Japan’s National Defense Policy Reform: Is Counter-Strike Capability A Threat to China?

Debi karmakar | 23 March 2023
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Japan’s new security strategy adopted in mid-December will double up their defense spending with counter strike capability. This security strategy has both regional and international implications as great powers are already playing in Indo Pacific region to gain further control in East-southeast Asia. This defense plan has made Japan a “normal” world power leaving behind the military restraints in the name of pacifism designed by USA for Japan after its defeat in World War 2. The changing security environment in East Asia has prompted to devise new national defense budget plan to increase it from 1% of GDP to 2% of GDP. With the absolute military back up from USA, Japan can implement this land-based missile launch by 2027.This defense plan is crucial for Japan’s national security as well as regional stability.

In the month of December, 2022, Japan has announced its new national security and defense strategy which will shatter the policy norms in place from World War 2. Tokyo has planned to double up its defense spending for long range precision strike cruise missiles. These are capable of hitting targets well inside of North Korea or Chinese territory. Implementation of the package of defense policy will break traditional incremental change in Japanese defense policy and will ultimately transform US- Japan alliance.

Japan’s Defense policy is basically a reaction of regional security environment. China is advancing its military modernization program along with its strong military presence in East China Sea near Senkaku islands. Recently China launched ballistic missile which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. A combat between China and Taiwan in Taiwan Strait would endanger Japanese national Security. North Korea is developing nuclear missiles every day and in October an intermediate range ballistic missile overflew Japan. Regionally and more specifically Japan has been put in tactical position which threatens its security by neighbors indirectly. After Japan’s direct support for Ukraine by joining G7 to sanction Moscow, Russia declared Japan as “unfriendly country” and started military activities near Japan. Russian invasion in Ukraine has been a driving force for military development of Japan. Japan observed how NATO support for Kyiv increased after Japan expressed its will to fight against the odds. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been advised that if they can prove they are best at defending themselves allies will be more interested to help them in conflict. The people in Japan are also in support of this defense policy due to the regional security environment. In the Past when former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe passed roles and missions for self- defense forces including providing aid to close ally under military attack received negative concern from citizens as they thought it would led Japan to the path of war.

Counterstrike capability is the new dimension of Japan’s new defense policy. With Counterstrike Capability Japan can attack in missile related sites within an attacking country. In 2018, Defense Policy Japan first time decided to acquire standoff capability to strike adversary which was complemented with a need for Japan’s counterstrike capability to attack in enemy’s missile territory. Japan is planning to develop a 1500-kilometer ground launched cruise missile and air sea, submarine variants. Although this development might take 2030 to come around but Japan has planned to acquire a “Tomahawk” (land attack cruise missile) from US. Japan’s second-strike capability at long range and on its own will represent a strong deterrent for China from US standpoint. A greater cooperation between Japan and USA over target identification, deconfliction, and prioritization is needed to maximize the effectiveness of US- Japan strike operations.

The successive governments have interpreted the constitution as Japan is only allowed to use force under attack. To clear any misunderstanding related to counterstrike capability, the Kishida administration has launched a system so the attacks are only responsive not preemptive. The counterstrike capability is not replacement of other broader missile countering means but only a complementary addition to better defense the country under attack. The New Defense Strategy has also made it clear that counterstrike capability will only be used when the other appropriate means are absent. Japan is focused on its self-defense national security policy along with counterstrike capability which they will not use for offensive reasons. For the establishment of counterstrike capability Japan defense mechanism needs greater command, control and intelligence.

The fast-growing pace of technological advancement in military arsenal of north east countries has made it crucial for Japan to acquire counterstrike capability. Previously Japan has opted to rely on ballistic missile defense but sheer quantity of missiles now makes it unreliable. The hypersonic glide technology makes missiles virtually undetectable until it is too late. China’ cyber offences, surface to ship missiles, asymmetric capabilities has also cut the road of military aid from USA to Japan in crisis.

The new national security strategy has identified China and North Korea as the largest source of security concern for Japan. In the 2013 strategy Japan addressed China as an issue of concern but now Japan lists China as one of the major challenges. But the Kishida government is unwilling to address China as threat. There are historical and religious underpinnings behind this dualistic ductile narrative. Japan has addressed China as biggest strategic challenge instead of threat because the ruling liberal Democratic Party has support for junior partner Komeito who is backed by biggest religious lay Buddhist group of Japan which has strong ties with China. Historically this religious organization has helped Prime Minister Tanaka kakuei to normalize relationship with China. The Kishida government is dovish and looking for a stable and constructive relation with China, They are not addressing China as a threat because they need to look at China from different perspective. Closer economic ties are one manifestation of this kind of narrative. In the meeting of Bangkok, China and Japan agreed to resume their high level bilateral economic talks. They aligned their narrative with their ally US while USA has sometimes addressed China as consequential geopolitical challenge. The dualism of addressing a country “threat” and not a threat can stir up confrontation and instability while a clear security strategy can enhance cooperation, security, internal Japan’s national geography

Japan’s new defense policy reform is an adaptive policy decision given regional environment. But Japan has to be very feasible while choosing allies. In this realist world of self-help every country chooses to secure its own national interest. US-Japan relation can prove unworthy if USA doesn’t help Japan in its crisis. A better defense planning is all Japan need but Japan has to be very precarious about allying with great powers. Because Japan cannot lose focus from its national security by relying on external powers. 

Debi karmakar, Research Intern, Centre for Governance studies.  

Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.