Evolutionary or Revolutionary? Japan's Defense Strategy
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Evolutionary or Revolutionary? Japan's Defense Strategy


Publication of Japan’s newest defense white paper has triggered the usual dark speculations about the country’s future. Conversations in Beijing and Seoul begin with the premise that Japan is becoming more right wing in its defense policy and political orientation. Yes, the nation of “Asahi-reading realists” is becoming less blinkered in its assessment of the regional security environment. But the evolution in Japanese security thinking is evolutionary: changes remain incremental and the bulwarks against a radical shift remain firmly in place.

The white paper rightly notes that the Asia-Pacific region “is considerably rich in political, economic, ethnic, and religious diversity, and conflicts between countries/regions remain.” North Korea’s missile tests and nuclear program are considered “a significant threat” to Japan, while China’s military modernization effort and lack of transparency “are a source of concern,” as are “its expanding and intensifying activities in waters close to Japan.”

The white paper concludes, reasonably enough, that “defense capabilities are vital for ensuring an appropriate response to various contingencies arising from the security challenges and destabilizing factors, which are diverse, complex, and intertwined…” In particular it calls for “building up functions such as warning and surveillance, maritime patrols, air defense, response to ballistic missiles, transportation, and command control communications …” To the objective observer, these all look like defensive measures.

Nevertheless, recent conversations in China and Korea have been punctuated by alarm about Japanese intentions. Revisions in the outer space law and national energy policy, and the call for reinterpreting the constitution to allow Japan to exercise its right to join collective self-defense efforts, all elicited criticism and concern. The critics are right to note a rightward drift in the center of gravity of Japanese national security policy. The Democratic Party of Japan under Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has embraced an agenda that would warm the heart of – and spark considerable envy in – its Liberal Democratic Party predecessors. To some degree, this reflects the prime minister’s own inclinations, but it is also part of a wider phenomenon: the left in Japan is dispirited and fighting for its political life after three years of disappointment under DPJ rule, while the right is rejuvenated and focused on a particular agenda (as always).

But the basic defensive orientation remains.  Rarely noted by the critics, the white paper also points out that “Japan has been building a modest defense capability under the Constitution for exclusively defense-oriented purposes without becoming a military power that could threaten other countries, while adhering to the principle of civilian control of the military, observing the Three Non-Nuclear Principles, and firmly maintaining the Japan–U.S. Security Arrangements.” Considerable emphasis is also put on multilateral and cooperative efforts to boost regional security.

John Denverg
August 19, 2012 at 16:38

Philippines only defend its own territory within 200 n/m EEZ that include scarborough shoal, we didn't intervene to any Chinese territory. But what chinese did in claiming the scarborough shoal within our 200 n/m EEZ territory is totally an intervention or occupation. On the other hand Japan has now change if I were to chose between the two JAPAN and CHINA, I'd rather choose JAPAN because they really acknowledge their wrong doing in the past even the emperor acknowledge it too. But china full of pride and arrogant never heard of any apology of what they did to the killings and torturing of dissidence in Tibet, Tiananmen square and their collaboration with cambodian regime "Pol Pot" resulted to "killing fields" that killed millions of cambodians sponsored by chinese style communism.          

John Chan
August 15, 2012 at 11:23

Everybody knows the predatory imperialist USA occupies Hawaii Kingdom, Ryukyu Kingdom, and other island kingdoms in the Pacific Ocean and India Ocean, to white wash their imperialist crimes, American is sowing discords in the SE Asia so that it can profit handsomely at the misfortune of SE Asian nations in order to dig itself out of its financial crisis.

August 15, 2012 at 05:14

I agree, it seems that no one knows that Japan has infact done many things multiple times to try and make up for the crimes commited by their ancestors in WW2. Either that, or  they don't care and just need something to take out their problems on.

Highly Dubious
August 14, 2012 at 13:37

"none of them possesses toxic radioactive WMD except that bellicose predatory imperialist bully which possesses tens of thousands nuclear warheads." 

Canada, Mexico and Argentina all have nuclear materials that are suitable for the construction of weapons. (See NYTimes Map http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2012/01/12/science/12nukes.html?ref=science) . 
Also describing the region as "peace loving nations" without regard to the complex historical conflicts endemic in the Americas (i.e. Dominican Republic/Haiti, Colombia/Venezuela, Chile/All surrounding counties, etc.) is at best blissfully ignorant and at worst woefully delusional. 
Arming the largest economies to the region is the pathway to perpetual conflict and tragedy.

August 14, 2012 at 00:01

Really?  This claim:  "using them to encroach other nation’s land is the behaviour of cargo cult" sounds just like China.  Everybody knows that China is not only encroaching but blatantly stealing lands and islands that never belonged to China.  While many of its maps showed Hainan Island as "the end of the earth" for China, it still falsely used doctored maps and fabricated evidences to invade others' territories by force.

John Chan
August 13, 2012 at 01:38

@Imran Abubakar,
Getting 10 warships from the ex fascist imperial aggressor and using them to encroach other nation’s land is the behaviour of cargo cult the Pinoy picked up from that fascist aggressor, Pinoy will be defeated and punished just like that fascist imperial aggressor.

John Chan
August 13, 2012 at 01:27

Americas from North to South are peace loving nations, none of them possesses toxic radioactive WMD except that bellicose predatory imperialist bully which possesses tens of thousands nuclear warheads.  in.
That bully poses an existential threat to the Americas, its threat is becoming increasing intolerable. Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil should all consider nuclear weapons, long range missiles and ICBM submarines to deter those trigger happy rednecks from pulling the triggers

talking points
August 13, 2012 at 01:14

Japan is desperate.it was bidding time, but now China is forever moving ahead, it is doomed because it is still holding Chinese property.
The only way out is to return Diaoyu islands to China. give up its claims agains S. Korea and Russia.

Rick Stewart
August 12, 2012 at 10:48

North Korea and Red China are the biggest threats in Asia.  Japan and South Korea should go nuclear as a deterrent to these rouge states.  And Vietnam should definitely consider nuclear weapons and long-range missiles as Red China's threat is becoming increasingly intolerable.  Red China poses an existential threat to Vietnam.

major lowen gil marquez, phil army
August 12, 2012 at 09:07

The Japan must analyze and study again and renew some of their articles in the constitution in order to cop-up with the changing needs of time, they would enhance their defense and offensive stratagem if their existence is in danger like the Israel…. Japan security were not stable from outside invasion because on her left was a communist china and on his upper right is a north Korean communist dictatorship, they should study their defense and offensive capability, study themselves and thy enemy..

Imran Abubakar
August 12, 2012 at 00:56

My country already went to war with Japan before and we can say that it was brutal. However now that China is trying to invade my country… Japan our former enemy supplied as with 10 SHIPS to defend our shoal. I can say Japan has really changed. We will support Japan no matter what… Sincerely the Republic of the Philippines

August 11, 2012 at 13:45

Interesting to note how this article has chosen, perhaps deliberately, to omit discussion on how Japan has yet owned up to its wartime atrocities, a major factor that causes strategic distrust to brew towards it from the regional governments .

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