Japan’s New Cybersecurity Mission
Image Credit: REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

Japan’s New Cybersecurity Mission


At the Upper House elections on July 21, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, New Komeito, won a landslide victory. With a stable majority in both of the houses to add to his triumph in the Lower House election last December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has finally ended the so-called twisted Diet (parliament), in which the Upper House was able to prevent the passage of legislation. With no Diet elections planned for the next three years, now is an ideal time for the Abe administration to address security issues in addition to his first priority, economic recovery. 

Cybersecurity is one of the most important agenda items for the Japanese government, especially after the Ministry of Defense (MOD) published the Defense Posture Review Interim Report on July 26, in which it emphasized the importance of more domestic and international cooperation for better cyber defense. The report serves as a basis for new National Defense Program Guidelines, which provide Japan’s medium to long-term defense principles. The MOD plans to release the new guidelines by the end of this year.

Information and communications technology (ICT) has become critical to much of 21st century life: energy and water supplies, financial and medical services, and the information networks of the government and military. Successful large-scale cyber sabotage could impair or paralyze the operations of the targeted organization or country, let alone damaging their confidence and reputation. Information theft has the potential to erode the strength of a target if an adversary – be that an individual, group, or state actor – is able to access its trade secrets, including intellectual property, and identify potential vulnerabilities in defense equipment or planning. 

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As the world’s third-largest economic power, Japanese cybersecurity is critical for both Japan and the international community. If cyber-attacks were to cripple the economic health of Japan, the ramifications would be felt in other countries and the international markets. Those potential repercussions make Japan responsible for enhancing cyber security and increasing international cooperation. Because an adversary can launch coordinated and sophisticated cyber-attacks across national boundaries, governments need to work together to counter the threat.

Protected by the ocean, Japan enjoyed relatively internal security for thousands of years. Its citizens could afford to give little thought to national defense. This perhaps explains the continuing ambivalence Japanese feel about security issues, even given the dramatic changes in regional dynamics – including China, North Korea, and cyber threats – over the past couple of decades. It may also explain why Japan has been slow to take action on cybersecurity.

The next three years represents an excellent opportunity for Japan to develop a roadmap to enhance national cybersecurity and reinforce international cooperation, albeit slowly. Recognizing the significance of the growing incidence of cyber attacks such as espionage and disruptive threats to infrastructure, the Abe administration has begun with three promising steps. It needs to see them through.

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