Defense policy overhauled to meet new global threats

Review cites danger posed by North Korea, China

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The government announced Friday plans to conduct a sweeping overhaul of its defense policy, adjusting Japan’s armed forces to better handle new threats such as terrorism and giving them a greater global role.

China and North Korea are identified in the review as key threats to Japan’s national security — the first time specific countries have been cited in this fashion.

Regarding the main missions of the Self-Defense Forces, the government has added “improvement of the international security environment” to the traditional objective of repelling attacks on Japan’s territory.

This would pave the way for more active participation in international peacekeeping activities.

Aiming to turn the SDF into a more agile force that can readily be deployed to counter unpredictable threats and undertake overseas assignments, the new National Defense Program Outline signals a departure from the highly limited security policy Japan had maintained since the end of World War II.

“From a deterrent to a responsive force, that is the future direction of our defense posture,” Defense Agency chief Yoshinori Ono told reporters.

But he denied that Japan would strive to gain offensive capabilities, as feared by some Asian neighbors that suffered under Japan’s wartime aggression.

Together with the outline, the Cabinet approved a five-year defense buildup plan for fiscal 2005 to 2009 that maps out specific measures to achieve the posture it sets forth.

The overall budget for the plan was set at 24.24 trillion yen, down 920 billion yen from the current one and the first cut ever.

Also on Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda stated that Japan would lift its self-imposed ban on arms exports to allow the sale to the United States of weapons and equipment related to missile defense projects it is jointly pursing with the U.S.

The statement says that only missile-defense-related products developed with the U.S. would be exempt from the decades-old ban. It states that Japan will adhere to a “cautious policy” concerning arms exports.

It leaves room for a further easing of arms controls, nevertheless, stating that decisions on whether to allow exports of equipment deemed to “contribute to international efforts to combat terrorism and piracy” should be made on a case-by-case basis.

The first and only review of the National Defense Program Outline, first formulated in 1976, came in 1995 and was designed to reflect the security environment after the Cold War.

Marking a clear departure from the Cold War-era framework that was still visible in the 1995 outline, Friday’s initiative states that the possibility of a full-scale land invasion is low and that weapons and equipment designed to counter this threat should be reduced to “the most basic level.”

Instead, the new outline says Japan needs to be prepared to counter new threats and a myriad of other scenarios, namely:

* ballistic missile attacks;

* commando raids;

* invasions of Japan’s remote islands;

* intrusions into Japanese waters by armed vessels;

* large-scale disasters.

The policy also promises more active SDF participation in overseas peacekeeping missions and international efforts to combat terrorism.

“We used the modest term ‘international contribution,’ ” Ono said. “But our current understanding is that the peace of the world is the peace of Japan. We will play an active role” in the international arena.

The guidelines note that Japan’s long coastline is a “geopolitical vulnerability” and state that “securing the sea lanes is crucial to prosperity and development.”

Regarding the potential threats posed by other nations, the outline says, “North Korea’s military moves are a grave destabilizing factor in the region.”

It also states that, “at the same time, Japan must pay close attention to China’s modernization of its military and the expansion of its maritime activities.”

This reflects Japan’s growing concern over North Korea’s missile and nuclear-weapons programs, as well as the heightened activity of Chinese ships in the East China Sea.

Ties between Japan and China remain frosty, with the nations battling for marine resources in the East China Sea and clashing over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead as well as convicted war criminals.

To meet the new security challenges specified in the guidelines, Japan must have “multifunctional, flexible and effective” defense capabilities that can be deployed quickly and backed up by advanced information technology, the new policy says.

This idea effectively displaces the traditional “basic defense force” concept that was adopted by the previous two outlines as a restraint on military expansion during the Cold War.

At the center of these new capabilities is the 1 trillion yen missile defense system, which the government said it would introduce last December. It hopes to deploy a two-tier missile shield combining sea- and land-based systems by 2011.

SDF organizations will probably be revamped to facilitate the effective operation of the missile defense system — the Maritime Self-Defense Force and Air Self-Defense Force will prepare some of their units and squadrons for missile defense-related roles.

Separately, Japan has been engaged in joint research with the U.S. on key components to be used for a next-generation sea-based interceptor missile.

SDF Law revision eyed

Defense Agency chief Yoshinori Ono said Friday he will pursue legal changes to include peacekeeping activities as a main mission of the Self-Defense Forces along with national defense.

He said he would submit a bill to make the necessary revisions to the SDF Law during the next ordinary Diet session that starts next month.

International cooperation activities are described under the SDF Law as the forces’ secondary role.

The 1954 law stipulates that such activities may be undertaken “as long as they do not hinder the task of national defense.”

The director general of the Defense Agency also said he wants to make arrangements so that Japan’s missile defense system can be activated “as swiftly as possible.”

“We will not have enough time to assemble the Security Council” for mobilizing the SDF before a missile reaches Japan, he said. “But we must ensure civilian control. It’s a difficult problem.”