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Japan - Security Policy

For decades, Tokyo has been punching below its weight. And will continue to do so in the future because there seems little hope for fixing the stagnant economy or producing an effective political leadership or reversing the country's declining influence." Japan is the world's third-largest economy and a major economic power both in Asia and globally. Japan has diplomatic relations with nearly all independent nations and has been an active member of the United Nations since 1956. Japanese foreign policy has aimed to promote peace and prosperity for the Japanese people by working closely with the West and supporting the United Nations.

Japan is moving to revise its national defense strategy in response to rising cross-strait tensions. Kyodo News reported that authorities officially began discussing further development of Japan's defensive abilities on 26 January 2022. Kyodo News also said that Japan's government wanted to discuss whether to assemble and strengthen its offensive forces. It says that the relatively short distance between Taiwan, Japan, and China means that Taiwan's stability could affect Japan as well.

Japan's NHK said that Prime Minister Fumio Kushida plans to finish revising Japan's national defense strategy before the end of 2022. This key document lays out the country's basic defense policy compiled in 2013. Two other key defense strategies are also scheduled to be revised at the same time. The committee in charge consists of National Security Adviser Takeo Akiba, the foreign ministry, and the defense ministry, among others. The committee would discuss how to strengthen Japan's defenses and protect its economy. In addition, the Liberal Democratic Party would compile and submit suggestions to the committee for consideration in May.

Japan's main ruling Liberal Democratic Party urged the government to beef up what it calls "counterstrike capability" as part of efforts to strengthen national defense. The move cames amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but is not without controversy in light of Japan's post-war defense policy. The LDP's Commission on Security Affairs submitted a set of proposals to Prime Minister Kishida Fumio on April 27. The focal point is a call to build up the defense capability to hit back at an enemy in the event of a missile attack on Japan.

The proposal is in line with the government's plan to revise its national security strategy for the first time by year-end. The LDP proposal says that the security environment surrounding Japan has become severe at an "accelerated pace." It identifies China as a "serious threat," and North Korea developing missiles and nuclear weapons as a "more serious and imminent threat." It describes Russia as a "realistic threat," pointing to its invasion of Ukraine.

It says intercepting missiles has become increasingly difficult due to rapid advances in technology and that enhancing "counterstrike capability" would serve as a deterrent. It goes on to say that such attacks should be directed not only at enemy missile bases, but at command centers and control systems as well.

The term "counterstrike capability" was developed after some debate. Government officials have been using the term "enemy base strike capability." But it has been criticized on the grounds that the words could be misinterpreted to suggest Japan might conduct a preemptive strike -- something the government says is not permitted under the Constitution. Under its post-war Constitution, Japan has maintained a strict defense-oriented policy. Even possessing the capabilities to attack other military bases has been limited.

Former defense minister and commission chair, Onodera Itsunori, told reporters, "In describing our capability to defend this country, the word 'counterstrike’ is the most straightforward way to describe it to people here and abroad." Komeito Vice Representative Kitagawa Kazuo said 11 May 2022 "We welcome changing the term 'enemy base attack capability' in the sense that it does not give the impression that we could conduct a preemptive strike".

Japan's ruling coalition agreed 11 May 2015 on draft bills to revise the country's national security laws. The proposed changes will allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense. The government presented the draft bills to a panel of the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito. Representatives of the two parties accepted them. The Cabinet was set to approve the draft bills on 14 May 2015 and would then submit them to the Diet later this week for deliberation.

The bills will allow Japan to mobilize its Self-Defense Forces when exercising the right to collective self-defense. The use of the right will apply to situations in which armed attacks take place against countries that have close ties with Japan, when those attacks also threaten Japan's survival and pose a clear danger to the rights of its people. The bills will also make clear that Japan will set no geographical constraints in providing logistical support to US and other foreign troops under situations that have a major impact on Japan's peace and security.

The United States and Japan plan to expand their military cooperation under new guidelines that, for the first time in the history of the alliance, will allow Tokyo to project its power on a global scale. US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Defense Secretary Ash Carter met 27 April 2015 with their Japanese counterparts in New York before announcing the update to the defense cooperation agreement that had last been updated in 1997.

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the new guidelines are "not specifically aimed at China” but warned Beijing’s actions come with consequences. Japan’s capabilities have increased significantly over the past two decades. Many details as to how the new guidelines will be put into effect still need to be worked out, but the updated guidelines envision Japan playing a greater role in peacekeeping missions as well as in responses to natural disasters and humanitarian relief operations.

In addition to expanded mutual defense provisions, the updated guidelines envision Japan playing a greater role in peacekeeping missions as well as in responses to natural disasters and humanitarian relief operations. The provisions also call for more cooperation and information sharing in areas like intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and cyberspace. The agreement also envisions increased cooperation in the development and production of defense technologies, which U.S. officials say they are eager to explore.

In recent years, the Japanese public has shown a substantially greater awareness of security issues and increasing support for the Self Defense Forces. This is in part due to the Self Defense Forces' success in disaster relief, including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami; its participation in peacekeeping operations in Cambodia in the early 1990s and reconstruction/stabilization efforts in Iraq in 2003-2008; and its response to Japan’s 2011 Tohoku disaster. However, there are still significant political and psychological constraints on strengthening Japan's security profile. Although a military role for Japan in international affairs is highly constrained by its constitution and government policy, Japanese cooperation with the United States through the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty has been important to the peace and stability of East Asia. In recent years, there have been domestic discussions about possible reinterpretation or revision of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. All postwar Japanese governments have relied on a close relationship with the United States as the foundation of their foreign policy and have depended on the Mutual Security Treaty for strategic protection.

As the annual security white paper was released 09 July 2013, Japan's defense minister, Itsunori Onodera, took note of what the government considers increasingly serious security threats from China. The Japanese defense minister said the Chinese “have attempted to change the status quo by force in ways incompatible with the existing order of international law and in ways that could be seen as provocative.” Japan and China have a long-standing dispute over small islands in the East China Sea controlled by Tokyo. Tension has escalated since the central Japanese government, last September, purchased the unoccupied islands (known as Senkaku in Japanese and Daoiyu in Chinese) from their private Japanese owner.

This was the first such report published since Shinzo Abe returned as Japan's prime minister. He had expressed a desire to alter his country's pacifist Constitution, drafted by U.S. military occupation forces shortly after Japan's defeat in 1945. That made some of Japan's neighbors uneasy, believing it could lead to a revival of Japanese militarism. There is a widespread perception in the region that Japan has never sufficiently expressed remorse for its brutal colonization of the Far East and much of the Asian continent before and during the Pacific War.

In 2013, Japan for the first time in eleven years increased its defense budget and is drafting a new overall defense plan. It is also increasing the scope of defense drills with its primary ally, the United States, which maintains more than a dozen military bases and tens of thousands of uniformed personnel in Japan.

Within hours of the issuance of the Japanese white paper, the foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing responded by accusing Tokyo of making unfounded accusations against China. Hua Chunying says China's maritime activities are carried out according to international law, the country is on the path of peaceful development and always stands for resolving territorial disputes through dialogue. But, she says, Japan has recently “played up the China threat, causing tensions and confrontation. And the international community cannot help but worry over where Japan is heading.”

South Korea - also a potential target of the rival North's forces - joined China in criticizing the Japanese document. That is because the annual paper - as it has since 2005 - asserts a territorial claim over a rocky outcrop, covering less than one-fifth of a square kilometer, held by South Korea (known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese). South Korean army Colonel Wi Yong-seop, speaking for the country's defense ministry, denies Japan has any geographical, historical or legal right to the rocks. Colonel Wi says if Japan refuses to withdraw its territorial claim there can be no expectations of defense exchanges or military cooperation between the two neighbors.

The white paper also suggested Japanese forces should have the capability to attack enemy bases as an effective deterrent against ballistic missile threats. That is in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs, as indicated by defense minister Onodera.

The Armed Attack Situation Response Law specifies basic principles and basic policies (the Basic Response Plan) regarding response to armed attack situations and the responsibilities of national and local governments in the event of an armed attack situation. Moreover, in preparation for the outbreak of armed attacks, a framework is being developed which allows relevant organizations (designated government institutions, local governments and designated public institutions) to implement response measures in a coordinated and cooperative fashion based on individual legislations dealing with military emergencies such as the Civil Protection Law, thereby the whole nation can fully prepare for armed attack situations.

In 2006, the Defence Agency (then) and the SDF shifted to a joint operations structure. This established the basis for unified SDF operations among the GSDF, MSDF and ASDF from peacetime, and is enabling the SDF to fulfill its expanding range of already diversified duties in an effective and prompt manner. Thereafter, as the need for efficient operation of defense capabilities and the need for the GSDF, MSDF and ASDF to work as one are growing, the joint operations structure should continue to be strengthened in light of the current security environment. Therefore, the MOD and SDF are making efforts to strengthen the foundation of the joint operations, including the functions of the Joint Staff.

Given Japan’s geographical characteristics that the country is surrounded by seas and has numerous islands, invasion of offshore islands can be anticipated as one form of armed attack against Japan. If signs of attack are detected in advance, SDF troops will be concentrated in an area expected to be attacked ahead of the deployment of enemy units and try to deter enemy arracks. If the enemy shows no sign of refraining from launching an attack, operations will be conducted to prevent it. If no signs of aggression are detected in advance and islands are occupied, operations will be conducted to regain the islands by defeating the enemy with air-to-ground and ship-to-ground firing and by landing GSDF units.

In case Japan faced a large-scale invasion, the SDF will respond to the situation in an aligned and systemic manner based on their integrated operations. Their operations are categorized into 1) operations for aerial defense, 2) defense operations protecting waters around Japan, 3) operations protecting the land, and 4) operations ensuring security in maritime transportation, based on the characteristic of their purposes. In executing these operations, the U.S. forces will assist the operations implemented by the SDF and deploy operations to complement the capabilities of the SDF, including the use of striking power, in line with the Guideline for the U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation.

Since the 2010 Guidelines were formulated, the security environment surrounding Japan has deteriorated. For example, in April and December 2012, North Kore a launched a missile purported to be a satellite. Moreover, there has been a rapid expansion in China ’s activities in the waters and airspace surrounding Japan, including incursions into Japanese territorial waters and airspace. At the same time, based on its new defense strategic guidance, the U.S. is asserting its presence in the Asia-Pacific region and demonstrating its willingness to strengthen partnerships and cooperation withallied nations, including Japan. In addition, SDF activities during the Great East Japan Earthquake, have presented lessons that need to be addressed.

In light of such changes, it is necessary to respond promptly to the current situation and reinforce Japan’s defense readiness, as well as further strengthen the Japan-U.S. Alliance. Accordingly, in the document Defense Capability Build-up in FY2013 (app roved by the Cabinet on January 25, 2013), the government stated that it would review the 2010 Guidelines and work on the efficient development of effective defense capability that could respond adequately to the roles required of the SDF, with a conclusion to be reached during 2013.

On 01 July 2014 Japan’s conservative government made the most significant change in interpretation to its pacifist Constitution since the US-written charter went into effect 67 years earlier. This came on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Self Defense Forces, which replaced the defeated Imperial Japan military disbanded by the victorious Allied forces.

The three principles that will form the foundations of the Cabinet's decision to allow Japan's forces the right to exercise collective self-defense and would see troops called into action are based firstly on if "the country's existence is threatened and the people's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is feared to be overturned because of an armed attack on Japan or other countries." The second is that force is acceptable if "no other appropriate means exist to repel aggression and protect the lives of Japanese people." The third condition dictates that "if force is to be used then is must be kept to the minimum amount necessary."

The move generated a mixed reaction at home and abroad, especially in the countries that suffered from brutal Japanese colonialism in the first half of the 20th century. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended his controversial push to reinterpret the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. Under the new rules approved by the Cabinet, Japan's military would be allowed to exercise the right to "collective self-defense."

The changes had to be approved by a simple majority in both houses of Japan’s parliament. The governing Liberal Democratic Party enjoys a comfortable majority in the more powerful lower house and controls the upper chamber with the support of a coalition partner. The Cabinet’s move would allow Japan’s armed forces to rescue foreign troops or United Nations’ personnel conducting peacekeeping operations if attacked. And Japanese forces would be able to expand the use of their weapons. But the government said the modification still would not permit dispatching Japanese troops to combat zones.

Opposition to Japan exercising the right to collective self- defense was significant, as evidenced by recent polls that showed more than 55 percent of the public oppose Japan engaging in collective self-defense, and almost 60 percent oppose Abe's bid to achieve that by changing the government's interpretation of the Constitution.

With Japan on the verge of widening its military scope both domestically and overseas, the LDP is also pushing for Japan's forces to be able to be involved in United Nations-led peacekeeping operations, and, other "gray zone" missions that don' t fully equate to war, in a wholesale turnaround to Japan's pacifist stance, held since Japan was defeated in World War II in 1945.

Washington and Tokyo were working on a review of the bilateral defense pact for the first time in 17 years. By November 2014 the governing coalition in Japan was divided over the framework and limits of the updated agreement in the sphere of military collaboration. The internal cabinet disputes caused a delay to Japan’s participation in talks with their American colleagues, and both Washington and Tokyo considered postponing the finalization deadline of the new alliance treaty.

A conflict developed between PM Abe and one of the parties in his coalition, the Buddhist-backed Komeito. Abe had unprecedentedly allowed for Japanese armed forces to be used abroad, and the new pact with the US would afford Japan the right to assist friendly nations being attacked by a third party. On one hand, Komeito wanted to restrict any Japanese participation in “collective self-defence” to military deployment in waters surrounding the island nation; on the other hand, Abe’s ultimate intention was to send Japanese troops to assist the US in places like the Middle East and the Gulf.

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Page last modified: 11-05-2022 19:24:15 ZULU