Japan: Revised Defence Posture

02 Jan, 2014    ·   4234

Shamshad A Khan comments on the new defence guidelines adopted under Shinzo Abe

The Japanese government led by nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has scrapped the previous government’s National Defense Programme Guidelines (NDPG) and has adopted new defence guidelines that outline Japan’s defence and security strategy for the next ten years. At first glance, the move to revise the NDPG appears to be in response to the challenges posed to Japan’s territorial integrity by China following Senkaku’s nationalisation. But the changes could also be a well-thought-out strategy to meet the US demand as part of the ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy, which requires allies and partners to play an active role in maintaining peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.
In its revised defence guidelines, Tokyo notes that the Japanese security environment is becoming ‘increasingly severe’, and thus it felt the need to ‘strengthen the Japan-US Alliance to make it more balanced and effective’. In line with the US policy to play a greater role in the security of the Asia-Pacific, Japan also showed its commitment to play a similar role. It has articulated that it will “contribute more actively than ever to ensure peace, stability, and prosperity of the world while pursuing its own security and peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.” Previous guidelines had spelled out that in the event of a contingency in the region, both the US and Japan will act together to repel the aggression. However, the new defence guideline hints that Tokyo is gearing to assume these responsibilities on its own. The guidelines states that “Japan will build comprehensive defence architecture and strengthen its system for preventing and responding to various contingencies.”

This new line of Japanese strategic thinking suggests that Tokyo is trying to achieve two clear goals. Firstly, it wants to maintain its primacy in the US-Japan alliance. It may be noted that as part of pivot to Asia, the US has identified various regional players and has declared its intention to bolster its security relations with those countries. There have been concerns within Japan that Tokyo may lose its supremacy in the alliance if the US diversifies US-Japan security relations by identifying new regional powers. By showing its willingness to shoulder responsibility for the security of the Asia-Pacific, Japan has avoided ‘abandonment’ of the US as an ally.

 Secondly, Japan wants to regain maritime and air superiority in the region amid China’s growing air and naval power.  In its clear resolve to deter challenges posed by China’s maritime and air power, the defence guidelines state that Japan “will strengthen its ability to deal with attacks by aircraft, naval vessels, and missiles” to “ensure maritime and air superiority.”

In view of the ongoing stand-off with China over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and a routine ‘intrusion’ of its maritime and air space off Okinawa, the guidelines also unveil plans to create an ‘amphibious force’ akin to the US Marine Force. It stipulates that Japanese troops will “develop full amphibious capability, in order to land, recapture and secure without delay in case of any invasion to any remote islands.” As of now, Japan does not have a marine force. But it seems to be serious about creating a new amphibious force. In June 2012, Japanese forces participated in a military drill with the US Marines and conducted a simulation exercise to recapture an isolated island. In addition, Japan has drawn up a plan to improve the manoeuvrability of the Self-Defence Forces by acquiring 17 Osprey aircrafts, a vertical take-off and landing transport aircraft. The defence guidelines also propose to deploy drones, the Global Hawk unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, for the first time for its defence force. These drones will be deployed on Japan’s south-western islands closer to China, apparently to monitor movement of Chinese vessels and aircraft in the East China Sea.

To augment its defence capabilities it wants to increase the personnel strength of its forces. The previous NDPG adopted in 2010 spelled out the plan to downsize the Ground Self Defence Forces strength from 1,59,000 to 1,54,000. But the present NDPG restores the strength back to 1,59,000. Similarly it wants to increase the strength of maritime and air forces. Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force presently has 47 destroyers. Japan would induct seven more destroyers over the next few years taking the number to 54. The MSDF will also get six additional submarines taking the number to 22. Japan’s Air Defence Force presently has 340 combat aircrafts and 260 fighters. The new defence guidelines project the induction of 360 combat aircraft and 280 fighters over the next few years. This will certainly lead to an increase in the overall defence budget. Japan has earmarked 24.67 trillion Yen for its defence budget which is an increase of 1.18 trillion Yen (roughly one billion USD) from the previous budget. Over the last few years Japan, owing to a 1 per cent GDP cap on defence spending, had downsized its defence budget. But it has now taken the bold move to increase the budget despite heavy debt. 

This strategy has sent a clear message to China. Beijing was quick to understand that the new measures are aimed at it. The Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that “Japan’s hyping of the so-called China threat theory has ulterior political motives.” The response from China suggests that Beijing may take measures in response, which would exacerbate the ongoing arms race in the region and pose achallenge for the East Asian security.