The sense of menace is growing. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has warned that the security situation around Japan is rapidly changing and that “the reality is it’s the most severe it has ever been.”

The very first sentence of the Defense of Japan 2021 white paper notes that “security challenges and destabilizing factors became more tangible and acute,” a view echoed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ 2021 diplomatic blue book, which begins by noting “a broadening and diversifying array of security challenges” and warns that “Today, no single country can protect its peace and security on its own.”

Fortunately, Japan does not have to. Our alliance with the United States continues to be strong, a source of reassurance to the people of Japan and a formidable deterrent to our adversaries. That relationship is the product of a commitment by both governments to their partnership, the shared values that we believe in and defend and the hard work that has been done and will continue to be demanded in the years ahead.

Today’s security environment is increasingly fraught. North Korea sharpens its military capabilities and refuses to engage in diplomacy to reduce tensions and find common ground. Meanwhile, China is pursuing a military buildup that Beijing uses to backstop its increasingly assertive diplomacy. Japan has worked on its own and with the United States for over a decade to prepare for both threats.

In recent years, however, new dangers have emerged: cyber attacks that include ransomware and hacks of critical infrastructure; threats to economic security stemming from coercion, vulnerable supply chains, or the theft of technology; disinformation campaigns that undermine democracy and our society; and, of course, pandemic diseases. Political leaders and alliance managers in both countries have been working to address these concerns, too. Our two governments have launched bilateral initiatives within the alliance to tackle these problems and they are working with other countries in multilateral forums, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, to bring more resources to bear on these challenges.

The year ahead will be especially important for Japan. In January, the ministers of foreign affairs and defense and their U.S. counterparts, the secretaries of state and defense, will convene (virtually because of the omicrom variant) the Security Consultative Committee (SCC, or two-plus-two talks). This meeting is of particular importance as the SCC last convened as the Biden administration was finding its feet and serious business was put off for the next gathering. Originally scheduled for the fall of 2021, it was delayed by the change of government in Japan.

This meeting is expected to focus on bolstering the two countries’ deterrence capabilities, with particular attention to China. When they met last April, then-Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and President Joe Biden stressed the importance of “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” That was the first time in 50 years that the two nations’ leaders mentioned Taiwan in a statement, but what that means in concrete terms has been the subject of debate. There have been reports that the two governments will draw up a joint operational plan to allow the allies to response to a contingency in the Taiwan strait. There are also reports that they will take coordinated steps such as sharing information, honing attribution capabilities and building greater resilience in networks to counter ransomware attacks from China and Russia.

Much friction in the alliance has reflected a belief that Japan can do more to contribute to the partnership. To its credit, it is doing that. Tokyo agreed late last year to increase its contribution for hosting U.S. military forces to ¥1.05 trillion ($9.2 billion) over the five-year period from fiscal 2022, which starts in April, a roughly 5% increase (about ¥211 billion per fiscal year) in “host nation support.”

That sum is part of the ¥5.40 trillion defense budget for fiscal 2022 that was recently approved by the Cabinet. That budget, which is 1.1% more than that of the current fiscal year, marks a record high for the eighth consecutive year and the 10th consecutive increase. Much of the increase reflects a sharp increase in research and development spending. The budget calls for investment in new technologies such as unmanned aircraft, increasingly long-distance missiles and other capabilities such as rail guns and satellites to defend against increasingly capable adversaries.

As important as any funds will be publication this year of strategies that guide security policy and planning. The government is expected to issue a new National Security Strategy (NSS), the first such revision since that document was adopted in 2013. The NSS will frame the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) and the Medium-Term Defense Program, which are also expected to be revised this year. Those three documents nestle within each other. The first provides the framework for national security generally, the second focuses on national defense policy narrowly defined, and the third specifies development plans and expenses for five years.

A key part of the NSS will be a discussion of economic security and the ways that it fits into national security broadly defined. Given the attention that has been devoted to this subject, focus and detail are much needed. Likely central to the NDPG will be a discussion of the need to acquire capabilities to strike enemy bases, another subject that has consumed defense policymakers in recent years.

A third vital topic will be Japan’s increasingly close relations with other security partners. Australia, India and the U.K. are playing larger roles in this country’s national security, with Japan having recently concluded an agreement with Canberra to facilitate reciprocal visits between the two countries’ militaries and there are reports that Tokyo will hold talks with London about a similar deal. There are reports that Prime Minister Kishida is considering a visit to Australia early in the new year to sign the agreement, although the omicron variant may prevent that.

A glaring absence is South Korea. The utter lack of trust between the two governments continues to poison the relationship. Fixing this should be a top priority for Japan in 2022. That will pay huge dividends for Japan, the alliance and regional security.

The Japan Times Editorial Board

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