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Navigating Threats In The Indo-Pacific: Is Japan’s New Security Strategy Feasible?

Abstract: Following the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Japan updated its most important security documents. With the new National Security Strategy, National Defence Strategy, and Defence Buildup Plan, Japan has identified the growing activities of Russia, China, and North Korea as its most significant security challenges. In response, Japan will bolster its defence capabilities, most notably counterstrike missile systems, raise its military budget, and optimise its defence architecture. In implementing this new strategy, Tokyo will face multiple challenges, from a more assertive China and the political weakness of the Kishida Administration, to economic and legal constraints, a worrying personnel shortage, and a vulnerable declining defence industry. The Japanese government has already taken some first steps to tackle these issues; nevertheless, Japan will need to do more on its own and together with its ally, partners, and like-minded countries.

Problem statement: What changes does the new Japanese National Security Strategy envision, and what challenges lie ahead to implement the strategy?

So what?: To implement its strategy and be able to defend itself, the Japanese government must demonstrate perseverance, strong leadership, quick adaptability, and willingness to suffer substantial monetary sacrifices. The U.S. and other like-minded partners in the Indo-Pacific region and NATO should support Japan and deepen cooperation in the defence and security fields to answer the common challenges and risks posed by revisionist powers.

Japanese Navy Ships with Japanese Flag

Source: shutterstock.com/viper-zero

Shaking Order

The foundations of Europe’s security architecture and the international rules-based order were shaken to their very core when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February 2022. Japan’s Prime Minister (PM) Fumio Kishida harshly condemned the unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine.[1] In his keynote address at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on 10 June 2022, Kishida warned that “Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow.”[2] Subsequently, he called for revising Japan’s three key strategic documents. On 16 December 2022, the Japanese cabinet approved the updated National Security Strategy (NSS), National Defence Strategy (NDS), replacing the previous National Defence Program Guidelines, and Defence Buildup Program (DBP), replacing 2018’s Mid-Term Defence Program.

A Deteriorating Security Environment

The root of the transformation of Japan’s national security policy lies in the deterioration of the security environment in its surrounding regions. Japan is worried about worldwide trends in the global security environment. Tokyo is particularly troubled about increasing threats in the cyber, maritime, space, and electromagnetic domains; the weaponisation of economy through fierce competition in the mercantile, economic, and strategically critical technological domains; and the lack of global leadership.[3] Japan’s updated NSS identifies three state actors of concern to its security: Russia, China, and North Korea.[4]

Tokyo is particularly troubled about increasing threats in the cyber, maritime, space, and electromagnetic domains; the weaponisation of economy through fierce competition in the mercantile, economic, and strategically critical technological domains; and the lack of global leadership.


While former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s response to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 was quite reserved, the Kishida Administration has taken a harsh stance on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, emphasising the importance of universal values and reiterating Japan’s commitment to defending the international rules-based order.[5] In the NSS, Japan has identified Russia’s external and military activities, along with its strategic coordination with China, as “a strong security concern.”[6] Moscow’s aggression reinforces Tokyo’s worry about the former’s willingness to use military force to pursue national security objectives, including the repeated threat of using nuclear weapons.[7] Additionally, Russia’s increased military presence and activity in the Pacific (particularly in the disputed Southern Kurils/Northern Territories), combined with increasing military coordination with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), are of grave concern for the East Asian island nation.[8]


Although 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the normalisation of diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Japan, relations between Tokyo and Beijing have become increasingly tense. In the updated NSS, Japan has identified China’s external policy and activities as “unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge.”[9] This can be attributed to the rapid modernisation and expansion of Chinese military capabilities combined with a more assertive foreign policy in the East and South China Seas as well as the Taiwan Strait.

In August 2022, following the Taiwan visit of the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, the PLA started military exercises around the island, during which five ballistic missiles landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.[10] In the last few years, China has also increased its military presence in the waters around the Japan-administered but China-claimed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.[11] While Japan engages economically with China – its largest import and export partner – Beijing’s increasingly aggressive rhetoric and the non-disclosure of the use of violence to achieve reunification with Taiwan have created great concern in Tokyo.[12]

The security of Taiwan is of vital interest due to its geostrategic location along vital lanes of communication for Japan. As former PM Abe stated in 2022, the security of Japan is connected to the security of Taiwan, and experts believe it is more than likely that, in the event of the use of force against the island state, Japan would stand united with the U.S. to defend Taiwan.[13] Another reason causing worry in Japan is China’s increasing strategic cooperation with Russia.[14] The Joint Statement between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation issued on 04 February 2022 stated the friendship between both countries had “no limits.”[15] Additionally, the increasing number of joint military drills around Japan, such as May 2022’s joint flight near the Japanese archipelago between two Chinese H-6 bombers and four Russian airplanes, including two Tu-95 bombers,[16] intensifies Japan’s concerns regarding the potential threat posed by two hostile neighbours threatening to use force to achieve their strategic objectives.

The Joint Statement between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation issued on 04 February 2022 stated the friendship between both countries had “no limits.”

North Korea

Although it has been a threat to Japan’s security for more than twenty years, North Korea has been called “an even more grave and imminent threat to Japan’s national security than ever before,” in the NSS.[17] Japan is particularly worried about Pyongyang’s unwillingness to dismantle its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile arsenals, and its continued pursuit to bolster its nuclear capabilities. On 4 October 2022, North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan for the first time since 2017; while 2022 was a record-breaking year, with North Korean missile tests ramping up to a total of 37.[18]

The Updated Japanese NSS

Accordingly, in response to the deterioration of the security environment around Japan, the Japanese government has updated its three most important security documents. The revised NSS defines Japan’s national interests, basic principles, security environment, strategic objectives, and the necessary ways and means to achieve these.[19] The NDS clarifies Japan’s concrete defence objectives and offers approaches and ways to achieve these goals, while the necessary defence capabilities can be found in the DBP.

Additionally, Japan recently adopted the Guidelines for the Reinforcement of the Japanese Coast Guard (JCG), which also introduced significant changes to improve cooperation between the JCG and the Maritime Self-Defence Forces (MSDF) and announced a 50% increase in the JCG budget.[20]

In the NSS, Japan has defined its four national security objectives:[21]

  1. Protect Japanese sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and the safety of its people;
  2. Maintain economic prosperity;
  3. Promote a friendly international environment, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region;
  4. Work together to tackle global issues and promote good global governance practices.

To this end, Japan aims to implement radical changes in its defence and security policies to achieve these objectives.

Increased Ballistic Missile Defence and Counterstrike Capabilities

The current Japanese defence strategy heavily relies on Ballistic Missile Defence, with Aegis Weapon System (AWS)-equipped destroyers and the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system as its two essential pillars.[22] Japan has announced it will increase these capabilities, particularly the number of AWS-equipped destroyers, which will be increased from the current 8 to 12 by the end of the decade.[23] Furthermore, the Kishida government plans to increase the number of Type 03 medium-range Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM) manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan’s Southwestern Region.[24] Due to the rise of Hypervelocity Gliding Vehicles (HGV), Japan will also invest $100 million to further develop and purchase SM-6 SAM systems capable of intercepting HGVs.[25]

Considering the increased threat of a ballistic missile attack on its territory, Japan cannot simply focus on missile defence to deter aggression. Therefore, the new security documents envision the acquisition of long-range counterstrike missile systems capable of targeting enemy systems, penetrating the enemy’s defence, and destroying and disabling enemy missile systems.[26] The introduction of counterstrike capabilities is essential to not only deter an attack on Japan but also defend against aggression should deterrence fail. It is key to being able to retake invaded islands in Japan’s Southwestern Region (including the Senkaku Islands).

The introduction of counterstrike capabilities is essential to not only deter an attack on Japan but also defend against aggression should deterrence fail.

The Japanese government is planning to invest in the development and acquisition of domestic systems in the form of an upgraded Type-12 Surface-to-Surface Missile (SSM) with a range of up to 900 km by 2027, and 1,600 km by 2032; new Hyper Velocity Gliding Projectiles with a range of 500-700 km by 2027 and 2,000-3,000 km by 2032; and quieter Type-18 torpedoes to strike naval vessels from outside their anti-submarine defence screen by 2027.[27] Additionally, Japan aims to develop hypersonic cruise missiles, Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV), as well as improved Type-17 Anti-Ship-Missiles (ASM) to replace the Harpoon ASM of its Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft.[28]

These capabilities were confirmed in a Ministry of Defense (MOD) document published in January 2023,[29] and in the recently signed contracts with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries in April 2023.[30] It will take until at least 2027, if not 2032, for the systems to be developed, mass-produced, and operationally ready. To bridge the gap between necessary and available capabilities, the Japanese government has announced it will acquire 400 U.S.-made Tomahawk cruise missiles with a range of up to 1,600 km.[31]

The combination of these different weapon systems is designed to offer flexibility to deal with a great range of scenarios, with HGVs being very hard to intercept and ground-launched missiles offering the advantage of being easier to redeploy and, therefore, harder to disable.[32] In achieving these new security policy goals and strengthening its defence capabilities, Japan aims to “take primary responsibility for dealing with invasions against its nation” by Fiscal Year (FY) 2027 and “disrupt and defeat invasions against its nation much earlier and at a further distance” by FY 2032.[33] The proposed counterstrike capabilities could limit the PLA Navy’s ability to operate freely, especially in the East China Sea around the Senkaku Islands, raise the cost of operating a blockade around Taiwan or starting an attack against the island nation, as well as potentially punch a hole through the Chinese Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) System.

2% of GDP – But No Doubling Of the Defence Budget

To bolster its military capabilities, Japan must make heavy financial investments in military R&D and t

the development and acquisition of new systems, as well as support for the Defence Industrial Base (DIB), upgrading of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) bases, and procurement of sufficient ammunition and fuel stocks. Therefore, the NSS calls for an increase in “national security-related spending” to 2% of Japan’s GDP by FY 2027 to finance the necessary security policy changes.[34] This 2% call differs from the planned budget raise from $40 billion in FY 2022 to $67 billion in FY 2027, which “only” represents a 66% increase — still making Japan the third largest military spender.[35]

The NSS calls for an increase in “national security-related spending” to 2% of Japan’s GDP by FY 2027 to finance the necessary security policy changes.

This increase is more than necessary as Japan’s defence budget stagnated between FY 2000 and FY 2017, both in absolute and relative terms.[36] In general, following the post-war exclusively defence-oriented security policy, Japan has had a de facto military spending cap of around 1%; but in 2017, under former PM Abe, military spending had already passed the 1% cap.[37] Nevertheless, the goal to aim for a 66% increase in military spending is an ambitious proposal, bringing Japan closer to NATO standards and allowing the acquisition of the necessary military equipment.

Further Changes

Furthermore, Japan plans to establish a Joint Headquarters near the PM’s office to improve coordination between the three branches of the JSDF.[38] This development will also improve communication and coordination with the US INDOPACOM and U.S. Forces stationed in Japan. Similarly, the coordination between the MSDF and the JCG will be enhanced, and the updated Article 80 of the SDF law will allow the PM to give control of the JCG to the MOD/SDF if needed.[39] These structural reforms will facilitate decision-making in Japan and improve Japan’s ability to respond to civilian and military crises.

Additionally, Japan has announced that it will upgrade its capabilities to respond to non-conventional threats. The NSS focuses on threats in the cyber, technology, maritime, space, and electromagnetic domains.[40] In this regard, the Kishida Administration plans to expand Japan’s cyber capabilities to achieve what it calls “active cyber defence,” expand the role of the JCG, and bolster its civilian and military space capabilities.[41]

Under the concept of economic security, Japan also emphasises the role of technology and the weaponisation of the economy. The new security documents stress the significance of dual-use technology, the securitisation of trade, and access to critical, cutting-edge technology.[42] In May 2022, the Japanese government reacted to this issue, passing the Economic Security Promotion Act — a law aiming to identify critical goods for the well-being of the Japanese people and the prosperity of Japan, make the vital supply chains more resilient, and promote investments in the development of critical technologies and infrastructures as well as the production and supply of critical goods.[43]

The Importance of the U.S.-Japan Alliance, Partners, and Like-minded Countries

While the new security documents are designed to boost Japan’s defence capabilities, Tokyo is fully aware that – besides the U.S.– probably no country can fully guarantee its security against aggression by great powers. Therefore, the new security documents emphasise the role of the Japan-U.S. alliance as the cornerstone of Japan’s defence and call for increased cooperation with the U.S., Tokyo’s partners, and other like-minded countries.[44]

Tokyo is fully aware that – besides the U.S.– probably no country can fully guarantee its security against aggression by great powers.

The role of the U.S. is primordial to the security of Japan. The revised strategic documents prove that Japan is sharing not only the U.S. strategic vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific but also its willingness to commit and invest resources and assets to contribute beyond the security of its national territory.[45] For years, the U.S. has been calling for Japan to step up its defence, and, thus, has welcomed the change in Japan’s security policy.[46] During the U.S.-Japan 2+2 Meeting in January 2023, both sides discussed further potential cooperation possibilities, such as joint operations between the JSDF and the new US Marines Littoral Regiment in Okinawa (to be operational by 2025).[47]

Japan has been enhancing its defence and security cooperation with NATO in recent months. Japan plans to adopt a new document at the NATO Vilnius Summit in July 2023 to deepen the coordination with NATO concerning China and Russia, as well as tackle joint cyber and space threats and large-scale cyber defence drills.[48] In May 2023, NATO announced the opening of a liaison office in Tokyo in 2024, strengthening the strategic partnership between the Alliance and Tokyo.[49]

Tokyo also promotes bilateral security partnerships with NATO countries and other Indo-Pacific partners. Japan has already signed Reciprocal Access Agreements (RAA) to promote military collaboration and joint exercises with Australia in January 2022, and the UK in January 2023; further RAAs with France and the Philippines are currently under negotiation.[50] In light of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima in May 2023, Japan and the UK signed the Hiroshima Accord, establishing a global strategic partnership.[51] Under the Global Combat Air Program, Japan is partnering with the UK and Italy to develop a sixth-generation fighter jet.[52]

Considering the threat posed by North Korea, Japan and South Korea (Republic of Korea or ROK) recognise the importance of a strong partnership. Tokyo and Seoul have a complicated historical past, marked by the legacy of Japanese rule over the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945. The current Yoon and Kishida Administrations are actively working to resolve their disputes, mend ties, and establish a significant strategic partnership.[53] The Japanese and the new South Korean National Security Strategy, published in June 2023, agree on the need to enhance the ROK-U.S.-Japan trilateral security relationship to effectively tackle the threat from North Korea.[54]

The Japanese and the new South Korean National Security Strategy agree on the need to enhance the ROK-U.S.-Japan trilateral security relationship to effectively tackle the threat from North Korea.

To this end, recent developments highlight the efforts of both administrations to improve relations. In April 2023, both countries resumed their security dialogue after a 5-year hiatus,[55] and in May 2023, PM Kishida’s visit to Seoul marked the first visit by a Japanese PM to South Korea in 12 years.[56] During the Shangri-La Dialogue in early June 2023, Japan, the U.S. and South Korea held a trilateral defence ministerial meeting and agreed to launch a system to share real-time data on North Korean missiles.[57] This is an important breakthrough that will enhance regional security and facilitate communication and trust-building between Japan and South Korea.

Challenges to Implementing Japan’s New National Security Strategy

While the ambitious plans of the Japanese government are impressive, Tokyo is facing multiple challenges that could prevent the Kishida Administration from achieving its goals. The big question remains: will Japan be able to implement its strategy, or will it crumble before geopolitical realities?

Managing Relations with China

On 16 December 2022, the day the Japanese cabinet approved the new security documents, the Chinese ambassador to Tokyo harshly condemned the new security documents for portraying China as a threat, rekindling historical militaristic grievances from World War II, and warning about the consequences of an arms race in East Asia.[58] The opposition from China is not unexpected but could create problems for Japan’s new strategy. China could intensify its military activities around Japan, particularly in the East China Sea, increasing its intrusions into the waters around the Senkaku Islands and further challenging Japan’s ability to exert control and conduct law enforcement operations.

Therefore, Tokyo must manage its increased military spending while maintaining a constructive and stable bilateral relationship with Beijing – a more than daunting task.[59] The setting up of a military hotline to reduce tensions between both countries in March 2023 is an important first step, but more work lies ahead.[60] Beijing has already demonstrated in the past that it is willing to use its economic influence to punish political challenges from foreign countries. In 2010, following increased tensions over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, China, the exporter of 90% of the world’s rare-earth elements, imposed export controls, leading to severe economic consequences for Japan.[61] The new economic security approach is a first step in securing Japan from economic coercion, but Japan needs to increase its economic resilience and independence from China – an approach that the U.S. is more than happy to support.[62]

Following increased tensions over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, China imposed export controls, leading to severe economic consequences for Japan.

Financing New (and Old) Defence Capabilities

The biggest question probably emerges when looking at the numbers: How will Japan finance a 66% increase in the military budget until FY 2027? Japan is facing a challenging economic situation with a stagnant economy, a large debt sitting at 263% of GDP, and a stark devaluation of the Japanese yen, making the livelihood of the Japanese people more difficult.[63] These are not ideal circumstances to build up the nation’s military capabilities, yet these reforms are necessary. There are many options on the table, from a tax hike to issuing debt bonds to cuts in expenditures and shifts in the budget.[64] However, until now, the Japanese government has not presented a clear roadmap for financing this military buildup. While the Japanese people are aware of the necessity to further invest in the defence of Japan, a January 2023 poll clearly showed that a majority of the Japanese (68%) opposed financing the increased spending through tax hikes.[65]

In February 2023, the Japanese House of Representatives approved the FY 2023 budget, which saw a hike of 26% ($6.82 billion) in military spending.[66] While this is already a good first step in the necessary direction, the question of achieving long-term sustainable financing remains. By spending 1% instead of 2% of GDP on the military between 2012 and 2021, Japan ultimately missed spending around $500 billion.[67] This illustrates that punctual spikes in military spending may help to solve the most urgent issues, but continued and sustained financial commitment is required to uphold a nation’s defence capabilities. The Kishida Administration will probably have to take unpopular measures if it wants to succeed in implementing its new security strategy.

Political Challenges and Constitutional Imbroglios

Pushing through these ambitious reforms requires perseverance and much political capital. However, when the documents were released in December 2022, the Kishida Administration had an approval rate of only 31%.[68] Low levels of popular support and weak leadership may lead to problems in implementing these reforms. Additionally, Kishida has to deal with a much more dovish junior partner, the Komeito, which has already diluted multiple Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) security-related initiatives in the past.[69] Still, in the last couple of months, PM Kishida’s active foreign policy, in combination with a surprisingly good performance of Japan’s national economy and good results in the April 2023 local elections, have boosted Kishida’s approval rating to just over 40%, leading to speculation over possible snap elections.[70] A potential majority win would allow Kishida to cement his power inside the LDP and the government, and win over the population’s support.

PM Kishida’s active foreign policy has boosted his approval rating to just over 40%, leading to speculation over possible snap elections.

Another important constraint for the new Japanese military capabilities is the defence-oriented Japanese Constitution, particularly Article 9. Japan has committed itself to an exclusively defensive security policy that prohibits Japan from having armed forces (hence the name Self-Defense Forces). The NSS acknowledges this by emphasising the “defensive character” of the counterstrike systems, which can only be used once an attack on Japan has been launched, and only under the Three New Conditions for the use of force.[71] In 2015, the Abe Administration reinterpreted the constitution’s Article 9 and defined that the use of force is permitted when an armed attack against Japan or a country that is in a close relationship with Japan occurs, but only if there are no other appropriate means available, and it should be limited to the minimum extent necessary.[72] This again brings up the question: to what extent can Japan feasibly react to an attack on its islands? Even more confusing is the scenario of an armed attack on Taiwan, where Japanese support — particularly its submarine forces — would be crucial to prevent a blockade or the landing of the PLA. While, in theory, there is no constitutional imbroglio with the new capabilities, their practical application may suffer due to legal constraints.

However, there are other concerns, such as the possible legal constraints concerning the new “active cyber defence” system that would require previous reform of privacy rights.[73] The planned reform of the JCG law to give the MOD/SDF control over the Coast Guard in case of an emergency may also face legal constraints since, under the current legislation, Article 25 of the JCG law prohibits the JCG from having a military role and requires it to be under civilian control – a post-war legacy to prevent the military from having too much influence in Japanese politics.[74]

Manning the Guns

Security and defence comprise some human affairs at their highest levels, from the soldiers operating the necessary equipment to the awareness and resilience of society itself. Therefore, other challenges may emerge in the form of the JSDF’s difficulties in rallying sufficient staffing to fill the ranks, gathering expertise to operate the new systems, and effectively engaging in highly specialised capabilities such as cyber defence and space warfare. The starting conditions for Japan are far from optimal: a declining and ageing population, low birth rates, and a historical legacy and societal pacifism that make the JSDF an unattractive employer. The JSDF is fielding around 250,000 service members, but it has been missing its recruitment goals since 2014 and currently lacks around 16,000 personnel.[75]

A declining and ageing population, low birth rates, and a historical legacy and societal pacifism that make the JSDF an unattractive employer.

The perception of the JSDF has improved in the last couple of decades, particularly after the help provided during the 2011 Triple Disaster (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear accident), during which the JSDF disaster relief operation greatly contributed to responding to the crisis and aiding the civilian population in the devastated Northeastern region of Tohoku.[76] In a December 2022 poll, 90.8% of the respondents said they had a good perception of the JSDF.[77] Nevertheless, this “good perception” does not seem to translate into higher recruitment figures. With lower wages and worse working conditions than the private sector, the JSDF faces difficulties introducing technical experts from the civilian sector.[78] Additionally, the JSDF suffers from unattractive family policies, notoriously lacking support for young people aiming to begin new families, and an unfavourable women’s policy.[79] Increasing numbers of publicly known cases of sexual harassment and assault, such as that of former JSDF officer Rina Gonoi, followed by a lacklustre response by the JSDF to change the structural problems concerning sexual harassment and assault in the forces, further tank the JSDF’s perception.[80]

Particularly worrying is the lack of personnel in the MSDF, partially due to a mismatch between the strategically necessary capabilities of Japan as a maritime nation and the personnel allocations between the branches (65% GSDF and only 19% MSDF).[81] To counter staffing shortages, until now, the MSDF – and JSDF in general – have taken the approach of reducing the required human resources per ship instead of tackling the recruitment issue.[82] While this may prove helpful in some way, it does not replace the need for increased staffing. The announcement in December 2022 that the JSDF will transfer 2,000 personnel from the GSDF to the ASDF and MSDF is a welcome first step, but Japan will need to do more.[83] The changes in the JCG law to better coordinate between the MOD/SDF are also a possible way of boosting maritime capabilities facing a personnel shortage.

In the long run, Japan will be forced to fix its misalignment of defence capabilities and tackle strategic challenges if it wants its NSS to be successfully implemented. The war in Ukraine has shown that conflict can protract, and modern wars can quickly return to a war of attrition, making human resources vital.[84] A possible showdown with China would not be a one-week war but would probably last months – if not years. While the West and Japan aim to prevent a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, Western plans often fail to emphasise the need to highlight this aspect. If the necessary staffing issues are not fixed, a prolonged conflict will crush the Japanese fighting capabilities and resilience quicker than all wargames and plans can envision.

The Defence Industrial Base

For Japan to bolster its defence capabilities, the Japanese government needs to secure its DIB and guarantee that it can procure the necessary defence systems. Japan heavily relies on the delivery of U.S.-made systems for some capabilities, such as the F-35 or the Tomahawk cruise missiles.[85] In the event of war or drastically increased tensions, however, Japan must be able to rely on its domestic systems as its supply routes would be vulnerable to enemy attacks. While the NSS emphasises strengthening the DIB,[86] the current state of the Japanese DIB is dire, and the industry will need governmental support to ramp up production and become more resilient.[87]

Japan heavily relies on the delivery of U.S.-made systems for some capabilities, such as the F-35 or the Tomahawk cruise missiles.

One of the main problems of the Japanese DIB is that, until 2014, it was legally prevented from exporting military goods and, in combination with low domestic demand, lacked scale and suffered from low profitability margins (2%-3%).[88] The Abe Administration changed the legislation in 2014 to allow for the export of military goods, but besides some small-scale exports to the Philippines and Vietnam, it has failed to achieve any substantial defence export contracts.[89]

The pacifist nature of Japanese society since 1945 has led to a negative image of the defence industry and disincentivised the establishment of a large defence-focused company.[90] Additionally, large conglomerates often operate in China, making defence-related activity bad for the overall business.[91] This has led to the absence of large defence companies, such as Lockheed Martin in the U.S. or BAE Systems in the UK.[92] The closest thing to a national defence champion Japan has is Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which still only makes 12% of its revenues from its defence branch.[93] In the last two decades, over 100 companies have left the defence industry, leading Japan to further rely on foreign-made systems and resulting in a ten-fold increase in U.S.-made systems between 2010 and 2019.[94]

On June 07, 2023, Japan passed legislation to support the DIB in its production and exports by providing subsidies for expanding and optimising production.[95] The Japanese government is also considering purchasing large factories and leasing them to relevant DIB companies under good conditions – thereby cutting costs and reducing barriers for companies to join the defence industrial complex.[96] Working with the U.S., other partners, and like-minded countries, such as the Global Combat Air Program with Italy and the UK, can help share Japan’s burdens and boost DIB cooperation.

Furthermore, in April 2023, Japan launched the Official Security Assistance Program to deliver defence equipment to friendly countries, such as the Philippines, paid for by the Japanese government, similar to the existing Official Development Aid (ODA) scheme.[97] The Japanese government is also considering loosening its strict controls on military hardware and technology to potentially bolster the export of lethal aid if it contributes to Japan’s national security.[98]

Japan must catch up after the mismanagement of the “Lost Decades” (1991-2021) and invest large sums of economic aid to counteract the negative trends in the DIB. However, this brings up the problem of financing, political, and social support, and the practical considerations of whether these measures would be enough to save the Japanese DIB. There are many challenges ahead, but Japan will need to build up a resilient and stable defence industry if it wants its new security strategy to succeed and become a serious player on the global security stage.

Japan must catch up after the mismanagement of the “Lost Decades” and invest large sums of economic aid to counteract the negative trends in the DIB.

The Resilience of Supply and Infrastructure

While the acquisition of new systems is an important change, the NSS also emphasises the need to guarantee the operational readiness of the ASDF, MSDF, and GSDF.[99] On 16 March 2023, the former chief of the JSDF, Admiral (ret.) Katsutoshi Kawano, stated that, in a protracted conflict with China, Japan’s stockpiles of fuel and ammunition would quickly “run out of maintenance capabilities.”[100] Therefore, Japan has devoted $105 billion over the next five years to boost the SDF’s “sustainability and resilience” by addressing shortages in fuel, ammunition, and equipment, the renovation of facilities, and the buildup of lacking infrastructure.[101] Another important step is the facilitation of the use of civilian infrastructure in wartime, such as ports or airports; lifting the constraints and improving the resilience of the cybersecurity and space departments; and restructuring the command structure.[102] Sustained investment in these categories will be essential to guarantee that the JSDF is in a condition to be operational in the face of any incoming threat.

What Can be Learned from the Japanese Case?

The case of Japan can help policymakers and analysts gain some basic insights concerning the planning and implementation of a strategy. The starting point of any strategy is the analysis of the surrounding strategic environment. Japan rightfully identified a deterioration in the security environment around its nation and changed its approach. Critics may indicate that the signals of a threatening security environment were there before, but Japanese policymakers blatantly ignored the threat. They could be right here; however, the same thing could have been said about geopolitically dovish European NATO members such as Germany. In the end, as in Berlin, Tokyo’s policymakers needed a wake-up call to stop ignoring the problem and tackle it.

A look at the NSS demonstrates that Japan has left its naive pacifist past and finally matured in terms of security. While there are similarities between Japan’s security policy pivot and the German Zeitenwende – such as increasing military spending, replenishment of depleted ammunition stocks, and moving away from pacifism towards taking more responsibility for their defence[103] – this simplistic analysis does no justice to a more complex change. Many of the policy changes in the new strategic documents are radical and reflect a major shift in the Japanese approach, but many remain deeply conservative and devoted to the traditional Japanese view of defence and security affairs. The strategy does not change the defensive character of Japan’s security policy but emphasises a stronger commitment to defend Japan’s interests through military means and ways.[104] While the goal of achieving 2% of GDP in national security-related spending and the 66% increase in the military budget are significant departures, former PM Abe already broke the 1% of GDP military spending soft cap in 2017.

A look at the NSS demonstrates that Japan has left its naive pacifist past and finally matured in terms of security.

The Japan-U.S. Alliance remains the central cornerstone of Japan’s security, but Japan will take greater responsibility for its defence and expand its partnerships with like-minded countries, such as Australia, the Philippines, and the UK. Together with its ally, partners, and like-minded countries, Japan can become an important security player in the Indo-Pacific region, exerting military influence beyond its near vicinity, and finally becoming a player to be reckoned with in global security. Japan’s NSS calls for the introduction of revolutionary, transformative changes such as the acquisition of counterstrike capabilities, but keeps Article 9 of the Constitution, the Three Nuclear No’s (not possessing, not producing and not stationing nuclear weapons), and the Three New Conditions for the use of force as restrainers to Japan’s military capabilities. The main takeaway from the NSS is the normalisation of a dysfunctional and ideological security doctrine into a “normal” security policy.[105]

Nevertheless, one thing must be clear: planning and writing a strategic document is complicated; implementing a strategy is even more complicated. Limited resources in all aspects, from money to military assets, political will, and diplomatic efforts, must be devoted to achieving the strategic goal. Japan is facing multiple challenges, including the need for funding, staffing, a stable and resilient DIB, a stable stockpile of munition and fuel, and political capital, among others. These challenges are interconnected. Lacking financing may result from weak political leadership being unable to take harsh strategic decisions in allocating the budget; a weak DIB may need large amounts of government subsidies to rescue a crumbling defence industry – money that may not be available. Without the human resources to field the ranks, the harshest financial sacrifices and political deals may lose their value.

The challenges are complex because the world is complex. The war in Ukraine shows that long-term planning is more essential than ever, but it also highlights the importance of a resilient and stable DIB in supplying the necessary equipment to continue fighting. The global shortage in ammunition production shows the unpreparedness of the DIB to supply long-term, large-scale, high-intensity wars. Therefore, learning from previous cases and adapting one’s strategy to the new reality is important. The Japanese national security documents implement the lessons learned from the Ukraine War to find solutions to potential upcoming challenges, which may become failures and successes to learn from.

The war in Ukraine shows that long-term planning is more essential than ever, but it also highlights the importance of a resilient and stable DIB in supplying the necessary equipment to continue fighting.

The Japanese NSS shows that strategy is about analysing the current strategic environment, identifying the challenges and threats, outlining the necessary means and ways to counter these, and then planning how to shape the future, based on the present, according to one’s national interests, strategic culture, and desired end-state. When conducting a strategy, it is crucial to keep in mind the main objectives, but it will also require perseverance, leadership, adaptability, monetary investments, partners and allies, and much political will for successful implementation.

Fabian-Lucas Romero Meraner recently graduated in International Security at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po Paris). He specialises in East Asian security affairs focusing on Chinese military modernisation, the Chinese anti-access/area-denial system, and Japanese security policy. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone.

[1] Kyodo News, “Japan condemns Russian attack on Ukraine as shaking int’l order,” Kyodo News, February 24, 2022, https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2022/02/9cf5c8f99a31-japan-to-consider-natl-interest-in-shaping-ukraine-response-kishida.html.

[2] Fumio Kishida, “Keynote Adress,” Speech, IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore, June 10, 2022, https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/100356160.pdf.

[3] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy of Japan (Tokyo: Government of Japan, December 16, 2022), 6f, https://www.cas.go.jp/jp/siryou/221216anzenhoshou/nss-e.pdf.

[4] Ibid., 8-9.

[5] Sheila Smith, “Don’t Overlook Japan’s Diplomatic Heft,” Council Foreign Relations, January 14, 2023, https://www.cfr.org/blog/dont-overlook-japans-diplomatic-heft.

[6] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy, 10.

[7] Idem.

[8] Idem.

[9] Ibid., 9.

[10] Martin Quin Pollard and Yimou Lee, “China military ‘completes task’ around Taiwan, plans regular patrols,” Reuters, August 11, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/china-extends-military-drills-around-taiwan-after-pelosi-visit-2022-08-10/.

[11] Stephen Nagy, “Is Japan’s New National Security Strategy a Paradigm Shift?,” Geopolitical Monitor, December 27, 2022, https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/is-japans-national-security-strategy-a-paradigm-shift/.

[12] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy, 8.

[13] Oriana Skylar Mastro, “Japan must do more, and faster, to avert war over Taiwan,” The Washington Post, February 02, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/02/02/japan-join-us-defend-taiwan/.

[14] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy, 8.

[15] The Kremlin, “Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development,” February 04, 2022, http://en.kremlin.ru/supplement/5770.

[16] Kosuke Takahashi, “China, Russia Fly 6 Bombers Near Japan Amid Quad Summit,” The Diplomat, May 25, 2022, https://thediplomat.com/2022/05/china-russia-fly-6-bombers-near-japan-amid-quad-summit/.

[17] Ibid., 9.

[18] Yasuyo Sakata, “Japan’s National Security Strategy & the Two Koreas,” Stimson, February 21, 2023. https://www.stimson.org/2023/japans-national-security-strategy-the-two-koreas/.

[19] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy, 3.

[20] Guibourg Delamotte and Hideo Suzuki, “More the Same or Different? Japan’s New Security and Defense Policy,” The Diplomat, February 17, 2023, https://thediplomat.com/2023/02/more-of-the-same-or-different-japans-new-security-and-defense-policy/.

[21] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy, 10-11.

[22] Japan Ministry of Defense, Defense Buildup Program (Tokyo: Ministry of Defense, December 16, 2022), 7-8, https://www.mod.go.jp/j/policy/agenda/guideline/plan/pdf/program_en.pdf.

[23] Yoshihiro Inaba, “Japan To Increase The Number of Aegis Destroyer,” Naval News, January 2023, https://www.navalnews.com/naval-news/2023/01/japan-to-increase-the-number-of-aegis-destroyers/.

[24] Cory Bravo, “Japan Stations Troops on Ishigaki Island, Fortifies Defense Against China,” SOFREP, April 26, 2023, https://sofrep.com/news/reader-submission-japan-stations-troops-on-ishigaki-island-fortifies-defense-against-china/.

[25] Inaba, “Japan Increase Aegis Destroyer.”

[26] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy, 18-19.

[27] Yoshihiro Inaba, “Japan Doubles Down On Standoff Missiles To Deter China,” Naval News, May 15, 2023, https://www.navalnews.com/naval-news/2023/05/japan-doubles-down-on-standoff-missiles-to-deter-china/.

[28] Dzirhan Mahadzir, “Japan Issues Military Equipment Wishlist That Includes Hypersonic Weapons, Unmanned Systems,” USNI News, January 25, 2023, https://news.usni.org/2023/01/25/japan-issues-military-equipment-wishlist-that-includes-hypersonic-weapons-unmanned-systems 2023.

[29] Idem.

[30] Gabriel Dominguez, “With eye on China, Japan developing missiles to protect remote islands,” The Japan Times, June 13, 2023, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/06/13/national/japan-missile-development/.

[31] Idem.

[32] Idem.

[33] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy, 20.

[34] Idem.

[35] Adam P. Liff and Jeffrey W. Hornung, “Japan’s New Security Policies: A Long Road to Full Implementation,” Brookings, March 27, 2023, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2023/03/27/japans-new-security-policies-a-long-road-to-full-implementation/.

[36] Xiao Liang and Nan Tian, “The proposed hike in Japan’s military expenditure,” SIPRI, February 02, 2023, https://www.sipri.org/commentary/topical-backgrounder/2023/proposed-hike-japans-military-expenditure.

[37] Idem.

[38] Japan Ministry of Defense, National Defense Strategy (Tokyo: Ministry of Defense, December 16, 2022), 30, https://www.mod.go.jp/j/policy/agenda/guideline/strategy/pdf/strategy_en.pdf.

[39] Delamotte and Suzuki, “Same or Different? Japan’s New Security and Defense Strategy.”

[40] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy, 23.

[41] Ibid., 23-27.

[42] Ibid., 26.

[43] Yuzo Murayama, “Significance and Issues of the Economic Security Promotion Law,” The Japan Institute of International Affairs, May 31, 2022, https://www.jiia.or.jp/en/column/2022/05/economy-security-linkages-fy2022-01.html.

[44] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy, 12-13.

[45] Jeffrey W. Hornung and Christopher B. Johnstone, “Japan’s strategic shift is significant, but implementation hurdles await,” War on the Rocks, January 27, 2023, https://warontherocks.com/2023/01/japans-strategic-shift-is-significant-but-implementation-hurdles-await/.

[46] Jennifer Kavanagh, “Japan’s New Defense Budget Is Still Not Enough,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 08, 2023, https://carnegieendowment.org/2023/02/08/japan-s-new-defense-budget-is-still-not-enough-pub-88981.

[47] Zack Cooper and Eric Syers, “Japan’s Shift to War Footing,” War on the Rocks, January 12, 2023, https://warontherocks.com/2023/01/japans-shift-to-war-footing/.

[48] Rieko Miki, “Japan and NATO to level up cooperation with eye on China, Russia,” Nikkei Asia, May 27, 2023, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/Japan-and-NATO-to-level-up-cooperation-with-eye-on-China-Russia.

[49] Idem.

[50] Delamotte and Suzuki, “Same or Different? Japan’s New Security and Defense Strategy.”

[51] Miki, “Japan and NATO Cooperation.”

[52] Rhyannon Bartlett-Imadegawa, “U.K., Japan, Italy seek to hasten next-gen fighter jet roll out,” Nikkei Asia, June 14, 2023, https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Aerospace-Defense-Industries/U.K-Japan-Italy-seek-to-hasten-next-gen-fighter-jet-roll-out.

[53] Sakata, “Japan’s National Security Strategy and the Two Koreas.”

[54] Office of the President of the Republic of South Korea and Office of National Security. The Yoon Suk Yeol Administration’s National Security Strategy (Seoul: Office of the President of the Republic of South Korea, June 7, 2023), 44, https://www.nknews.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/Yoon-Suk-yeol-Administrations-National-Security-Strategy-June-2023.pdf.

[55] JIJI News, “Japan and South Korea resume security dialogue after five years,” The Japan Times, April 18, 2023, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/04/18/national/japan-south-korea-security-dialogue-resumes/.

[56] Daniel Sneider, “Kishida’s visit to South Korea and the triumph of geopolitics,” East Asia Forum, May 11, 2023, https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2023/05/11/kishidas-visit-to-south-korea-and-the-triumph-of-geopolitics/.

[57] Kyodo News, “Japan, U.S., South Korea to share real-time North Korea missile info,” Nikkei Asia, June 03, 2023, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Defense/Japan-U.S.-South-Korea-to-share-real-time-North-Korea-missile-info.

[58] CGTN News, “China condemns Japan’s new national security strategies for stoking regional tensions,” CGTN, December 16, 2022, https://news.cgtn.com/news/2022-12-16/Japan-approves-new-national-security-strategy-1fOjtIZUIFi/index.html.

[59] Hiroyuki Suzuki, “U.S.-China Strategic Competition and Japan’s Role in 2023,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 24, 2023, https://www.csis.org/analysis/us-china-strategic-competition-and-japans-role-2023.

[60] Isabel Reynolds, “Japan and China connect military hotline to reduce tensions,” The Japan Times, March 31, 2023, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/03/31/national/china-hotline-ease-tension/.

[61] Hideyuki Miura, “US-China Tech Rivalry and Japan’s Policies for Economic Security,” GLOBAL ASIA vol. 17, n°4 (December 2022), 19, https://www.globalasia.org/data/file/articles/0a77be3cf6174f0dee49feb79a784323.pdf.

[62] Cooper and Syers, “Japan’s Shift to War Footing.”

[63] Michael Wolf, “Japan economic outlook, May 2023,” Deloitte, May 15, 2023, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/economy/asia-pacific/japan-economic-outlook.html.

[64] Liff and Hornung, “Japan’s New National Security Policies: A Long Road.”

[65] Liang and Tian, “Hike in Japan’s military expenditure.”

[66] Liff and Hornung, “Japan’s New National Security Policies: A Long Road.”

[67] Kavanagh, “Japan’s New Defense Budget.”

[68] Asahi Shimbun Staff Writer, “Survey: Kishida Cabinet approval rate slides to record low 31%,” The Asahi Shimbun, December 19, 2022, https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14796337.

[69] Liff and Hornung, “Japan’s New National Security Policies: A Long Road.”

[70] Elaine Lies, “Explainer: Why Japanese Prime Minister Kishida may call a snap election soon,” Reuters, June 14, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/why-japanese-prime-minister-kishida-may-call-snap-election-soon-2023-06-14/.

[71] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy, 19.

[72] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Japan’s Security Policy. Development of Security Legislation,” last modified April 5, 2023, https://www.mofa.go.jp/fp/nsp/page1we_000084.html.

[73] Liff and Hornung, “Japan’s New National Security Policies: A Long Road.”

[74] Delamotte and Suzuki, “Same or Different? Japan’s New Security and Defense Strategy.”

[75] Samuel P. Porter, “Missiles Are No Substitute for Japan Self-Defense Forces’ Manpower Shortage,” The Diplomat, January 9, 2023, https://thediplomat.com/2023/01/missiles-are-no-substitute-for-japan-self-defense-forces-manpower-shortage/.

[76] Philippe Pons, “Japanese troops find new legintimacy through disaster work,” The Guardian, May 17, 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/may/17/japan-earthquake-army-identity-pons.

[77] Takahashi Kosuke, “Poll: Japan’s Support for Self-Defense Forces Rises to Record High,” The Diplomat, March 07, 2023, https://thediplomat.com/2023/03/poll-japanese-support-for-self-defense-forces-rises-to-record-high/.

[78] Porter, “Missiles Are No Substitute for Japan Self-Defense Forces.”

[79] Kana Inagaki and Leo Lewis, “Is Japan’s military fit for purpose?,” Financial Times, May 04, 2023, https://www.ft.com/content/2e8dd852-47d3-4276-aabb-21bccb31dff0.

[80] Idem.

[81] Porter, “Missiles Are No Substitute for Japan Self-Defense Forces.”

[82] Idem.

[83] Idem.

[84] Idem.

[85] Liang and Tian, “Hike in Japan’s military expenditure.”

[86] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, National Security Strategy, 21.

[87] Gabriel Dominguez, “Why bolstering Japan’s defense industry is a matter of national security,” The Japan Times, May 09, 2023, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/05/09/national/japan-defense-industry-imdex/.

[88] Idem.

[89] Scott Foster, “Japan’s remilitarization aiming for more arms exports,” Asia Times, February 16, 2023, https://asiatimes.com/2023/02/japans-remilitarization-aiming-for-more-arms-exports/.

[90] Rena Sasaki, “Japan Needs a Defense Industrial Revolution,” Foreign Policy, March 09, 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/03/09/japan-defense-industrial-revolution-security/.

[91] Kaori Kaneko and Tim Kelly, “Japan battles to persuade its big brands to join military buildout,” Reuters, March 16, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-battles-persuade-its-big-brands-join-military-buildout-2023-03-15/.

[92] Idem.

[93] Gabriel Dominguez, “Between a rock and a hard place: Why Japan’s defense industry is struggling,” The Japan Times, September 25, 2022, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/09/25/national/japan-defense-industry-struggle/.

[94] Yusuke Takeuchi, “Japan passes defense subsidy bill to stop industry bleeding,” Nikkei Asia, June 08, 2023, https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Aerospace-Defense-Industries/Japan-passes-defense-subsidy-bill-to-stop-industry-bleeding.

[95] Idem.

[96] Idem.

[97] Idem.

[98] Foster, “Japan Remilitarization Arm Exports.”

[99] John Grady, “Japan Faces Readiness Hurdle As it Modernizes Military Former Defense Chief Says,” USNI News, March 17, 2023, https://news.usni.org/2023/03/17/japan-faces-readiness-hurdle-as-it-modernizes-military-former-defense-chief-says.

[100] Idem.

[101] Inagaki and Lewis, “Japan’s military fit for purpose?.”

[102] Kavanagh, “Japan’s New Defense Budget.”

[103] Philippe Pons and Thomas Wieder, “Germany and Japan confronts the twilight of their pacifist ideals,” Le Monde, May 25, 2023, https://www.lemonde.fr/en/international/article/2023/05/25/germany-and-japan-confront-the-twilight-of-their-pacifist-ideals_6028017_4.html.

[104] Elli-Katharina Pohlkamp, “Setting the course: Japan’s new security strategy,” European Council on Foreign Relations, January 31, 2023, https://ecfr.eu/article/setting-the-course-japans-new-security-strategy/.

[105] Jingdong Yuan, “Japan’s new military policies: Origins and implications,” SIPRI, February 02, 2023, https://www.sipri.org/commentary/blog/2023/japans-new-military-policies-origins-and-implications.

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