Japan formulating new defense policy in the light more assertive China

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After WW II, a nuked Japan was in near devastation and its ‘imperial militaristic jingoism’ was sought to be done away with the imposition of a ‘peace constitution of 1947 by a triumphant America and its allies. A military proscription is included as Article 9 of the 1947 “Peace Constitution”.

Japan’s national defense policy has been based on maintaining the 1960 ‘Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security’ with the United States, under which Japan assumed unilateral responsibility for its own internal security and the US agreed to provide for its external security in the event that Japan or its territories were attacked. Japan has still been under the protective and guaranteed ‘nuclear security umbrella’ of the US. America currently guarantees Japan’s defense, with a nuclear powered aircraft carrier and 50,000 troops stationed there.


After the WW II, pacifism in Japan lacked the recognition that military force plays an essential role in building and maintaining peace, and that the intention to use military power is sometimes expected of a nation that wants peace.

However, in reality, peace and order cannot exist without force. Military force can be a tool that is indispensable for safeguarding peace. Meanwhile, as time passed and Japan made a miraculous recovery from the devastation of war by emerging as the world’s second biggest economy (now third), the international community started to call upon this ‘pacifist nation’, to provide more than what is considered to be a passive contribution founded on the notion of not destroying peace. This refers to the intention of ‘pro-actively’ taking action for peace – precursor to its ‘new’ national defense and security strategy.

Having witnessed the growing threat of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles from North Korea and China’s increasing assertiveness as well as provocative actions around the Senkaku Islands (called as Diaoyu Islands by China) in recent years, Japan have begun to understand that ‘excessive anti-militaristic sentiment’ could jeopardize its security.

Above all, as the US is increasingly embroiled into its own engagements worldwide rendering its role of Japan’s guarantor/provider of its external security being under constant question and growing skepticism towards it, a resurgent Japan under its nationalist PM Shinzo Abe elected to power with overwhelming majority in 2012, decided to shed its heavily US dependent ‘pacifist policy of self-defense’ and decided to embrace a more powerful self-reliant defense policy of ‘pro-active pacifism’ in tune with the ‘hard realities’ or ‘grand situations’ of international politics with which Japan is virtually surrounded today.

Abe’s ‘new’ National Security Strategy (NSS), National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG), and bold Five-Year Defense Plan (FYDP) – officially released in December, 2013 set to be effective from 2014 onwards are the strongest signs yet that Japan wishes to finally end decades of ‘self-imposed pacifism’ in order to rejoin other major powers.

PM Abe is taking unmistakable but measured steps to move Japan from a reactive to a proactive foreign policy, and to transform the SDF from a complementary force-in-being to a comprehensive, operational military. A high powered National Security Council (NSC) has also been established to oversee planning and execution of key policy issues of national defence and security.

Prior to embarking on FYDP, Japan has approved Mid Term Defense Plan (MTDP) defining Japan’s defense policy and capabilities from 2014 to 2018. It is meant to give policymakers, politicians, and the public an understanding of Japan’s defense priorities and the direction national defense is taking.

Since 2010 Japan’s relations with Communist China have fallen sharply, mainly over China’s claim of the Japanese-held Senkaku islands (Diaoyu islands in China.) Japan’s new plan also addresses concerns regarding North Korea’s ballistic missile program. It emphasizes the existing US-Japan security alliance as one of the cornerstones of its defense policy.

As far as Japan’s military spending is concerned, it has remained relatively flat since 1992, and has declined slightly every year from 2002 to 2012. The defense budget is set to rise five percent over the next five years, to a total of $247 billion dollars. As per 2012 SIPRI Report of ‘Top 10 Military Spenders’, Japan is world’s top five defense spender ($59.3 billion), with the US at top ($682 bn), China at second ($166bn) and India at eight position.

In addition to that alliance, Japan also will seek friendly cooperation on regional defense issues with India, Russia, Australia, South Korea, and the ASEAN states. Further, cooperation with the international community on issues of arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation.

Japan under its mew ‘pro-active’ national security strategy also plans to move more military assets closer to the maritime region where Japanese and Chinese interests collide, especially in the region where China has put its new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) overlapping that of Japan’s own ADIZ.

Now, a squadron of F-15s and an army signals unit will move to Okinawa base, near Taiwan with an additional five Japanese submarines will operate off its coastal waters as well as tightening ‘hacking proof’ cyber-security.

Let’s wait and watch to see the unfolding of Abe’s new ‘pro-active’ defense and security policy and its strategic implications for Japan and the world at large.

Written by Sourabh Jyoti Sharma >>

Sourabh is a pursuing PhD research scholar working on ‘Chinese Navy in Indian Ocean and Strategic Implications for India”, at Department of Political Science, Delhi University.

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Indian Exponent: Japan formulating new defense policy in the light more assertive China
Japan formulating new defense policy in the light more assertive China
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