Deciphering the New National Defense Program Guidelines of Japan

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On December 17, 2010, the Security Council and the Cabinet approved the “ National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2011 and Beyond .” These Guidelines contain a number of key terms: a “Dynamic Defense Force,” active contributions “to creating global peace and stability,” and “seamless responses” to contingencies. All of these terms indicate key concepts underpinning the defense policies that the new Guidelines seek to implement. They are in a sense a distillation of the broad-ranging debate that went into crafting the Guidelines. At the same time, though, it is far from clear what, precisely, these terms mean in isolation; it is important to approach them in the overall context of the discussion that went into the preparation of these Guidelines. Below I summarize the considerations behind these three terms in the hope that it will serve to enhance the debate as Japan moves forward in crafting its security and defense policy on the basis of the Guidelines.

1. Dynamic Defense Force

The National Defense Program Guidelines state: “Japan will develop a Dynamic Defense Force that possesses readiness, mobility, flexibility, sustainability, and versatility. These characteristics will be reinforced by advanced technology based on the trends of levels of military technology and intelligence capabilities.” The Dynamic Defense Force referred to here is a key theme in this version of the Guidelines. It appears to be a representative concept informing Japan’s moves to build and wield its defensive capabilities. The phrase “Dynamic Defense Force” is somewhat abstract, though, making it necessary to piece together its concrete significance from the discussion surrounding the new Guidelines.

The phrase has its roots in reports issued by two councils set up at different times as advisory organs to the prime minister ahead of the drafting of the new Guidelines. The term “dynamic deterrence” appeared for the first time in the August 2009 report of the Council on Security and Defense Capabilities. After the reins of government passed to the Democratic Party of Japan in the fall of that year, a newly established body named the Council on Security and Defense Capabilities in the New Era also used the term in its report, “Japan’s Visions for Future Security and Defense Capabilities in the New Era,” issued in August 2010. This latter report notes an increase in “the importance of ‘dynamic deterrence’ with enhanced operational capabilities,” indicating the need for Japan to break free from “the idea of so-called static deterrence [that] focuses mainly on the quantities and size of weapons and troops.” The new Guidelines, too, argue that “Japan needs to achieve greater performance with its defense forces . . . placing importance on dynamic deterrence” with a focus on “operational use of the defense forces.”

The Dynamic Defense Force concept called for in the new Guidelines aims to break free in two main ways from the mold of the “Basic Defense Force Concept,” which has underpinned Japanese defense policy since the Guidelines issued in 1976. The first of these is to move away from a focus on the deterrent effect of the existence of defense forces per se by putting the forces to operational use—in short, to aim for “dynamic deterrence” by displaying Japan’s defense capabilities in action. For example, to avoid inviting violations of its sovereignty, such as foreign incursions into Japanese waters or airspace, the nation will need—as indicated in the new Guidelines—a “clear demonstration of national will and strong defense capabilities through such timely and tailored military operations as regular intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities.” The Dynamic Defense Force posture will also serve to bolster the operations of the Japan-US alliance thanks to an improved liaison and cooperation stance, allowing Japan to work seamlessly with its ally in response to shifting contingencies, and heightened interoperability between Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and their American counterparts.

The second departure from the previous position involves a rethinking of force disposition with certain priorities in mind. Under the “Basic Defense Force Concept,” Japan sought to maintain a balanced distribution of its forces in line with geographic and other considerations. This meant stationing defense units equally across a complete set of geographic subdivisions. The new Guidelines, on the other hand, include a review of the geographic disposition of Japanese forces, as well as enhancements to Japan’s defense posture, such as through surveillance activities and maritime patrols, including in the nation’s southwestern territories. Now that Japan is faced with heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula and opacity in China’s efforts to modernize its military, it is moving to increase the effectiveness of its deterrent force by adopting a clear posture with respect to prioritized areas in response to the situation.

For Japan’s defense mechanisms to function as a form of dynamic deterrence is one necessary condition—but not the only one—for achieving the Dynamic Defense Force that the new Guidelines aim for. Ahead of its deterrent nature, a nation’s defensive force must also play the role of improving the security environment so as to prevent threats from appearing in the first place. With respect to this point, the new Guidelines state that Japan’s defense forces must aim firstly “to acquire dynamism to effectively deter and respond to various contingencies,” and secondly “to proactively engage in activities to further stabilize the security environment in the Asia-Pacific and to improve the global security environment.” In this light, we should view the Dynamic Defense Force as a concept that functions of course as a means of deterrence, as noted above, but also as a public good for the global community, something that fosters further stability in the international environment.

In pursuing this Dynamic Defense Force concept, Japan will obviously need to deploy highly responsive, maneuverable units with a degree of flexibility. In addition, it will be necessary to prepare the frameworks in which these units can actually be put to use in operations. Further key elements of Japan’s approach will be to collect intelligence, make appropriate judgments on that basis, and draw on the so-called C4ISR functions: command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

2. Active Participation in International Peace Cooperation Activities

“Toward a Peace-Creating Nation” was the subtitle of the report issued by the Council on Security and Defense Capabilities in the New Era ahead of the formulation of the new Guidelines. In policy speech delivered on January 24 this year, Prime Minister Naoto Kan stated that for Japan, “it will be indispensable to pursue foreign and security policies that actively address the creation of peace, based on balanced pragmatism.” While the new Guidelines do not contain the exact phrase “creation of peace,” they rest on the fundamental stance that Japan should take active part in international peacekeeping activities, making contributions to global peace and stability and to human security as the “third objective” of its security policy. The first objective is “to prevent any threat from directly reaching Japan and to eliminate external threats that have reached it,” while the second is “to prevent threats from emerging by further stabilizing the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region and by improving the global security environment.” The first two objectives both relate to threats impacting Japan directly, but the third is purely geared toward enabling Japanese contributions to the stability of the global community.

To date Japan has handled United Nations peacekeeping operations and other international peace cooperation activities within a theoretical framework that positions them as a way to enhance global or regional stability with the ultimate goal of increasing Japan’s own security. The new Guidelines depart from this with their description of the third objective as “to contribute to creating global peace and stability and to secure human security.” With this stance, Japan shoulders its natural duties as one of the world’s top economic powers and as a trading nation that depends on peace and stability in all the world’s regions. Ever since the “lost decade” of economic malaise in the 1990s, the Japanese people have tended to focus their attention on domestic issues, losing not only their pride in Japan’s place in the world but their sense of responsibility to the global community. The new Guidelines should prompt them to awaken once again to Japan’s position and the role it must play in the world.

All this being said, deploying and operating defensive forces entails considerable costs, and there are limits to how much funding can be directed to this area. It will be necessary to consider whether to place the focus more on the defense of Japan or on international peace-creation activities, and how best to strike a balance between them. Given the destabilizing factors in the surrounding region, such as the situation on the Korean Peninsula, devoting nearly all SDF resources to international activities will not be a realistic choice. It will be important to decide on Japanese participation in international efforts based on a comprehensive examination of their necessity, urgency, effectiveness, and other factors. With respect to policy, it is meaningful to set standards for these decisions in advance. When deciding how to deploy defensive forces, it will also be beneficial to prioritize areas whose functions are useful in both types of activity. To defend Japan’s surrounding seas and airspace, as well as its offshore islands, the nation must be able to swiftly move SDF units from where they are usually stationed to deploy them where they are needed. The capacity needed for this—maritime and air transport capabilities, for instance—will also be of use when SDF members take part in international peace cooperation activities. So far the SDF functions have been pared down mainly to rear-area support capabilities, based on the forces’ heavy reliance on domestic logistics, maintenance, and supply infrastructure in the light of their main mission, defending the Japanese homeland. Improvements to this situation that boost the SDF capability to independently project force throughout Japan’s offshore islands will put Japanese defense forces on a better footing to take part in international efforts.

3. Seamless Responses to Various Contingencies

In the new Guidelines, the opening paragraph of the section titled “Basic Policies to Ensure Japan’s Security” states that “In the event of various contingencies, [the nation] will seamlessly deal with the situation as it unfolds.” Considerations of the meaning of this “seamless response” concept must look at three main aspects. First, the response must be seamless in the sense that it covers all stages of a situation, from normal conditions right up through an emergency situation. Second, it must be seamless in terms of enabling harmonized responses to multiple contingencies, should more than one arise at the same time. And third, it must be seamless in the sense that all relevant organs, from the central government ministries on down, respond in a coordinated manner to a crisis.

Tensions climb from a normal situation, passing through various crisis phases and finally escalating to a contingency requiring the use of defensive force. It goes without saying that uninterrupted responsiveness is called for throughout this entire process. To achieve the dynamic deterrence that the new Guidelines seek to implement, it will be essential to appropriately gauge the stance for Japan as a whole to take, including SDF operations.

The new Guidelines list a number of priority areas, including (1) ensuring the security of the seas and airspaces surrounding Japan, (2) responding to attacks on offshore islands, (3) responding to cyber attacks, (4) responding to attacks by guerrillas and special operations forces, and (5) responding to ballistic missile attacks. With respect to these five areas, the Guidelines also state: “The SDF will effectively respond to the above-mentioned contingencies while taking into account the possibility of different and multiple contingencies occurring consecutively or simultaneously.” If Japan were faced with the imminent threat of a ballistic missile attack, for example, in many cases it would also need to prepare against attacks on its nuclear power plants and other key facilities; ensuring the security of its surrounding sea and air territory would also be a closely related issue in such a situation. There must be no lapse in the national response to all these contingencies, and the actions taken on each front must be closely coordinated with one another.

Japan must also make sure that the responses of its Ministry of Defense, the SDF, and other governmental organs constitute a seamless whole. The fields of economic and resource security, as well as human security, are closely linked to that of military security, making this seamlessness absolutely vital. The incident in September 2010, when a Chinese trawler rammed Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels in waters near Japan’s Senkaku Islands, hinted at the multifaceted and complex nature of incidents that may arise in the future. In this case the patrol vessels were able to avoid the danger of their law-enforcement actions escalating to a military-level problem. We did, however, see China cut off exports of rare earth elements to Japan, and Japanese citizens involved in business activities were detained in China. These developments were prime examples of resource-security and human-security issues. It is important for Japan’s government organs to be prepared at all times to respond to situations like this in a coordinated manner. The new Guidelines stipulate: “The Cabinet Secretariat, the Ministry of Defense and the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), the police forces, the Japan Coast Guard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and other government agencies will regularly cooperate with each other.” But this cooperation must go beyond the central governmental sphere to include smooth coordination at the level of local bureaus. Japan must have seamless cooperation among these entities, as well as between the local and central agencies.

Addendum: This paper is based on discussions carried out as part of the Tokyo Foundation National Security Policy Project and reflects input from multiple project members.

Noboru Yamaguchi

  • Senior Fellow

    Professor, International University of Japan