20.01.2014 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Japan’s military construction and the situation in the Asia-Pacific Region Part 1

soldiers51750299Japan’s military construction in the late 2013 and early 2014 will enter the postwar history of Japan as an important step on the long road of the country’s “normalization”.


The term itself originated in the Japanese political elite in the early 1990s and in its very general terms meant gradual abandoning of all the constraints on the domestic and foreign policies that were imposed on Japan by the victors of the Second World War, as well as those that had been voluntarily assumed by the government of the country.

The first refers to the Constitution, which dates back to 1947, and mainly (but not exclusively) to Article 9, which declared “Japan’s renunciation of wars as means of addressing international issues and possession of an armed forces”. The latter includes the adoption of the principles of “three not’s” (not to develop, not to possess, not to import into its territory), which directly applies to nuclear weapons, as well as to the export of armaments, produced by Japanese companies. It is necessary to point out once again that the last two principles are not legally binding; they are voluntarily assumed obligations, undertaken by the Japanese government in the late 1960s.

An important limitation of the military nature of the construction and of the use of the current “Self-Defense Forces of Japan” (SDFJ, which de facto are a full-fledged armed forces) is such a governmental interpretation of Art. 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits their use even in the format of the so-called “collective self-defense”, provided for by the UN Charter. Such a self-restraint may lead to a hypothetical situation where, for example, an American convoy with food, heading to Japan and attacked on the high seas by a “third party” will not be defended by the Japanese Naval Forces, just because today they have no right to do that.

However, the paradox of such situations is purely external, because, according to the US-Japan Security Treaty, adopted in its final form in 1960, Japan actually handed over the problem of its national security to the United States, which was in full compliance with the so-called Yoshida Doctrine (named after the first post-war prime minister). According to this doctrine, all the forces of the country were focused on economic recovery and development.

By the end of the Cold War,Japan had become the second leading economy in the world, which meant that the goals of Yoshida Doctrine were achieved. In this regard, the Japanese establishment started to increasingly mention its exhaustion and the need to “level the commitments” in the bilateral US-Japan alliance, which brought onto the agenda a revision of the entire legal framework of the country’s security and defense system.

Until recently, the process of Japan’s “normalization” has been developed cautiously and gradually, given that the East Asian countries still remember the consequences of the Japanese Imperial Army’s presence in their territories during World War II. An important reason for this “slowness” is the fact that modern Japan (as well as Germany, its ally in World War II), solved the objectives of their foreign policies based on improving their economic strength and without a single shot being fired, though during the Second World War, such attempts were futile and had disastrous consequences for both countries.

 Accelerating the process of “normalization”

The current political situation in the region contributes to the acceleration of the Japanese “normalization”. China’s growth and its transformation into the second world power are increasingly perceived not only by Japan, but also by several of its neighbors as the main challenge to own national interests.

The “China Factor” has become one of the main reasons (perhaps the basic one) for the process of Japan’s “normalization”.The same reason,in the eyes of all the countries of Southeast Asia, contributes to the transformation of Japan – from a recent enemy, into an important pillar in confrontations with China. The outcomes of the Japan – ASEAN Summit, held at the end of December 2013, which was dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations, are evidences of this transformation.

The same is proven by the participation of the Self-Defense Forces of Japan in the liquidation of the catastrophic consequences of the Typhoon Haiyang in the Philippines.Two or three decades ago, it would have been hard to imagine a Japanese military presence in any capacity in the territory of the Philippines.

However, China is the major trading partner of Japan and for a long time Tokyo avoided designating China as its main source of threats. This role has been played by the regional enfant terrible, that is, the Korean Democratic People’s Republic. A complex of internal and external circumstances leaves the latter no other choice but to continue faithfully performing this extremely thankless role, which satisfies both Japan and its “big brother” – the USA, which are solving their own problems in the complex game with China. The major regional opponent of Washington is the People’s Republic of China, and not North Korea.

North Korea is mentioned in the three new documents on foreign policy, defense and security, adopted by the Government of Japan on December 17, 2013. Their content allows us to talk about the beginning of an important new stage in the process of “normalization”of the country. Particular attention should be paid to the “National Security Strategy” adopted in 2013, for the first time in Japan’s postwar history.

The “Strategy” declares that Japan today is “one of the major global players in the international community.” The country “intends to contribute to the maintenance of peace, stability and prosperity in the region and in the world at large.” While the category of “security” has a broad meaning, it actually includes all of the internal and external aspects of the functioning of the state.

One of the fundamental theses of this “Strategy” states that the Japanese are a “maritime nation, and Japan’s prosperity is based on freedom of navigation and trade.” The principle of Open and Stable Sea is declared “the foundation of peace and prosperity” of Japan and other countries.

These theses have become basic both for the assessments of threats to Japanese interests and for the assessment of strategies of the defense policy and military construction.The source of major threats is indicatedquite clearly – it is the “opacity of the rapidly growing defense budget” of China, which is extending its influence in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea. The so-called air defense identification zone over much of the East China Sea that has been recently introduced by the MOD of the People’s Republic of China is mentioned as the latest evidence of Chinese intentions “to unilaterally break the status quo”.

The political component of the strategy aiming at parrying the “Chinese Threat” is to strengthen the existing bilateral alliances (primarily with the United States) and to develop relationships with prospective partners in this regard, including India. With regard to self-defense capabilities, the nature of their development for the next10 and 5 years is described in the two other documents, which are the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) and Mid-Term Defense Program (MTDP).

First of all, it should be noted that, in comparison with the latest edition of NDPG, which appeared in the late 2010, in the NDPG-2013 there is no thesis of “limited increase of defense capabilities”.Instead, it provides for ensuring the operation of Self Defense Forces as a whole… that should be the basis of an effective defense” of the country. In this regard, it is useful to recall that the term “jointness” of the operations of the armed forces, was the key term in the discussions of American military experts in the late 1990s on the topic Revolution in Military Affairs.

Vladimir Terekhov, leading research fellow at the Asia and Middle East Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.