Japan’s Revised Defence Posture in 2013: An Assessment

Japanese Armed Forces
Helicopter carrier Hyūga

By Angana Guha Roy

The report recently published by Japan’s Defence Posture Review Commission projects an expected shift in Japan’s upcoming Defence Programme Guidelines, slated to be out by the end of this year. It points out the changing security environment in the region and outlines the required defence preparedness as per perceived contingencies. It reiterates Abe‘s vision of a more ‘realistic ‘defence policy amidst the shifting security and geopolitical environment of East Asia. Why does Japan need to revise its defence policy? What is new in Japan’s Defence Posture Review Interim Report? Does the new defence posture of Japan gives more power to Abe, reiterating the dominant ‘Abenomics’?

Why Revise the Policy?
Three reasons could be pointed out for revising the defence policy. Firstly, China threatens Japan’s de jure jurisdiction over the Southwest islands in East China Sea. China has been sending ships into Japanese waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyu by China), where China has claims of sovereignty. Secondly, the weapons development programme by its immediate neighbours has generated a sense of threat perception in Japan. North Korea is believed to have an arsenal of hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles and dozens of medium-range Nodong missiles capable of reaching Japan. China has a growing arsenal of sophisticated conventional weapons. It is considered to have one of the most diverse and active ballistic missile development programmes in the world. It is testing and developing offensive missiles, upgrading missile systems, and developing counter ballistic missile defense capability. Thirdly, with a focus on ‘Abenomics’, Abe wants to have a grip on every possible national security issue to centralise the security-related decision-making process, unlike the present decentralised system.

What is New in Japan’s Defence Posture Review Interim Report?
First, it emphasises the need to strengthen Japan’s defence cooperation with its traditional ally, the US. It stresses upon the need to secure the security environment in Asia Pacific, stabilise the security environment in cooperation with the international community, and promote international peace cooperation activities. This would require Japan to review its Right to Collective Self Defence (Article 9) of the constitution. Currently, the Japanese government is considering revising this article to give a flexible shape to its existing defence posture. It has showed interest in using its Self Defence Forces to help nations whose interests are intertwined with Tokyo. As put by Japan, this will guarantee its commitment towards global peace and stability.
Secondly, the report emphasises strengthening the defence build-up of the country to respond to the contingencies. It talks about the need to strengthen intelligence surveillance reconnaissance, security of remote islands, natural disaster management, overseas operation, cyber security, upgrading and developing its amphibious capability, and promoting joint operations to upgrade the defence build-up of the country. The emphasised capacity-building effort would require Japan to expand its defence expenditure, which Japan has already considered. Japan has announced the biggest rise in its defence expenditure in 22 years. Interestingly, its defence budget declined every year from 2002 to 2012.

More Power to ‘Abenomics’?
To get a firm grip on the country’s defence machinery, Abe has proposed to create a national security council.  Replacing the existing security council, it would bring about two major changes. Firstly, it would strengthen the role of the prime minister and cabinet office in national security policy-making by establishing a sub-committee of the prime minister, the minister of foreign affairs, the chief cabinet secretary and the minister of defence to consider issues of national security and defence. Secondly, it creates a new position, national security advisor, and establishes a secretariat for the council. The present security council has no permanent secretariat, and establishing one will ensure that the NSC is independent from other ministries. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the purpose of the Japanese NSC would be to enable the government to carry out flexible diplomacy and work on security measures strategically. It would also ease information flow among various government organisations in an integrated fashion.

The new defence posture marks a major shift in Japan’s defence policy. The shifts in Japan’s security policy have provoked concerns among its neighbours. Meanwhile, it has been appreciated by the US. The 3 per cent increase in its defence expenditure has been perceived by critics as a challenge to the constitution which currently prohibits any projects to do with military modernisation. It is doubtful whether China’s formulation of a new security committee is an answer to Japan’s NSC, although China has denied such observations, stating that the committee is more interested in domestic issues. South Korea has expressed concerns that Japan’s proactive defence posture is its older Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in disguise. It thinks that this would generate complexity in Northeast Asian security relations.

Angana Guha Roy is a Research Intern at IPCS 

Source: Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS)

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