24.12.2022 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Ruling bloc approves “radical changes” to Japan’s security strategy

On December 12, Japan’s ruling party coalition, composed of 90% Liberal Democratic Party MPs plus 10% Komeito Party MPs, agreed on changes to the national security strategy that will form the basis of three government documents. Two of them, on general security issues as well as defense aspects, will be valid for the next 10 years. The third one usually spells out the specifics of military development for the next 5 years. The final version of all three documents is due to be published at the end of the year.

These “changes” have been discussed over the past few months at all levels of government and in the Japanese media, where they have been consistently described as “radical”. And quite justifiably so, since their implementation would mark a qualitative leap in the creeping process of transforming the very issue of national security as well as military construction over the entire postwar period in modern Japan.

But even today, that is, before any “changes” (the more so “radical” ones) have been made, there are clear discrepancies with the second part of Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution, which has not been changed since then, and with the first part that states that Japan has renounced (“forever”) the use of armed force to solve certain foreign policy problems. This is because there have been some noteworthy “nuances” in recent years. And its second part, requiring the country (also “forever”) not to have armed forces, has long been perplexing in Japan. Since the current Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are already defined by experts as one of the most powerful “Armed Forces” in the world. This is especially true of the naval component (MSDF).

That is, to repeat, at least the second part of Article 9 already contradicts the real picture in terms of Japan’s national security. The late Shinzo Abe tried to “correct” the obvious nonsense by proposing the addition of a third clause to Article 9 that would somehow “legalize” the SDF.

But the Article in general is completely uncompromising. This is how it was formulated in 1947 (as is sometimes claimed at the headquarters of the Commander of the Occupation Forces, General D. MacArthur). So the introduction of an “Abe amendment” to Article 9 would make a mockery of the very basic document of modern Japan.

There is therefore only one possibility left to bring it into line with reality, and that is to remove the Article altogether. This is likely to happen in the near future, because even the mention in some official documents of those very “radical changes” to Japan’s defense policy will sharply increase the (already obvious) contradiction with those realities in the remaining constitutional provisions.

All three documents under preparation will outline the formation of a special “anti-missile unit” within the SDF, which will have a “counterattack capability”. This ornate expression denotes a perfectly understandable and rather commonplace content for the armed forces of almost every country in the world, which boils down to the possession of a preemptive strike capability against some neighboring territory from which an attack (e.g. missile attack) is expected.

In this regard, the role of the regional “Bad Guy”, at whom the indignant finger of Tokyo has been consistently pointed for decades, is being played by the DPRK. Although it has long been evident that Japan’s main real opponent, which will be targeted by the “counterattack capability”, is the PRC. Suffice it to point out that in the documents being prepared there should be a notation of the “critical importance” to Japan’s national security of “maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” The intention to develop the defense sector of bilateral relations was announced during a meeting on December 10 between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and another prominent LDP functionary, Kōichi Hagiuda, who arrived on the island.

And certainly the DPRK will not be the primary target of the weapons of the emerging “anti-missile unit”. It will include several combat units, each of which will be entrusted with specific tasks. The obligation to launch strategic strikes deep inside enemy territory will apparently fall to the one that receives the US company Raytheon’s Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The first report on the subject, which appeared at the end of October, was confirmed and clarified a month later. The government has stated it is discussing the possibility of buying (“for now”) 500 such missiles until 2027, all to be deployed on MSDF destroyers and submarines.

The statement emphasized the intermediary nature of the purchase because it was designed to give the SDF the capacity to launch a preemptive “counterattack” against an adversary that was about to do nasty things on Japanese territory. Apparently, it is assumed that by 2027 the development of Japan’s own missiles for similar purposes will be completed.

So far, it has been publicly stated that this task will be achieved by modernizing the Type 12 anti-ship missile, which has a maximum range of 400 km, and whose upgrading has been underway for two years. It has already gone through several stages of modernization and it is extremely doubtful that it can be turned into a weapon capable of achieving strategic objectives at distances of up to 1,500 km from the launch site. It is likely that the claimed modernization of the Type 12 missile will only be a cover for the development of an entirely new weapon.

The emergence of an “anti-missile unit” in the SDF would not only be a crucial contribution to a process of “radical change” in the (de facto) make-up of Japan’s armed forces, but it would also inevitably lead to an equally fundamental change in the “division of roles” between the parties to the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. Since its final adoption in 1960, the preemptive strike function (including the use of nuclear weapons) has been entrusted to US military forces.

However, it is now said that the SDF will essentially take over the task of preemptive strikes as it pursues a course of “radical change”. That is, there will finally be a practical response on the part of Tokyo to Washington’s long-standing request for “equalization of roles” in the aforementioned 1960 Treaty.

The long-established trend towards incorporating a military component into Tokyo’s foreign policy toolkit is fully in line with the “radical change” mentioned above. In this regard, the summer 2017 Indian Ocean voyage by the MSDF ship group led by the helicopter carrier Izumo was a milestone. It marked the beginning of a series of actions that in military diplomacy are referred to by the term “flag demonstration”.

It also marks the arrival of two Japanese F-15 fighters at the famous Clark base in the Philippines in early December. The comments emphasize that this is the first time it has happened since the end of World War II. Reportedly, a support team of 60 ASDF (i.e. Japanese Air Force) personnel was to address some issues in the area of organizing “mutual understanding and defense cooperation.”

Finally, of particular importance is the (eternal and universal) question of who is actually going to pay for the whole “defense spree” planned by the Japanese government, as it would require doubling the current defense budget over the next five years. That is, by spending about $300 billion extra over this period, to gradually bring it up to 2% of the country’s annual GDP. It should be remembered that throughout the postwar period Japan’s defense spending remained below 1% and its main tool of foreign policy was (and still is) its economy, which is the third largest in the world.

At first glance, it would not seem that there should be any problem in answering the above question, as it is common and ubiquitous for such “sprees” to be paid for by the average citizen. It was this that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida once again, and with all samurai candor, pointed out during a debate on the issue at LDP headquarters on December 13. He has apparently never learned how to use diplomatic ambiguity in his public rhetoric, although he was foreign minister for four years in the Abe government.

A post about the event with some (“attributed to the prime minister”) words that had barely appeared on the party website immediately received understandable comments. The next day, therefore, the same website followed up with an explanation of “what F. Kishida really meant”. However, as they say, “you can explain until you are blue in the face”, but the essence of the problem of financial support for the government’s sharply increased ambitions in defense will not change in any way from this. They can have particularly painful consequences for low-income populations.

So it is worth keeping an eye on how the process of “radical change” in Japan’s defense policy will unfold in practice, which could be an important element of the country’s more general “normalization” process.

In case the word “normality” can be used at all in today’s increasingly crazy world.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.