Sooner than expected…

Well well. In light of the last couple of posts,  we now know where the Japanese strategic thinking is heading (jp- Yomiuri 26 July).

I read through this and decided that it is all very interesting and that it was worth my while providing a rough translation. As follows:

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A  government panel dedicated to looking at a new security strategy and defense capability for Japan has given an indication of the contents of a report it will submit to the prime minister at the start of next month. The panel will, in light of new challenges in the post-cold war era that derive from potential instability in the Taiwan Straits and on the Korean Peninsula,  propose that Japan develop a more maneuverable and effective military capability and revise the [cold war era] Basic Defense Force Concept.* The report will also propose looking at the institutional arrangements and the constitutional interpretation of Japan’s right to “collective self-defense”, as well as revision to the “three principles” on the export of weapons.

The report, the first “National Defense Program Outline” under the DPJ administration, will serve as the basis for discussion and a focal point for reflection heading towards further development of guidelines on Japan’s future defense capabilites at the end of the year.

According to the plan, given the unsuitability in the current strategic environment of the arrangement of having the Self-Defense Forces spread evenly around the country [a cold war arrangement facing towards the Soviet threat, as well as others], the panel will recommend that this principle be taken out of the Basic Defense Force Concept. It recommends the need for Japan to be able to repel a limited attack that may come about in the case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula or in the Taiwan Straits.

In tangible terms, more than being able to repel a simple missile attack, the new proposal will suggest that Japan prepares for the outbreak of more “complex” security developments by developing more effective, flexible and maneuverable military capabilities. In terms of the deployment of military units, these will be refocused on Okinawa and the islands west of Kyushu.

Also, in line with Japan’s aim to be a country that supports the creation of peace [平和創造国家] and desires to contribute to international peace and stability, the report recommends that Japan develop capabilities that will enable it to be proactive in participating in UN Peacekeeping operations, and disaster relief interventions.

The report recommends further deliberation be entered into on the previously discussed issue of constitutional interpretation around whether Japan can intercept a missile directed at the US mainland. While it has implications for the constitutionality of Japan’s right to collective self-defense [recognised by the UN but not by the Japanese constitution], the report will recommend that the SDF be able to prepare for such an eventuality.

The report will also recommend that there be revision to the ban on weapons exports and the “3 principles”. Specifically, it will propose that Japanese companies and defense contractors be allowed to participate in international consortia (with the US and other allies and with countries that Japan shares common values with) that are involved in the international development and production of weapons systems.

Given its increasing importance to Japanese security strategy and regional security, the report will propose increasing the joint use of military bases with the US in Okinawa in a sustainable way.

The ten year plan for defense capability readjustment was originally due to be announced at the end of last year. However, given the change of government [in 2009] it was put back one year. The new panel was set up in February this year and focused on discussing the plan.

*The Basic Defense Force Concept was developed in 1976 – the basic principle was that as an independent country Japan should prepare for any kind of military attack and not leave open any vulnerable points. This led to the adoption of the principle of evenly deploying SDF units around the country. It was said that the SDF’s job was to be wherever they were required. After the end of the cold war, in the 1995 and 2004 defense guidelines, this provision was eliminated and has been a factor in the rigidity of the deployment of military units in Japan.

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Assuming that this is part of a deliberate coordinated strategy (and it need not necessarily be although that would be prudent) – with the US working with both Korea and Japan towards more general principles on burden sharing being outlined at the end of the year – this could lead to us discussing some very interesting developments come the end of the year/early next year. Most of this will not surprise many people, but I thought that the idea of eliminating the balanced force requirements around the Japanese archipelago to be quite interesting, especially given the proposed joint base use. It makes sense, but nevertheless, I can see why it would be hard to fore-go such an entrenched principle. After all, it is not as if Russia is a completely docile lamb. I also wonder if this is, taking a long-term view, designed to eventually alleviate the pressure on the US for having so many troops forward deployed in the long-run in either Guam or Okinawa when the force transition does finally go ahead (which in itself should allow the force transition issues we are seeing now in both Okinawa and Guam be more easily addressed). Of course, this will require a pretty significant commitment by both parties – one that will require Japan to have a force of conviction that will give the US confidence that it can depend on it. Co-dependence might well be the true signal of an “equal relationship” here. Anyway this is mere speculation – much water to go under the bridge to be sure – and as always, much that the Japanese people will want to surely have a say on.

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