JAPAN TAKES HISTORIC STEP TO BOLSTER NATIONAL SECURITY
The revision of three key documents announced by the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on December 16 will bring about a fundamental change in Japan’s posture toward its national security. The new policies are a clear departure from Japan’s postwar “utopian pacifism” and a historic step for a country which has long been reluctant to update its defense strategy.
As a journalist, I have been critical of Kishida since he came to power last year, frequently pointing to his failure to clarify his intentions despite his often verbose remarks. But now he has made his intentions regarding the nation’s security quite clear, and I must admit I am impressed.
I wish to give him credit for coming up with the three documents, which consist of the National Security Strategy (hereafter, Document 1), the National Defense Strategy (Document 2), and the Defense Force Reconciliation Plan (Document 3). Document 1 outlines the administration’s general rationale regarding the basis of our new national security policy; Document 2 explains specific defense policies formulated on the basis of Document 1; and Document 3 explains the procedures and procurement plans for weapons and equipment necessary to materialize what 1 and 2 call for.
The first thing that attracted my attention when I read the documents, which altogether comprise some 100 pages, was this passage in the 30-page Document 1:
“It is difficult to accurately predict when an entity with powerful military capabilities will come to have intentions to directly threaten other countries.”
Substitute “China” for the “entity with powerful military capabilities,” and the reader will realize that the passage actually states that it is difficult to accurately predict when China might be tempted to attack Taiwan or Japan directly. In short, the document notes that the timing of possible aggression by a military power is unpredictable and warns against holding any illusions that an attack is not conceivable.
This awareness is plainly in conflict with the preamble of our “peace” constitution, which states in part: “We, the Japanese people…resolve to preserve our security and existence trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.”
The Japanese have generally cherished this notion as their noble cause, daydreaming like little children that the world is made up of “peace-loving” nations full of faith-filled people. There has been a belief that they should entrust the international community with their lives and the nation’s security—an extreme irrationality that has prevailed throughout the postwar period. But now, the new security strategy has awakened the nation to a realistic realization diametrically opposite the fantasies of the past. A smashing repudiation of the preamble of our constitution is at the heart of our new security policy. What a giant step forward!
China to Own 1,500 Nuclear Warheads by 2035
Document 1 further asserts: “We must pay attention to the capabilities of such actors and constantly develop defense capabilities in peacetime to take all possible measures to ensure our security.”
In determining whether or not an “actor” (China) might attack another nation, one needs to scrutinize two key factors—its will and its capabilities; of course, the latter is more important. If an adversary has enough military capabilities to triumph over its neighbor, it can launch an attack anytime it chooses. But an attack will not be possible without ample military capabilities, even if there is the will. That is why all nations must pay attention to bolstering their defensive capabilities. That is exactly what the Kishida administration has spelled out this time.
This is the norm in the international community, but Japan has long been immersed in a utopian pacifism, disinterested in discussing national security from a broader perspective. Consequently, the nation has been unable to share the international norm as the basis of its national security strategy. But the new security strategy contradicts this mindset altogether. In a nutshell, the Kishida administration has declared that from now on Japan will pay greater attention to the military capabilities of hostile nations, and strive to develop its defense capabilities in peacetime, taking effective self-defense measures without unreasonably turning to the “goodwill” of the international community.
It goes without saying that China’s military buildup has been ferocious. The US Department of Defense, which previously predicted China would develop up to 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2035, revised the number to 1,500 in its 2022 China Military Report released in late November. China is fast gaining on the US. The sense of crisis the US and Japan share has resulted from China’s dramatic military expansion. Although the US still manages to maintain what little military superiority it may have over China, the gap has been fast narrowing.
I am certain that the Chinese leadership is not pleased with the three new security documents. One day after they were released, on December 17, the Chinese navy conducted landing and take-off drills involving carrier-based fighters and helicopters aboard the Liaoning in the Pacific south of Okinawa. The six-hour intensive training was nothing but an intimidation aimed at Japan, a brazen effort by China to show off its power.
Document 1 condemns in no uncertain terms the unceasing approaches to the skies over Okinawa by Chinese fighters and bombers as hostile acts disrupting the peace and stability in the region:
“China’s current external stance, military actions, and other provocations have become a matter of serious concern for Japan and the international community and present an unprecedented strategic challenge in ensuring the peace and security of Japan and the rest of the international community…to which Japan should respond with its comprehensive national power and in cooperation with its allies, like-minded countries and others.”
The Kishida administration called a spade a spade when it defined China as “the greatest security challenge” in Document 1. Well said. A nation risks being seen as weak when it fails to state resolutely what it must. We must firmly bear in mind that contempt by an adversary can trigger an attack. We must never be seen as weak.
Sound Assertions by Shinzo Abe
Document 1 pledges Japan’s resolve to prevent China from its attempts to arbitrarily change the existing order in East Asia and the Indo-Pacific, declaring: “As a global actor, Japan will join with its allies, like-minded countries and others to achieve a new balance in international relations, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The document also defines defense capabilities as the “last guarantee of Japan’s national security,” noting: “…this function cannot be replaced by any other means.”
By comparing this posture to how Japan has previously faced North Korea in negotiations to resolve the abduction issue, one will come to grips with how much stronger the Kishida administration’s posture will now be toward Kim Jong-un. Japan’s past policy was to put up with Pyongyang’s ridiculous demands, single-mindedly concentrating on negotiations to seek to resolve differences. Although it has previously taken time in seeking settlements in negotiations, Japan now has taken a bold step forward with a fresh resolve, believing that only defense capabilities can ultimately resolve diplomatic issues—an arrangement that cannot be replaced by any other means.
Looking back, Kishida’s newly proposed policies are mostly what had been advocated by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe faced up to geopolitical reality squarely. He understood that it is military power, not lengthy negotiations, that ultimately resolves critical matters. In point of fact, Abe was the first Japanese leader who emphasized the importance of counterforce capability. But the nation’s left-leaning media outlets, from The Asahi Shimbun down, kept bitterly criticizing his sound arguments no matter how beneficial they were to Japan’s national interests.
But, for some reason, the media has only mildly criticized Kishida’s way of expressing his views.
This, I think, is where Kishida’s very strength lies, mysterious though it seems. If he succeeds in utilizing this strength, I feel he will be able to implement policies that will benefit our national interests.
I wish to give Kishida high marks this time for the significant changes he has brought about in Japan’s posture toward its national security. A very important first step has been taken, making a notable break with our postwar history to date.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,030 in the December 22, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)