The Defense Ministry on July 26 made public an interim report for the nation’s new defense program outline. Its focus is apparently on China’s military buildup and increased naval presence and North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development programs.
While Japan needs to cope with the region’s changing security situation in a coolheaded manner, the interim report indicates a path that deviates from Japan’s postwar defense-only defense posture, which has contributed to gaining the international community’s trust in Japan.
The interim report represents a dangerous view that could destabilize the region by provoking other states and raising suspicions about Japan’s intentions among its neighbors, including South Korea. The government should approach the issue with care.
In an apparent reference to North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities, the report calls for considering anew stronger deterrents and improvements in Japan’s “comprehensive capabilities to cope with ballistic missile attacks.”
This is a clear hint that the government wants to have capabilities to carry out preemptive attacks on an enemy’s missile bases. The proposal is based on the idea that possessing such capabilities will improve Japan’s deterrence.
But such a move could lead to a regional arms race as other countries take countermeasures.
North Korea reportedly stores its missiles in hardened underground bunkers. Therefore, Japan would be forced to spend a large amount of money to build missiles capable of destroying such facilities. In addition, the possession of such weapons could tempt other countries to carry out preemptive attacks on Japan. Japan would also be likely to encounter difficulties with the United States in determining role-sharing responsibilities.
The Defense Ministry’s report also calls for creating an amphibious force with landing capabilities for the defense of remote islands, similar to the role carried out by the U.S. Marine Corps, as well as the introduction of high-altitude unmanned surveillance aircraft like the U.S.’ Global Hawk.
Once again, such a move would raise concerns among neighboring countries that Japan is developing an offensive-oriented military force.
In a related move, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to resume discussions by a private advisory panel on changing the government’s traditional interpretation that the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 bans Japan from exercising the right to collective self-defense. The panel’s conclusion is expected to be included in the new defense program outline.
The ideas included in the interim report and Mr. Abe’s position on the right to collective self-defense will cause neighboring countries to think that Japan is discarding the self-restraint it has placed on its defense policy and capabilities on the basis of Article 9 and will invite a backlash from them.
The defense buildup called for by the report would likely increase security risks for Japan rather than reduce them because it would raise regional tensions and possibly provoke an arms race.
Instead of going down this path, Japan should focus on making serious diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions and resolve disputes with China and South Korea.