The Prime Minister’s panel charged with providing an independent report on “Japan’s Vision for Future Security and Defense Capabilities in the New Era” has published its full report here. Identifying Japan as a “peace-creating nation” it offers some interesting suggestions. This report comes with a bonus 6 page English summary at the end which nicely complements the 60 page Japanese report which I will fully admit to not having had the time to read in depth yet.
The report’s findings have been well signaled, both by the panel itself in the short-term, and in the long-term by Japan’s changing security posture since the end of the cold war. But I still thought that it contained some very interesting articulations on the role that Japanese security and defense capabilities can play in order to uphold Japan’s identity as a “peace-creating nation” while furthering its own economic and security interests.
The report puts much emphasis on the idea of a more flexible defense posture in Japan, including “dynamic deterrence”. This is defined as “high operational performance” in situations where complex contingencies might evolve quickly – it is contrasted with “static deterrence” and the “Basic Defense Force Concept”, which is generally focused on preventing a large-scale (likely Soviet) invasion. The given example of contingency is the violation of air space, although the idea could be applied to many other contingencies. In general, the importance of dynamic deterrence as identified in the report is a recognition of the need for an adequate Japanese response to security challenges that fall into the “gray zone” between peace and outright crisis. The implication of this suggestion I imagine is that an upgrade in Japan’s dynamic deterrence capabilities will involve many more highly technological solutions as well as very specific training for personnel. In this sense the report is not a call (yet) for a quantitative capability increase (such as might be required for a mostly autonomous defense capability) but suggests for now at least for its short to medium term security Japan should focus on coordinated and strategically robust qualitative enhancements and coherently align its defense posture with those enhancements. The report also interestingly but rightfully points out that changes in Japan’s demographics will require the personnel infrastructure of the SDF to be adapted to these changes and offer more opportunities for certain skill sets to be utilized. If my reading of this is correct, I think this means much less focus will be put on the performance of bureaucratic and administrative tasks within the SDF, and more effort will be put into enhancing the attractiveness of a career in the SDF, especially for those with technical skills and leadership abilities.
Nevertheless, while the report does strongly recommend increasing force interoperability with the US, which is consistent with the above, it does exhort policymakers to start to focus more on the SDF as an integrated force on its own terms. It recommends that the SDF take on a greater diversity of international roles to supplement its ability to defend Japan. It foresees a significant role for Japan in dealing with failed states, and in peace-keeping operations. The report states:
Inter-agency cooperation among government agencies, central and local government cooperation, and Government and private sector cooperation should be actively promoted to tackle agendas both domestic and international. A new forum for inter-agency cooperation needs to be created for the purpose of reconstructing failed states. In light of the increasing importance of private-sector exchanges in confidence-building, the Government should consider cooperative relations with the private sectors in this field. In the field of international peace cooperation activities, the Government should promote civil-military cooperation with the NGOs in concrete terms, thereby promoting peace-building capabilities of Japan as a whole.
Given the suggestions for relaxing the arms export ban, and the Japanese government’s strong push for an international infrastructure export policy, it appears that the report suggests that Japan get into the “nation-building” game. In view of the report, this would enhance global stability, and help Japan maintain its identity as a “peace-creating” nation even while it expands its military role. It may well offer some financial opportunities also by way of Japan taking a slice of international contributions to peace-building (essentially reversing its role from the 1991 Gulf War). If Japan evolves from being a “reactive” security state and only contributing when asked, to building and leveraging a wide range of capabilities (not just military), this could well increase Japan’s international prestige, create a more stable environment for it to pursue its economic interests beyond those associated with nation-building, and contribute to global security generally, without necessarily having to change the constitution. Nevertheless, the report says that still might have to be an option.
Another interesting outcome is the suggestion that Japan should explicitly support the extension of security dialogue beyond that of the state. Here we see a role envisaged for private defense contractors to build confidence across states, more NGO participation and interaction, and something called the “intellectual infrastructure.” It recognises the “increasing importance of think-tanks dedicated to security affairs, the modality of think-tanks and other non-profit organizations” and suggests providing them with financial support. This is consistent with the report’s focus on non-traditional/military security concerns.
Finally, perhaps one of the key recommendations, and by reading the tea-leaves, the likely long-term policy outcome of this report, is the suggestion to relax the arms export ban – at least to allow for joint-development of defense systems. Obviously, as expressed by the Keidanren, this is important to maintain Japan’s native defense infrastructure, especially as military solutions to security are becoming more and more technologically orientated (and more dual-use). The report also emphasizes the confidence-building value of joint development of defense systems, a concept that may well be able to be extended beyond those who are explicit allies in the future. Needless to say, to prepare for worst case contingencies, Japan’s participation in such development programs would enable it remain a stakeholder in the currently predominant security regime.
As for the discussion on the non-nuclear principles I have touched on before, the report does not dwell on the issue very much. It acknowledges the political will is not there to make changes to the 3 non-nuclear principles, but wants to put itself on record as saying that “unilaterally” restricting the operation of the US nuclear umbrella is not necessarily wise. However, as it does not go into any detail in making this justification, and discussion of it was not even included in the English summary, it comes off as quite half-hearted. Needless to say the strong indication that Kan gave that he might even try to enshrine the principles in law dissuaded the panel from expending too much time on this issue.
Overall, the report provides a pretty strong indication of the contribution that Japan can make to its own security and regional and global security. It is also a very contemporary report – it very sensibly takes account of the contemporary geo-economic and geo-political challenges that Japan and many other countries face in the increasingly integrated and increasingly less unipolar post-cold war era. In a sense Japan has a very interesting and perhaps important opportunity, unencumbered by a native security policy complex and a dominant military-industrial complex, to articulate and implement a security policy that is nuanced and gives due consideration to it surrounding environment while not ignoring the increasing interdependence of global interactions and the part that Japan can play in upholding stability.