Prime Minister Abe and the Japanese Reset: Dealing with 21st Century Challenges
2014-05-27 by Robbin Laird
In an interview with Prime Minister Abe, the Wall Street Journal summed the discussion up with this title for their article:
“Abe’s Strategy: Rearrange Region’s Power Balance.”
According to the article:
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid out an assertive foreign policy agenda, saying he hoped to accelerate maritime aid to Vietnam amid its territorial standoff with China and host Vladimir Putin this year despite the Russian president’s isolation from the West.
Beijing’s “unilateral drilling activities” for oil in waters claimed also by Hanoi have led to “heightening of tensions,” Mr. Abe told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Friday. “We will never tolerate the change of status quo by force or coercion,” added the Japanese leader, who has assiduously courted Southeast Asian leaders during the past year and offered himself as a counterweight to China’s muscle-flexing.
As part of his broader strategy to rearrange the region’s power balance, Mr. Abe also signaled a desire to keep alive his diplomatic overtures to Russia. He condemned Russia’s annexation of portions of Ukraine and noted that Japan has imposed sanctions in coordination with the U.S. and Europe. But he made clear that he also hoped to maintain the dialogue he has intensified through five summit meetings with Mr. Putin, more than Mr. Abe has had with any other head of state…..
Mr. Abe’s remarks came a day before tensions flared anew in Japan’s dispute with China over a small group of islands in the East China Sea as well as the surrounding airspace. Twice on Saturday, Chinese fighter jets flew perilously close to Japanese reconnaissance craft, leading both governments to file protests. Japan said China’s actions were “meant to intimidate,” while China said Japan had “carried out dangerous actions, in serious violation of international laws.”
The weekend exchange underscored a theme of Mr. Abe’s administration—that the region around Japan is increasingly dangerous, and that Tokyo has no choice but to embrace a more muscular foreign policy in response.
In our book on The Rebuilding American Power in the Pacific: A 21st Century Strategy, the entire second part of the book deals with Japan and the projected re-working of the Japanese-US working relationship in the Pacific. And the key role falls to Japan in re-shaping what they refer to as a “dynamic defense” strategy. Much of the work in this second part was done by our colleague Richard Weitz in carefully chronicling the path the Japanese have taken and are likely to take.
The bottom line is rather simple: the Japanese are reshaping their capabilities to provide for much more credible perimeter defense against the threats from North Korea and China.
The Japanese have published their 2014 budget documents which indicate their thinking about the way ahead; and those slides can be seen below:
They have also released a video which lays out their strategic rethink and can be seen below.
In other words, Japanese national security strategy is in evolution.
In the most recent national security strategy, the Japanese government highlighted its latest iteration of what they called earlier “dynamic defense.”
In an earlier piece, I wrote about the Japanese defense white paper of 2012 and highlighted the following:
This is the first white paper released since they announced their decision to acquire the F-35, and provides a further elucidation upon the new defense policy announced in 2010.
The Japanese announced in that year, that they were shifting from a static island defense, which rested upon mobilization, to a “dynamic defense” which required more agile forces able to operate in the air and maritime regions bordering Japan.
Notably, the Japanese recognized the need for these “dynamic defense” forces to be interoperable with allies to provide for the kind of defense Japan and the allies needed in light of changing dynamics in the region.
As the White Paper puts it:
It is necessary that Japan’s future defense force acquire dynamism to proactively perform various types of operations in order to effectively fulfill the given roles of the defense force without basing on the “Basic Defense Force Concept” that place priority on “the existence of the defense force.”
To this end, the 2010 NDPG calls for the development of “Dynamic Defense Force” that has readiness, mobility, flexibility, sustainability, and versatility, and is reinforced by advanced technology based on the latest trends in the levels of military technology and intelligence capabilities. The concept of this “Dynamic Defense Force” focuses on fulfilling the roles of the defense force through SDF operations.
Rather than simply focusing upon a narrow understanding of the defense of Japan proper, the shift was being made to extended defense of Japan understood as an extended perimeter of defense.
Now the Japanese government has released a new National Security Strategy, which highlights an even more comprehensive look ahead built around what they call building a “comprehensive defense architecture.”
Such an architecture is built on effective joint forces, a close working relationship with key allies, such as the United States, Australia and Japan and a proactive approach in which “Japan will maintain an improve a comprehensive architecture for responding seamlessly to an array of situations, ranging from armed attacks to large-scale natural disasters.”
Clearly this approach is not just a briefing board document.
Recent events have demonstrated the Japanese engagement in the Philippine relief mission, including closely working with US forces in coming quickly to the aid of the Philippines and then moving out when no longer needed, and scrambling their Air Force in response to the Chinese unilateral declaration of an air defense identification zone.
The new strategy highlights the importance of Japan being a “proactive contributor to peace,” rather than just sitting back and hoping someone else takes care of their defense interests. The strategy focuses on the importance of protecting Japanese access to global supply chains and to natural resources, including energy.
And in so doing, protection of sea lines of communication is a key challenge facing Japan and its allies.
The document clearly underscores a Japanese approach to be more proactive but in a broader alliance context, within which the relationship with the United States. But message to the US: you need to be proactive as well.
And part of the SLOC issue involves the Arctic, which is part of an expanded Pacific in any case.
“The Arctic Sea is deemed to have enormous potential for developing new shipping routes and exploration of natural resources. While it is expected that states concerned work together under relevant international rules, such potential could provide new causes of friction among them.”
The document makes it clear that Japan is not simply going to sit back and be intimated by North Korea and China. And Japan is not simply arguing in black in white terms, war or peace, but the necessity to be engaged in shaping a security environment which meets the interests of Japan and its allies.
“In addition to the issues and tensions arising from the shift in the balance of power, the Asia-Pacific region has become more prone to so-called “gray-zone” situations, situations that are neither pure peacetime nor contingencies over territorial sovereignty and interests.
There is a risk that these “gray-zone” situations could further develop into grave situations.”
And later in the document, the importance of being able to operate across the spectrum of security and defense is highlighted as well, including an ability to operate in such “gray zone” situations.
“Even in peacetime, Japan will maintain and improve a comprehensive architecture for responding seamlessly to an array of situations, ranging from armed attacks to large-scale natural disasters.”
What is underscored in the new strategy is the importance of blending military, security and political initiatives together in expanding effective Japanese alliance relationships.
This approach is highlighted in the discussion of how to deal with SLOC defense.
In particular, sea lanes of communication, stretching from the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to the surrounding waters of Japan, passing through the Indian Ocean, the Straits of Malacca, and the South China Sea, are critical to Japan due to its dependence on the maritime transport of natural and energy resources from the Middle East.
In this regard, Japan will provide assistance to those coastal states alongside the sea lanes of communication and other states in enhancing their maritime law enforcement capabilities, and strengthen cooperation with partners on the sea lanes who share strategic interests with Japan.
(Quotations from the Japanese strategy have been taken from a translation of the strategy document which can be downloaded here:
Japan will play a central role in the reshaping of Pacific defense in response to the challenges of the second nuclear age, China and the Arctic opening. This is not the early post-war Japan.
This is a Japan which correctly recognizes the 21st century is not the 20th.
In effect, since the end of the Cold War, Japan is evolving through two clear phases with regard to defense and security policy and is about to enter a third. The first phase was extended homeland defense, where the focus was primarily on defending the homeland from direct threats to the homeland. A more classic understanding of defense was in play, whereby force had to be projected forward to threaten Japan and as this threat materialized, defenses need to be fortified.
It was defense versus emergent direct threats to Japan.
Life changed. Technology made warfare more dynamic, and the nature of power projection has changed.
The reach from tactical assets can have strategic consequences, the speed of operations has accelerated and operations highlighting the impact of “shock and awe” high speed operations made it clear that relatively static defenses were really not defenses at all.
At the same time, globalization accelerated, and with it the global significance of maritime and air routes and their security for the viability of the Japanese way of life. When terrorists crashed directly into the World Trade Center, Japanese got the point.
No man was an island, and neither was an island economy simply protected by having a global policy of shopkeepers.
More was required to defend the Japanese way of life.
The emergence of the Chinese colossus and the greater reach of the Korean crisis into a direct threat to Japan, and the resurgence of Russia, its nuclear weapons and its military forces, all posed the question of threats able to reach Japan rapidly and with significant effect.
A static defense made no sense; a “dynamic defense” became crucial. This meant greater reach of Japanese systems, better integration of those systems within the Japanese forces themselves, more investments in C2 and ISR, and a long-term strategy of re-working the U.S.-Japanese military relationship to have much greater reach and presence.
The “dynamic defense” phase carries with it the seeds for the next phase – the shaping of a twin anchor policy of having reach in the Arctic and the Indian Ocean.
Obviously, such reach is beyond the capabilities of the Japanese themselves, and requires close integration with the United States and other allies. And such reach requires much greater C2, ISR and weapons integration across the Japanese and allied force structure.
The great strength of U.S.-Japan alliance rests not only on a linage of mutual respect for sea operations, and now shared technology, but also Japan also creates a North/South Combat Axis for operations.
Instead of leaving the United States with a Hawaiian-centric strategy with the need to focus on going to West Pac East-West, the Japanese contribution is a very strong (or at least growing again) as a maritime ally which can, in partnership with the United States, help the US go North-South from Japanese Bases to cover an operational area ranging from Pacific Arctic to the Indian Ocean.
And U.S. systems are a key part of the Japanese approach. Clearly, at the top of the list is building out from the Aegis global partnership to include Ospreys and F-35s as centerpiece items. Japanese F-35s would be part of the Pacific fleet of US and allied F-35s and Japan is where the first F-35s are coming in 2015 and by 2020 there could be as many as 5 squadrons of F-35s, USMC, USAF, and Japanese.
This will clearly be the center of excellence for the fledgling F-35 enterprise.
And added to this, the Japanese will build their F-35s in rebuilt Mitsubishi facilities, thus becoming the third final assembly line for F-35s, with Fort Worth, and Cameri, Italy, the other two.
The cross domain synergy among these new systems combined with Japanese integration with their legacy systems are the building blocks for the new “comprehensive defense architecture.”
And to conclude: there is a fundamental difference from PRC and Japanese goals and context. The PRC is an authoritarian regime seeking to reshape international rules to their benefit; Japan is a democracy embedded in alliances seeking to see that international rules are crafted and created which support globalization, not domination.
There is no moral equivalence here.
Rather than asserting that there is a “global commons,” the US and its allies are working to ensure that there will be a functioning global commons in the decades ahead.
This is not about conceptual dominance, but about realpolitik.
Also see the following: