Japan’s security policy is likely to change significantly under the new National Defense Program Outline, which lays out guidelines for improving the nation’s defense capabilities over the next 10 years. The main feature of the outline, approved by the Cabinet on Friday, is that it is aimed at meeting “new threats,” such as international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.

There is no question that the nation’s defense program should be updated to deal with dramatic changes in the international security environment. Any prudent analysis that supports improvements in defense capabilities must also re-affirm the nation’s determination to uphold the constitutional principles of peace that limit the use of force abroad.

It is open to question whether the new program outline has been formulated strictly in this manner. The impression is that the government is rushing to upgrade defense capabilities amid sweeping changes in the international situation. If so, the new guidelines are apt to leave the Japanese people with a vague sense of insecurity rather than provide confidence in security.

Military threats to Japan have changed since the end of the Cold War. During the period of East-West confrontation, the primary mission of the Self-Defense Forces was to repel an invasion by the Soviet Union. In the post-Cold War era, such a large-scale attack, one that uses heavy weapons of the conventional type, is only a remote possibility.

Still, the world today is not any safer. Tensions are rising around the globe amid seemingly endless ethnic, religious and other conflicts. In particular, the threat of terrorism has increased ominously since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. World stability now depends crucially on the fight against international terrorism.

To deal with the new threats, the latest defense guidelines call for a review of the traditional policy that limits the nation’s defense capabilities to the “necessary minimum.” The aim now is to develop an “effective” defense force that is “multifunctional and flexible.” This approach raises concerns.

Japan’s previous defense plans were premised on the idea of “basic defense capability,” meaning that, as an independent state, Japan should maintain the minimum level of military strength required to defend itself against direct attacks. The reasoning was that it was neither necessary nor desirable to try to meet every kind of military threat. By contrast, the concept of “multifunctional and flexible capability” implies a willingness to meet every security threat to Japan. As such, it leaves open the possibility of a major military buildup.

The concept of basic defense capability has served the nation well. It has placed reasonable restraints on the expansion of the SDF. Moreover, it has helped to avoid unnecessary tensions with neighboring nations, as have our pacifist Constitution and our purely defensive military policy. For these reasons, it would be unwise to abandon this concept, notwithstanding the paradigm shift in the security environment.

Another salient feature of the new program outline is that it attaches great importance to the Japan-U.S. alliance. This is also cause for concern, although the need to maintain close ties with the United States goes without saying. The point to remember, though, is that important differences in security policy exist between the two countries. Japan, of course, has a Constitution that renounces war and use of force abroad, whereas America projects its overwhelming military power around the world.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is open to unilateralist action and preemptive attacks — policies that do not agree with Japanese principles of international cooperation. The new guidelines indicate that these differences have been effectively shunted aside to make way for Japanese cooperation in the global U.S. strategy.

In principle, the guidelines also call for cooperation in the planned global realignment of U.S. forces. Cooperation with the U.S. also underscores the policy of continuing or expanding SDF deployments abroad as part of Japan’s proactive contributions to international peace and stability. The assumed need to cooperate is also a major factor in the decision to allow the export of missile defense-related components to the U.S.

There is no denying the central importance of Japan-U.S. relations, but the situation in Iraq illustrates the limitations of bilateral cooperation. As the new defense program outline states clearly, the right course Japan should take is to maintain essentially the same principles and policies as before — namely, its purely defensive military policy, civilian control of the military, the nonnuclear principle and a moderate buildup in capabilities. These commitments should not end up as mere slogans.

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