Japan's National Security Strategy Adds New Military Capabilities

In December 2022, Japan unveiled its new National Security Strategy (NSS). The document reiterates some approaches Japan has already been following, and at the same time, it introduces some new approaches which are a clear shift from previous policies. The document also realises that there is a shift of global attention to the Indo-Pacific region and the actors which are active within the region. As such, Japan will take all necessary actions to maintain its sovereignty and independence and defend its territorial integrity and citizens.

The main focus of the document is the actors in the region, which according to Japan, act as destabilisers, primarily China and North Korea. As such, they are stated to be the main challenges to Japan’s peace and security. China is stated as the greatest strategic challenge for Japan’s peace and security, and this is due to its actions to shift the status quo in the South and East China seas in its favour. Activities such as violations of Japan’s internationally recognised air and sea identification zones and the launching of ballistic missiles which have landed in the waters around Japan are just some of the military actions which have caused major concerns in Japan.

Another primary concern for Japan is North Korea, an unpredictable regional actor. Despite sanctions and United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, it has not dismantled its nuclear weapons and their delivery methods, specifically ballistic missiles. In the past few years, North Korea has undertaken multiple launches of ballistic missiles in Japan’s general direction with varying frequencies. Over time, it has also significantly enhanced its capabilities. These missiles fly over the Japanese home islands to land on Japan’s eastern side or on its western side short of the islands. North Korea’s activities now pose a grave and imminent threat to Japan’s national security.

This means that the counterstrike capabilities of JSDF, which are limited as a response to missile attacks, will be enhanced to better implement the stand-off defence capabilities.

To counter these threats, Japan will enhance and implement its defence, economic, technological and intelligence capabilities, which are the main elements of its national power. These enhancements will be set at a pace to match, if not surpass, those of hostile states. Diplomatic efforts to strengthen the relationships with the states in the region will be a key element as well. China, South Korea and North Korea top the list of such states.

Japan has also stated that its alliance with the US is indispensable for its security. Japan will strive to increase its cooperation with the US, which will strengthen the alliance’s deterrence and response capabilities that include the extended deterrence by the US in all domains, including nuclear. At the same time, enhancements will also be made to improve and strengthen joint operation capabilities between Japan and the US. Japan will also look to deepen its alliances with like-minded states; an example is the US-Japan-Australia-India Quad Alliance.

Militarily, Japan will build an approach of multi-layered and cross-domain operational capabilities to counter or respond to any situation which threatens the nation. This approach will strengthen the abilities of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces (JSDF). Japan will also work to develop stand-off defence capabilities along with the previously mentioned capabilities and alliances, especially the US-Japan alliance, with the ultimate goal of deterring or, if attacked, responding to any invading or aggressor forces. This means that the counterstrike capabilities of JSDF, which are limited as a response to missile attacks, will be enhanced to better implement the stand-off defence capabilities. This is why Japan is set to purchase 2 billion USD worth of Tomahawk Land Attack missiles to be deployed on the Naval Self-Defence Forces destroyers. Another development is the proposed Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) ships. These were proposed as an alternative to the cancelled Aegis Ashore BMD system, which was eventually cancelled due to budget and technical issues as well as the national debate regarding the potential health impact on Japanese citizens. A ship-based BMD system has its advantages over a shore-based system. It is mobile, which can increase its engagement range with respect to its target originating point. It will also have a greater chance of survival in an all-out attack scenario. Lastly, it can be moved to protect different locations depending on different levels of the threat posed.

The Tomahawk purchase is part of a wider initiative by Japan to increase its defence capabilities. This initiative has led to the government increasing their defence budget by 20 per cent to a record 55 billion USD. Japan is now meeting the NATO standard on defence spending, which is 2 per cent of the GDP. Japan is also adding stand-off missiles for its F-35A and upgraded F-15 fighter jet fleets. At the same time, local manufacturers are developing a longer-ranged surface-to-surface anti-ship missile. Japan has also ordered another eight F-35B vertical take-off and landing jets to operate from its helicopter carriers. Even before this latest order, Japan was the largest foreign customer of the F-35 programme and will now have 155 F-35s when the order is completed. Japan is also developing a sixth-generation stealth fighter, and its programme was recently merged with the joint British-Italian effort. The three countries will now cooperate on the development and then production of the aircraft and its weapons systems. The NSS also states that Japan will do its best to increase local defence production and research and development, and public-private partnerships in these domains will be encouraged.

All these purchases and development efforts will ensure Japan’s ability to undertake counterstrike, which will, in turn, ensure the deterrence part of the stand-off defence capabilities. These changes come after a realisation in Japan that it cannot only depend on its BMD systems to counter an aggressor’s ballistic missiles. The counterstrike capability is the most interesting and serious shift in Japanese policy to come out of the new NSS and shows Japan will not hesitate to protect itself by attacking an aggressor which has carried out a ballistic missile strike against it.

Syed Zulfiqar Ali

Syed Zulfiqar Ali has completed his Masters in Defence & Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University, and is currently serving as a Research Assistant at the Centre of Strategic and Contemporary Research.

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