values (including parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, Catalonia's and England's being the two oldest parliaments in Europe) out of the equation, national security considerations in and by themselves should suffice for London to take a keen interest in the re-emergence of the Catalan Navy.
To conclude, it is no coincidence that in laying down plans to recover her navy, Catalonia refers to Great Britain and Japan, two island democracies that once stood side by side to defence peace and stability and the rule of law at sea and that today are increasingly working together with these same purposes in mind. Both the Royal Navy and the MSDF have much to teach, and their experience and traditions are invaluable, while London, Tokyo, and Barcelona, share a commitment to parliamentary democracy, the rule of law at sea, and the peaceful resolution of territorial disputes in accordance with International Law. Furthermore, it is in the national interest of any country to help fellow (and in particular nearby) maritime democracies develop their naval and coastguard capabilities, above all when revisionist actors threaten to use force to redraw borders, in contravention of international law. As clear from the Falklands War, regional allies are essential, a lesson not lost on Japan, which has come to the aid of Vietnam and the Philippines in their hour of need, in a move contributing to her own national security. Now the time has come for the Royal Navy help train the Catalan Navy out of the same considerations, with Japan's MSDF ideally also lending a hand.
Alex Calvo is an expert on security and defence in Asia
 In the early 1980s, when many European countries were hostile to foreign direct investment (FDI), British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Catalan counterpart Jordi Pujol were the only ones actively seeking Japanese FDI, in a move later imitated by many.
 For an outline of some of the harassment endured by the Rock in recent years, see the report by the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee.
* Article publicat a Help Catalonia. Compartim aquest article del professor Àlex Calvo. Reflexions interessants per no oblidar que recuperar la sobirania implica consciència geopolítica i, no cal dir-ho, responsabilitat.
|Colors dels Llúria, que s'adoptaren com els de la Marina Catalana|