September 02, 2014

Japan’s white paper on defence: An overview

Naval Jagota

September 01, 2014
Japan released its annual white paper on defence on August 5, 2014. The document attempts to shift Japan's approach from being predominantly China-oriented towards a broader role in enhancing regional stability. The 2014 white paper evaluates Japan's strategic thoughts and takes stock of its military activities in the Asian region along with other military forces, both regional and extra regional. The white paper also highlights Japan's alliance relationship and brings out the internal structural changes to address future challenges in the region.

The security concerns of Japan, as detailed in the paper, "has become increasingly severe, being encompassed by various challenges and destabilizing factors, which are becoming more tangible and acute" as well as "Opaque and uncertain factors such as issues

of territorial rights and reunification remain in the vicinity". The "grey zone", as it is referred to, emphasises on the adverse geopolitical and military developments originating from North Korea and PRC (Peoples Republic of China). The "grey zone" indicates an appreciation of increased challenges in tackling and resolving territory, sovereignty and maritime economic interests in the region with the US as the countervailing force. The white paper acknowledges the emergence of a multipolar world through economic development and political influence of China, Russia, India and some other countries.

The dominant challenges for Japan remain North Korea and PRC. North Korea's shake-up in the military leadership indicates consolidation of power of Chairman Kim Jong-un and a muscular external policy. The white paper expresses concerns on the launching of multiple ballistic missiles in March, June, and July 2014 towards the Sea of Japan along with the possibility, for the first time, that the North Koreans may have "achieved the miniaturization of nuclear weapons and acquired nuclear warheads" since its nuclear test in February 2013. Statements against Japan in March and April 2013 that it is within the range of North Korean missiles find a prominent mention.

The white paper assessment of China highlights Japan's concerns on its increasing defence budget, strengthening its "asymmetrical military capabilities", not clearly stating the purposes and goals of the military build up, transparency concerning its decision making process on military and security matters and rapidly expanding and intensification of its activities in the maritime and aerial domains in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. China's "coercive measures" to change the "status quo" of the disputed islands (Senkaku/Diaoyu islands) and the nine dash line are mentioned with deep concern. The white paper details the number of incidents in the maritime and aerial domain over the preceding year and Japan's response to it, thus indicating an increase in its military response.  

The white paper, not surprisingly, emphasises on Japan's relationship with the US. It underlines the security arrangements with the US as a cornerstone in Japan's security outlook, its global and regional foreign policy formulations and as well contributing towards "peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region". The US relationship is described as a pragmatic one in which Japan acknowledges the challenges as well as the limitations that its ally, the US, is undergoing both domestically and internationally. Given the constraints in the relationship, Japan is now investing materially and politically to the alliance and hoping to raise it to a new level. The white Paper finds frequent references and reiterations to the 1960 Japan-US security treaty and its validity to the Senkaku islands along with the rebalance to Asia. The white paper describes in detail the ongoing and expected redistribution of US military assets as well as the role of these assets.

Reflecting inwards, the white paper highlights the internal changes in the strategic decision making architecture in order to synchronise and seamlessly address the external security environment. During the period of the report, important changes have occurred in the strategic affairs decision making. The first such being to establish the National Security Council (NSC) in December 2013, which functions as the 'control tower" for foreign and defence policy. The NSC in turn deliberated and approved the National Security Strategy; Japan's first-ever document defining a basic policy on national security in December 2013. The other two documents approved by the NSC were the National Defence Program Guidelines (NDPG) and the Medium Term Defence Program (MTDP), thus streamlining Japan's current and future requirements. Another important step was the Japanese cabinet decision (July 1, 2014) on the interpretation of article 9 of the constitution which now interprets an attack on a country that is in "close relationship" with Japan as an attack on its people's right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. As a case of "self defence", military resources thus can be used. An important follow up to this was the cabinet decision on "Development of Seamless Security Legislation to Ensure Japan's Survival and Protect its People". This decision is to legislate ways and means of employing the SDF (Self Defence Force) and under what circumstances.

The white paper brings out in no uncertain terms the intentions of the Japanese Prime Minister Abe. While centring on the Japan-US alliance, he would equally like to promote a broad-based trilateral cooperation between Japan, US and the ROK; Japan, US and Australia; and Japan, the US and India. 

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India

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