On Dec. 15, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a speech at a conference at the Kyodo News headquarters. Much of his speech was about how he envisions continuing his efforts to revitalize the economy. However, in his discussion of the upcoming revision of the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) — a defense policy document that guides the Mid-Term Defense Program (MTDP) for military spending — Abe said something unprecedented: that, while continuing to uphold an exclusively defense-oriented posture and other fundamental principles, the upcoming NDPG revision will not be considered based on a linear projection of the past evolution of Japanese defense policy. Rather, Abe stressed, the revision will be based on an honest assessment of the aggravated security situation that Japan finds itself in today.

Abe's comments are illustrative of his sense of urgency regarding the rapidly worsening security environment in Northeast Asia. Indeed, just in this past year, unrelenting pressure from China in the East China Sea and heightening tensions on the Korea Peninsula, aggravated by the accelerated pace of North Korea's provocative behavior, created a "new normal" for Japan, where Tokyo now has to remain on constant alert toward the surrounding security situation. The problem for Abe is that the situation for Japan isn't likely to improve much in 2018.

As Japan heads into deliberations on the revisions of the NDPG and MTDP this year, there are a few major decisions that await. These decisions will be critical, as each will determine the baseline of Japan's force posture for the next several decades.