Security Studies Seminar

Japanese Defense Strategy for the 21st Century

Yumi Hiwatari
CIS visiting scholar

October 19, 2005


Today I want to talk about Japanese defense strategy and military policy, and the implications for US-Japan alliance. I will look at two documents about Japan 's national defense that were issued last year: Council on Security and Defense Capabilities Report (October 2004) and National Defense Program Outlines (FY 2005). I was on the council that helped develop Japan's security strategy, so I can discuss the process and the problems I saw. I will discuss what's new in these documents and my evaluation of them and of Japan's national defense.

Why is it interesting to look at Japan's defense policy? The Economist and Weekly Standard are all buzzing about Japan's re-emergence as a strategic actor in East Asia. The recent landslide victory of Koizumi has garnered a lot of attention. But what kind of defense strategy should Japan have, and how much capability does it need?

Consider Japan's history—becoming a democracy out of imperial regime. This led to Japan's "Exclusively Defense-Oriented Policy": Japan can only employ force in self-defense, and even then only as minimally necessary. There is a big emphasis on the fact that it is only "defensive—not offensive. The government explanation is that we should not have offensive weapons—ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers, bombers, and combat fighters with longer range. Is this really right? All these pacifist defense weapons and policies need to be re-examined.

If you look at Japan's international security policy and the changing environment domestically, it's not just the Japanese case. Think about a state adjusting to its changing environment and making a new strategy. Japan also is the weaker partner in an alliance with a superpower. Japan is not the only state in this situation, so there is a broader significance.

The Ryuku islands are the "line of scrimmage" with China — China is exploring energy in this area. But once China crosses out into the broader Pacific Ocean, past these islands and the line of scrimmage, there will be a bigger clash with Japan and the U.S. These islands contain SLOCs that are very important for our security and economy. We always think about keeping this line tight and stable when we are considering defense policy.

Council Report

The task of the council was to lay out the basic security policy issues and give some recommendations to the prime minister. But from the beginning, one thing has bothered me about this. The council discussed a lot of problems—rise of China, North Korean nuclear weapons development, stability of SLOCS, terrorist threat—and said Japan should expand its mission. But the Council recommended this in a time of declining budget, with fewer resources given to military. How do we square these two contradictory demands? I still don't know how.

There were two major pillars of the report. The first was an integrated security strategy . It has two goals: defend territory; and stability of the surrounding area and also distant region which is critical for Japanese economy and security. We never used the word "strategy" before so this is innovative—but is it really a strategy? It also mentions three means to accomplish these goals: Japan's effort; the cooperation of alliance partner, the U.S.; cooperation with the international community. And supposedly, all of these ends and means will be integrated.

The other pillar is the multi-functional defense force. Rapid response capability and the ability to collect and analyze information when faced with a variety of threats. Creation of a framework capable of fulfilling effectively the various required functions through the appropriate management and mixing and matching of existing organizations, along with the implementation of scrap and build programs, and the division of roles between Japan and the US .

National defense program outlines FY 2005: future JSDG: 1) effective response to new threats and diverse situations. 2) preparations to deal with full scale invasion; 3) proactive efforts to improve the international security environment.

Three Main Issues

1) Are there mismatches between the strategy and the force structure?

There is a lack of defense and military strategy. Also, we're not sure that the Ministry of Finance (MOF) is always right. There is nothing between national security strategy and force structure. There are huge deficits and most money is going to welfare and other domestic spending, not to the military. The proposed solution is more training and jointness is also recommended—but these aren't cheap either. My solution: additional strategy documents, countermeasure to MOF, successful economic and financial reform. We don't have a Congress similar to that of the United States , CBO, or private think tanks that can provide an alternative defense budget plan. This is a big problem.

2) How do we deal with the rise of China?

Leaders say "we have to remain attentive to China's future actions." This is good language. But the key question is: what is our strategy toward the country with which we have political disputes but at the same time have close economic relations?

The DOD Annual Report to Congress on the military power of the PRC said the outside world has little knowledge of Chinese motivations and decision-making and of key capabilities. It discusses possible courses of action: persuasion and coercion, limited force actions, air and missile campaign, blockade, amphibious invasion.

Interaction with China: the more China engages with the world, the more we have opportunities to observe behavior.

Strong China is good for Japan: a wide range of policy options and sufficient deterrent.

3) The Japan-US alliance

Words like "We are close allies" or "we have to strengthen the alliance with proactive policy" are not enough. What matters are actions that are taken. Current issues of relocation of Futenma air station or extension of anti-terrorism special measures are issues of great concern.

Military-military relationships are key. Joint development of ballistic missile defense system. This is expanding. But we can't stake everything on military cooperation. Japanese civilians need to have a better understanding of military affairs and lead the way toward a better alliance.

Conclusion: Japan's defense strategy

Currently, strategy documents are blurred and they reflect the contributions of all these different agencies and players. We need to reconstruct the Exclusively Defense-Oriented Policy. We need a report with language that is clear for the public. How many contingencies do we expect to occur simultaneously? No offensive weapons?

Maritime strategy is necessary, like the Indian navy published.

Skillful diplomacy and market friendly economic policies for the strong defense and the strong defense forces act as a linchpin for proactive diplomacy.


Yumi Hiwatari, Professor of International Relations at Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan, is currently a visiting scholar at the MIT Center for International Studies.

Rapporteur: Caitlin Talmadge

back to seminar schedule, Fall 2005