Japan in urgent search of new strategic balance

Japan in urgent search of new strategic balance

In the 1970s, Japan prime minister Masayoshi Ohira developed an idea of “comprehensive security” that emphasized the need to broaden the range of security to non-military domains.

The concept built on the ideas layed out in the 1969 Nixon Doctrine, where the Usa encouraged its allies to take “primary responsibility” for their own defense.

This motivated Japan to take on a larger role in the US-Japan alliance and in protecting its own security. Ohira’s task force strengthened Japan’s commitment to the comprehensive security agenda by emphasizing Japan’s proactive approach to non-military domains such as financial, food and energy security.

In 2022, Japan’s security strategy is once again groping towards a comprehensive approach but with a larger emphasis on robust uniform capability, economic statecraft and technological innovation.

As the security natural environment surrounding Japan has become more severe, maintaining a favorable balance of capacity has become an increasingly trial.

Tokyo happens to be facing challenges concerning three major ideal fronts. China — the biggest strategic obstacle — boasts armed service capabilities which miles outstrip those of Asia.

The 2018 National Defense Program Guidelines highlighted of which, as maintaining Japan’s maritime and oxygen superiority becomes untenable, the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) will be needing major reform in terms of defense doctrine, talent and operations.

This will necessitate considerable increases in the safeguard budget as well as the enslavement of innovative defense concepts.

The challenge for Japan’s defense reform comes from the need to prepare in opposition to two additional methodologies: North Korea and Russia. North Korea’s continued development of indivisible and missile technologies signifies the growing risk of conflict escalation.

Achieving the denuclearization of North Korea while preparing for a possible crisis remains the top priority of Japan’s strategy.

Kim Jong-un looks at a rocket warhead tip after a simulated test of atmospheric re-entry of a ballistic missile, at an unidentified location in this undated photo released March 15, 2016. Photo: Reuters/KCNA
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un looks at a rocket warhead tip after a simulated test of atmospheric re-entry of a ballistic missile, at an unidentified location in this undated photo released March 15, 2016. Photo: KCNA

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also gifts new risks for Japan. The Japan-Russia peace treaty negotiations — which have remained unresolved since the end of the Second World War — were suspended indefinitely by Russia in April 2022.

Russia will no longer hesitate to pressure Japan’s military and try to pursue deeper strategic alignment with China to challenge US military engagement in Asia.

Japan’s three strategic fronts — China, North Korea and Russia — all require different defense capability and posture requirements. If Tokyo invests in defense for each risk scenario separately, the price will be enormous and the JSDF will lose the opportunity to implement long-awaited China-focused reform.

A comprehensive approach that places a greater emphasis on enhancing Japan’s economic security and the exploration of new domains such as cyber, space and emerging technologies is essential.

A robust increase in Japan’s defense budget should be the starting point for reform. Domestic public support for an increased defense budget was at a historic high during the Upper House election in July 2022.

This came on the heels of the Japan-US Security Consultative Committee meetings involving the ministers and secretaries for defense and foreign affairs, where Japan “reiterated its resolve to basically reinforce its defense capabilities. ”

This commitment will dsicover Japan look to upgrade its military capabilities to react to higher-end conflicts by ensuring interoperability with its allied forces.

More controversially, there has been a push within the Japanese government to have counterstrike capabilities. With the introduction of hypersonic missiles, a technology possessed by both China and North Korea, Japan’s current missile defense capability is no longer sufficient.

Tokyo has been exploring the possibility of acquiring counterstrike capabilities for the purpose of destroying enemy missile bases in foreign territories, but the scope of this is yet to be finalized.

On economic statecraft, Japan enacted its Economic Security Promotion Bill (ESPB) in May 2022, focusing on three major areas.

The first area prioritizes the need to protect sensitive technologies by placing more control on investments from and exports to specific foreign entities, and by ensuring that supply chains that are critical to sensitive high-tech sectors remain secure.

Additionally , the ESPB aims to ensure that Japan continues to work towards strategic indispensability. By increasing the funding for companies and institutions that conduct research and development (R& D) into key existing and new technologies, Tokyo can reinvigorate an area in which it has long lagged behind other countries.

This will allow Japan to have a bigger security presence in the region and cease relying solely on military capability. And that should open up more opportunities for Japan to export defense equipment to friendly states, that may elevate Japan’s interoperability with other parts of the world.

Buying technological development will also improve Japan’s economic security. Cutting-edge core technologies — such as robotics, artificial intelligence and quantum computing — will raise industrial competition within the private sector. At the same time, these dual-use technologies can also be used in the development of military applications.

Japan’s Special Defense Forces could be offensive with a change of the constitution. Image: Facebook

Japan’s R& D in defense technologies has not been terribly active compared with other countries. In the 2021–22 financial year, the Japanese Ministry of Defense requested a budget of 325. 7 billion yen (US$2. 5 billion) for R& D costs to strengthen defense technologies and their practical implementation.

Increasing the defense budget will encourage long-term innovation, but there is still a long way to go to overcome public hesitation towards investing in military R& D.

The concerns faced by prime minister Ohira in the 1970s remain relevant today. Japan must double down on its efforts to achieve strategic autonomy and indispensability. Strengthening Japan’s military capabilities and investing in defense technology is really a step in the right direction, but the pace leaves much to be desired.

Ken Jimbo is President of the Asia Pacific Initiative and Professor at the Faculty of Policy Management, Keio University. Bryan Tan is Student Assistant at the Faculty of Policy Management, Keio University.

This article appears in the most recent edition of  East Asia Forum Quarterly , ‘ Japan’s strategic choices ’, Vol 14, No 3. The  article   was published by  East Asia Forum, which will be based out of the  Crawford School of Public Policy   within the  College of Asia and the Pacific   at the  Australian National University .

It is republished under a Creative Commons license.