Defense plan would raise tensions

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.

  • Mohan2012

    My 2 cents.. as a nation, Japan has every right to take care of its security. If 60+ years of defence only posture of Japan was used by one and all to build their capability which is threatening Japan, then Japan has every right to make right defence/offence moves to safeguard itself. It may be a ploy in raising false fear as it is not the same scenario as 60-70 years back as all neighbouring countries have built their defence enormously – then why should they fear legitimate needs of Japan now?

    • ff

      I agree, Japan is the 3rd largest economy in the world, it is a very responsible nation and should be given every right to rearm.

    • Mishmael

      What is Japan’s legitimate need? Japan is already protected by America, and Japan has some serious atoning which it needs to continue to do. In my mind, this means that Japan should not be seeking military capabilities which would enable it to strike other countries.

      Also, I dispute the “responsible” part of ff’s comment. Japanese politicians regularily demonstrate gross disrespect for Japan’s victims in WW2, as well as for ethnic minorities and women. Japan maintains a highly protectionist economic system and bases its foreign policy on a b lind endorsement of American foreign policy. If Japan were truely responsible, it would emphasize human rights rather than some mythological former glory, and it should be seeking to enhance the security of its neighbors rather than working with the Americans to threaten them.

      • Murasaki

        Just love how all these new profile happen to come up every time someone supports Japan turning its Self-Defence Force in to a Defence Force that is then able to take first strike at any country that threatens Japan.

        Stab in the Dark Mishmael, you chinese or korean?

  • Greg Gliemi

    What Japan should do is to defend itself. What America should do
    is get out.

  • This is a far-sighted article. Japanese government should take heed. But would Abe (overtly anxious in whipping up nationalism to consolidate his popularity) care? Anyway, he ignores it at his own perils.

  • Starviking

    Pretty much a red herring on the idea that Japan would have to develop expensive missiles capable of destroying deep bunkers. The launch facilities just have to be targeted. This could be done with air or sea launched missiles which would be hard to hit in a preemptive strike