On March 15, 2022, in Gotemba, southwest of Tokyo, an MV-22 Osprey takes off while Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force men protect a landing zone during a joint military exercise with U.S. Marines. Eugene Hoshiko/AP
Tokyo — Long a proudly pacifist nation and largely dependent for its security on its close alliance with the United States, with the inherent deterrent of America’s nuclear weapons and the 50,000 U.S. troops stationed across the archipelago, Japan has announced its most significant shift in defense policy since 1945. Since the end of the last world war, the country will acquire preemptive counterstrike capabilities for the very first time.
The modifications will enable Japan to strike targets in North Korea or China.
Japan, which shares borders with Russia, China, and North Korea, has “the most severe and complicated security environment since the conclusion of World War II,” according to the country’s National Security Strategy, which has been updated for the first time. The policy statement, which was released alongside two other important military strategy documents that outline budget objectives for the next decade, emphasizes the growing threat “presented by those who seek to unilaterally alter the status quo by force.”
This week, the U.S. and Japan will begin joint military exercises.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated at a news conference on Friday that while the new policy represents a significant shift, the revisions do not violate Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which prohibits the use of force.
He stated, “Japan’s path as a peaceful nation will stay intact.”
The United States promptly praised Japan’s announcement. The move, according to U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, marked “a new era in the defense of democracy.”
Today, a new era in the protection of democracy commences. The new national security policy of PM Kishida delivers a clear, unequivocal strategic declaration and capitalizes Japan’s deterrence. He has improved Japan’s reputation among friends and partners in the Indo-Pacific and Europe.
— ラーム・エマニュエル駐日米国大使 (@USAmbJapan) December 16, 2022
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin praised the reforms in Tokyo as a sign of “Japan’s unwavering commitment to sustaining the international rules-based order and a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The U.S. supports Japan’s choice to acquire new capabilities that reinforce regional deterrence, including counterstrike capabilities, he added.
In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, North Korea’s unprecedented increase in missile tests this year — one of which flew over Japan — and China’s growing assertiveness in the region, including the escalating threat of a Chinese attack on Taiwan, the Japanese public has begun to favor a more robust defense strategy.
Biden and Xi seek to ease tensions between the United States and China. 04:53
The revised plans call for Japan to spend $37 billion on weaponry, including long-range missiles to be deployed as early as 2026, including the U.S. Navy’s formidable Tomahawk cruise missiles. Japan wants to meet the NATO benchmark for defense expenditure (2% of GDP), a radical shift from its almost 50-year-old informal ceiling of 1%. Total defense expenditures are projected to exceed $300 billion by 2027, substantially doubling present spending levels.
Tobias Harris, Senior Fellow in the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, told the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan that the increase in Japanese defense spending is “something that the United States government has wanted for the entire (70-year-old) existence of the (bilateral) alliance” — a need he deemed all the more pressing given the region’s shifting military balance.
Christopher Johnstone, a senior consultant at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, stated that Japan’s adoption of a counterstrike capability would fundamentally alter the basis of the U.S.-Japan alliance, necessitating a much higher degree of military integration.
Last week, Johnstone wrote in a commentary that the possibility of a Japan that can respond to an assault at a distance and on its own would offer a significant new variable for possible enemies in Pyongyang and Beijing and would assist to strengthen deterrence.