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Japan Re-Shapes Its National Security Strategy

Posted by Robbin Laird on


China’s new “Air Defense Identification Zone,” which covers the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands — called the Diaoyus by China — as well as South Korean-controlled Ieodo.

Japanese national security strategy is shifting. The Pacific power’s new National Security Strategy highlights a comprehensive look ahead built around what they call a “comprehensive defense architecture.”

This architecture is built on effective joint forces, a close working relationship with key allies such as the United States, Australia and Japan, and a proactive approach in which “Japan will maintain an improve a comprehensive architecture for responding seamlessly to an array of situations, ranging from armed attacks to large-scale natural disasters.”

Clearly this is not just a briefing board document. Recent events have demonstrated Japan’s engagement in the Philippine relief mission, including closely working with US forces in coming quickly to the aid of the Philippines and then moving out when no longer needed, and scrambling their Air Force in response to the Chinese unilateral declaration of an air defense identification zone.

The new strategy highlights the importance of Japan as a “proactive contributor to peace,” rather than just sitting back and hoping someone else takes care of their defense interests. The strategy focuses on the importance of protecting Japanese access to global supply chains and to natural resources, including energy. And in so doing, protection of sea lines of communication is a key challenge facing Japan and its allies. The document underscores a Japanese decision to be more proactive but in a broader alliance context, within which the relationship with the United States is paramount. But there’s another message to the US: you need to be proactive as well.

The document makes it clear that Japan is not simply going to sit back and be intimated by North Korea and China. And Japan is not simply arguing in black in white terms, war or peace, but the necessity to be engaged in shaping a security environment which meets the interests of Japan and its allies.

“In addition to the issues and tensions arising from the shift in the balance of power, the Asia-Pacific region has become more prone to so-called “gray-zone” situations, situations that are neither pure peacetime nor contingencies over territorial sovereignty and interests. There is a risk that these “gray-zone” situations could further develop into grave situations.”

Later in the document, the importance of being able to operate across the spectrum of security and defense is highlighted as well, including an ability to operate in such “gray zone” situations.

“Even in peacetime, Japan will maintain and improve a comprehensive architecture for responding seamlessly to an array of situations, ranging from armed attacks to large-scale natural disasters.”

What is underscored in the new strategy is the importance of blending military, security and political initiatives together in expanding effective Japanese alliance relationships. This approach is highlighted in the discussion of how to deal with sea lines of communication.

In particular, sea lanes stretching from the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to the waters of Japan, passing through the Indian Ocean, the Straits of Malacca, and the South China Sea, are critical to Japan due to its dependence on the transport of natural and energy resources from the Middle East.

In this regard, Japan will provide assistance to those coastal states alongside the sea lanes of communication and other states in enhancing their maritime law enforcement capabilities, and strengthen cooperation with partners on the sea lanes who share strategic interests with Japan.

The Arctic plays an important role in this. “The Arctic Sea is deemed to have enormous potential for developing new shipping routes and exploration of natural resources. While it is expected that states concerned work together under relevant international rules, such potential could provide new causes of friction among them.”

(Quotations from the Japanese strategy have been taken from this translation of the strategy document).

In effect, since the end of the Cold War, Japan has evolved through two clear phases with regard to defense and security policy and is about to enter a third. The first phase was extended homeland defense, where the focus was primarily on defending the homeland from direct threats. A more classic understanding of defense was in play, whereby force had to be projected forward to threaten Japan and as this threat materialized, defenses were fortified. It was defense versus emergent direct threats to Japan.

Then life changed. Technology made warfare more dynamic, and the nature of power projection changed.  Tactical assets can have strategic consequences, the speed of operations accelerated and operations highlighting the impact of “shock and awe” high speed operations made it clear that relatively static defenses were really not defenses at all.

At the same time, globalization accelerated, and with it the significance of maritime and air routes for the viability of the Japanese way of life. When terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center, Japan got the point. No man was an island, and neither was an island economy simply protected by having a global policy of shopkeepers. More was required to defend the Japanese way of life.

The emergence of the Chinese colossus and the greater reach of the Korean crisis into a direct threat to Japan, and the resurgence of Russia, its nuclear weapons and its military forces, all posed the question of threats able to reach Japan rapidly and with significant effect.

A static defense no longer made sense; a “dynamic defense” became crucial. This meant greater reach of Japanese systems, better integration of those systems within the Japanese forces themselves, more investments in C2 and ISR, and a long-term strategy of re-working the U.S.-Japanese military relationship to have much greater reach and presence.

The “dynamic defense” phase carries with it the seeds for the next phase – the shaping of a twin anchor policy of having reach in the Arctic and the Indian Ocean. Such reach is beyond the capabilities of the Japanese themselves, and requires close integration with the United States and other allies. And such reach requires much greater C2, ISR and weapons integration across the Japanese and allied force structure.

The great strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance rests not only on a linage of mutual respect for sea operations, and shared technology, but Japan also creates a North/South Combat Axis for operations.

Instead of leaving the United States with a Hawaiian-centric strategy with the need to focus on going to West Pac East-West, the Japanese contribution is a very strong (or at least growing again) as a maritime ally which can, in partnership with the United States, help the US go North-South from Japanese Bases to cover an operational area ranging from Pacific Arctic to the Indian Ocean.

U.S. weapon systems are a key part of the Japanese approach. Clearly, at the top of the list is building out from the Aegis global partnership and including Ospreys and F-35s as centerpieces. Japanese F-35s would be part of the Pacific fleet of US and allied F-35s and Japan is where the first F-35s are coming in 2015. By 2020 there could be as many as five squadrons of F-35s from the US and Japanese. This will clearly be the center of excellence for the fledgling F-35 enterprise. On top of this, the Japanese will build their F-35s in rebuilt Mitsubishi facilities, thus becoming the third final assembly line for F-35s, with Fort Worth, and Cameri, Italy, the other two.

The cross domain synergy among these new systems, combined with Japanese integration with their legacy systems, is the building block for the new “comprehensive defense architecture.”

There is a fundamental difference between PRC and Japanese goals and context. The PRC is an authoritarian regime seeking to reshape international rules to their benefit; Japan is a democracy embedded in alliances seeking to see that international rules are crafted and created which support globalization, not domination.

There is no moral equivalence here.

What do you think?