This is the time of an inflection point in history as Japan is finding itself amid the most complex and severe security environment since the end of World War II. There is no optimism about what the international community’s future will bring with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. Japan aims for a security framework based on comprehensive national power in areas where the international community is in confrontation. The new National Security Strategy (NSS), together with the National Defense Strategy (NDS) and the Defense Buildup Program (DBP), all released on December 16, 2022, entails some unprecedented and highly ambitious projects relevant to Japan’s defense capabilities.
The security environment of Japan is as severe and complex as it has ever been since the end of World War II. The ongoing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has breached the foundation of the international order’s rules. A similar setback has been provided to the world community by the Israel-Hamas conflict recently when the Iron Dome of Israel was breached at the hands of a terrorist attack. The possibility cannot be precluded that a severe similar situation may arise in the Indo-Pacific region, especially in East Asia. At the same time, historical changes in power balances are occurring globally, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. In addition, military buildups, including nuclear weapons and missiles, are rapidly advancing near Japan. The tensions over the Taiwan Strait and the nuclear and missile ambitions of a more provocative North Korea have dramatically transformed Japan’s national security policy. It illustrates growing threat perceptions in the minds of the Japanese people. Moreover, grey zone situations over territories, information warfare through the spread of disinformation, and cross-border cyberattacks on critical civilian infrastructures are constantly and rapidly taking place, thereby further blurring the boundary between peacetime and contingency.
The scope of national security of Japan has expanded to include those previously considered non-military, such as economic, technological, and others. Thus, the boundary between military and non-military fields is no longer clear. The complex domestic challenges Japan faces in contemporary times, such as the demographic challenge of aging and a declining population with a low fertility rate and a severe fiscal condition, add to the security concern. Japan must ensure an international environment conducive to promoting and facilitating cross-border economic and social activities, such as the trade of energy, food, and goods, which are essential for industries and the movement of people to resolve these challenging economic and social agendas at home and bring about economic growth.[i]
The National Security Strategy:
Japan had established the National Security Secretariat (NSS) within the government after Shinzo Abe was sworn in as prime minister for the second time in 2012. The first National Security Strategy was first published in 2013. However, the new National Security Strategy, only the second ever since 2013, is Tokyo’s supreme national security policy document. Through this, strategic guidance is provided for Japan’s national security policy areas, including defense, diplomacy, economic security, technology, maritime, cyber, space, intelligence, official development assistance (ODA), and energy. In addition, Japan’s new National Defence Strategy (NDS), the first so-named and also the successor to the erstwhile National Defense Program Guidelines (last revised in 2018; six versions since 1976), was released. It is a ten-year guideline designed to clarify Japan’s defense objectives and the ways and means by which the government intends to achieve them. This is combined with the Defence Buildup Program, a companion document that provides “program guidelines” for building and maintaining the critical defense capabilities needed to support the NDS.[ii]
The fundamental three pillars of national security policy remain essentially intact. The goals are clearly stated in the NDS: (1) “to strengthen Japan’s architecture for national defense,” (2) “to further reinforce joint deterrence and response capability of the Japan-U.S. Alliance,” and (3) “to reinforce collaboration with like-minded countries.” The basic construct of the defense buildup also remains the same. The NDS states, “Japan will fundamentally reinforce the current Multi-Domain Defense Force through further accelerated efforts.” Thus, the course of Japan’s national security policy is not a fundamental shift of trajectory but an acceleration of the previous course of action.[iii] While the first pillar remains the core, the second and third pillars have grown thicker. The third pillar, in particular, is becoming essential and extensive. Japan would thus possess a counter-strike capability, which is what can be seen in these documents clearly.
Japan has traditionally capped its defense budget at 1% of GDP, although there have been successive record defense budgets in recent years. Kishida government recently announced plans to ramp up defense spending and increase the defense budget to 2% of GDP in 2027, in line with NATO standards. Again, reflecting a significant change in popular sentiment, there is majority support for defense spending increases, given the increased vulnerability Japanese feel from China, North Korea, and Russia.[iv] Undoubtedly, this is a historically significant pledge. There is a change in the official annual defense budget from 5.4 trillion yen in 2022 ($40 billion in today’s rates) to 8.9 trillion yen in 2027 ($67 billion in today’s rates). It is a roughly two-thirds increase.[v]
The National Security Strategy also identified countries in terms of being threats or allies. Japan picked three countries as challengers, as mentioned in the document. At the top is China, the second is North Korea, and the third is Russia. Interestingly, the previous National Security Strategy released in 2013 mentioned North Korea as first and China as second. In terms of friends, the top country is Australia, the second is India, and the third are the UK, Germany, France, and Italy or South Korea. South Korea’s status was higher in the past, but now, the priority has changed, with Australia and India ranking higher for Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was originally the main promoter of India-Japan relations. However, since his unfortunate demise, Japan has not found anyone to promote this relation with that zeal. The other reason for slow ties has been the policy towards Russia. This also divided India and Japan as the Indian government refused permission to land/transport planes of the Japan Self Defence Force in India and carry UN stocks to support Ukraine. This was disappointing for the Japan Self Defence Forces. Additionally, India was not an ally of the United States and has a history of nonalignment. As it has maintained a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership” with Russia for years, it is necessary to keep watching the progress of the relationship carefully, but both India and Japan need each other in order to counter China’s maritime expansion.[vi]
This move by Japan is important for India as Japan, Australia, and India have recently been seeking enhanced strike capabilities. This further adds to the capability of the AUKUS alliance after Australia announced its intent to possess long-range strike capability in July 2020. Under the AUKUS arrangement, Australia will possess nuclear submarines with long-range cruise missiles. The conventional submarines will equip tomahawk cruise missiles, too. India also deployed a supersonic cruise, a long-range strike capability useful to protect the route China would possibly use to expand its territorial authority. If the strategic choke points and straits are within the range of AUKUS’s strike capability, China may be deterred and not have the confidence to use them. This situation is similar in the mountainous India-China border area. The strategic bridges, tunnels, or airports can be attacked by India using missiles. This threat perception reduces China’s ability to use these strategic routes.
Japan will also increase the Official Development Aid (ODA) for strategic purposes. The document says that a new cooperation framework will be worked out for the benefit of the armed forces and other related organizations. It will be established apart from ODA disbursed for the economic and social development of developing countries. This is to deepen security cooperation with like-minded countries. Japan will take the role of a security provider for countries that are threatened by China’s territorial expansion, as per the document. India-Japan arms trade will be given a boost by this move. For instance, India had planned to import Japan’s US-2 amphibious planes, but the price was a hindrance for being too expensive but at the same time, Japan could not use ODA for discounts. However, if there is a new cooperation framework, there may be a possibility of a price change. India is in dire need of infrastructure projects in the border area with China. Japan earlier could not use ODA to support infrastructure in Ladakh or Arunachal Pradesh because ODA cannot be used for military purposes. This may be possible now. The two countries (India and Japan), under military cooperation, are planning joint fighter jet exercises. The possibility of India importing Japan’s UNICORN for their naval ships is very much likely. In addition, a joint arms development project for unmanned vehicles has already been started by the defense ministries of both countries.
Japan established a 2+2 ministerial framework with India in 2019 and maintains a “Special Strategic Global Partnership,” reaffirmed during Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to India in March 2023. An Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement was signed in September 2020 and came into force in July 2021. Based on these developments in recent years, the bilateral security cooperation has deepened and expanded.
The Quad has also played a pivotal role. It is a mechanism to engage India with the U.S. alliance network in the region. Partnership with India is increasingly important even outside of the context of the Quad. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also launched the Indo-Pacific Ocenas Initiative (IPOI) in 2019. It has the potential to become a catalyst to interconnect the existing smaller networks across the entire Indo-Pacific, even including extra-regional partners. The IPOI has great potential as a comprehensive platform for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, and Japan could be more involved in its promotion. At the same time, joint exercises and maritime and air domain awareness cooperation should be enhanced.[vii]
Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision is very much inculcated within the new defense strategy. FOIP concerns economic projects related to connectivity, peace, and security. Given that the Indo-Pacific region represents the connectedness of the world’s largest and third-largest oceans, it is natural for Japan, as a maritime nation, to consider maritime security an integral part of the vision. Japan’s FOIP originally had three pillars: the promotion of basic principles, economic prosperity, and peace and security, but the new plan presents four pillars: (1) furthering principles for peace and rules for prosperity; (2) addressing challenges in an Indo-Pacific way; (3) building multilayered connectivity; and (4) increasing efforts for the safety and security of the sea. The core principles and concepts are more precise, and the geographical priority is more evident. It includes South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands region, particularly on building of connectivity.
The Japanese new strategy defines five capabilities: diplomatic, defense, economic, technological, and intelligence, as the main elements of comprehensive national power.[viii] Japan’s action through this new document will further enhance and strengthen its presence and credibility in the international arena. It will expand the circle of like-minded countries and others, thereby improving the security environment surrounding Japan. Even standing at this crossroads between a world of hope and a world of adversity and distrust amidst the most severe and complex post-war security environment, Japan, blessed with a stable democracy, the established rule of law, a mature economy, and rich culture, will advocate policies grounded in universal values and then lead the way in undertaking efforts to reinforce the international order with steadfast resolve.
[ii] Japan’s new security policies: A long road to full implementation. (n.d.). Brookings. Retrieved October 19, 2023, from https://www.brookings.edu/articles/japans-new-security-policies-a-long-road-to-full-implementation/
[iii] Hideshi, T. (2023). Japan’s New National Security Strategy and Contribution to a Networked Regional Security Architecture. https://www.csis.org/analysis/japans-new-national-security-strategy-and-contribution-networked-regional-security
[iv] What You Need to Know About Japan’s New National Security Strategy. (n.d.). United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved October 19, 2023, from https://www.usip.org/publications/2022/12/what-you-need-know-about-japans-new-national-security-strategy
[v] Japan’s new security policies: A long road to full implementation. (n.d.). Brookings. Retrieved October 19, 2023, from https://www.brookings.edu/articles/japans-new-security-policies-a-long-road-to-full-implementation/
[vi] Nagao, D. S. (2022, December 26). View: How Japan’s new National Security Strategy impacts cooperation with India. The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/view-how-japans-new-national-security-strategy-impacts-cooperation-with-india/articleshow/96516738.cms?from=mdr
[vii] Hideshi, T. (2023). Japan’s New National Security Strategy and Contribution to a Networked Regional Security Architecture. https://www.csis.org/analysis/japans-new-national-security-strategy-and-contribution-networked-regional-security
[viii] The Basic Orientation of Japan’s National Security Strategy: International Security Cooperation with Enhanced Comprehensive National Power. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2023, from https://www.jiia.or.jp/en/ajiss_commentary/the-basic-orientation-of-japans-national-security-strategy.html