16.02.2019 Author: Jean Perier

Does the Covert Militarization of Japan Serve its National Interests Well


According to Japan’s ministry of defense, Tokyo has recently adopted a set of guidelines aimed at strengthening its national defense potential over the course of next decade. It is estimated that over the period of the next five years, Japan will have to spend on its armed forces some 238 billion dollars to successfully implement this plan.

It goes without saying that Washington played no small part in influencing this decision, as the Japanese national budget is going to take a major hit by trying to stomach an abrupt increase in military spendings. There’s little rationale behind Tokyo making such a step on its own, as it is highly provocative, which means that it’s going to have a negative impact on Japan’s relations with its immediate neighbors. After all, there was no real threats that Japan had to face in the immediate future. Moreover, lately the geopolitical landscape of East Asia has been undergoing a number of positive changes due to the peace initiatives that are being advanced by Russia, and both Koreas that have significantly reduced the level of bilateral tensions recently. Additionally, one shouldn’t forget that that the backbone of Tokyo’s defense potential are the American troops deployed across Japan, since there’s no way it could withstand a shooting war with Russia or China on its own. Further more, even ten years down the road, after spending hundreds of billions of dollars, the Japanese armed forces will still be no match to the military potential of North Korea, let alone other states. However, the sitting US president has been busy peddling new contracts for the US military contractors in his discussions with representatives of US satellite states, arguing that the so-called client status must come at a price.

Is it of any surprise then that Japan’s National Defense Program Guideline (NDPG) put particular emphasis on antagonizing both China and Russia. Unsurprisingly, this document explicitly states that the JapanUS alliance continues to be the cornerstone of Japans national security, which means that Tokyo is committed to support Washington in its strategic competition with China and Russia, since the latter two “attempt to alter global and regional order.” (sic)

Therefore, upon closer examination of the guidelines adopted by Abe’s government on December 18, it becomes clear that Tokyo is planing to drastically increase the volume of weapons and military equipment it buys from the US under the pretext of a somewhat difficult geopolitical situation in the region. While the only goal that it will be able to achieve through that is the strengthening of the US military potential, which means that Shinzo Abe will carry on providing unconditional support to the Pentagon in the Asia-Pacific.

For instance, NDPG stipulates that Japan must convert its Izumo-class helicopter destroyers into carriers, capable of launching F-35B stealth fighters. But before those works even start the government has to acquire a total of eighteen F-35B with vertical takeoff capabilities to deploy them aboard the first modified carrier. This means that Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces (MSDF) are now going to acquire offensive capabilities, which means that they can be eventually deployed to the South China, Indian Ocean or even the Mediterranean Sea to support yet another US-led aggression against another sovereign state.

As of today, MSDF operates two Izumo-class helicopter destroyers that can be more accurately descrbied as helicopter carriers: the lead ship of the same name Izumo (DDH-183) entered service in 2015, with her sister ship Kaga (DDH-184) arriving two years later in 2017. According to Jane’s Defense Weekly, Japan plans to replace 99 outdated F-15J multi-role fighters with brand new F-35A fighter jets, on top of 42 jets that Tokyo has already ordered in the US.

In addition, the new guidelines state that over the next decade Japan will field two batteries of American anti-missile systems Aegis Ashore. It’s believed that one of them is going to be deployed in the northern prefecture of Akita by 2023, while the other one is going to be stationed in the south-western prefecture of Yamaguchi. Yet, the deployment phase can be significantly accelerated. According to the Pentagon’s Defense and Security Cooperation Agency, at the end of January, the US state Department approved the sale of two Aegis batteries to Japan, with the estimated price of the deal exceeding 2.1 billion dollars.

Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are also going to increase their military potential in such areas as space warfare, cyber and electronic operations. In essence, Japan is going to work with the United States in close cooperation to allow the latter achieve dominance in those areas that Washington perceives as most advanced.

Tokyo’s defense guidelines put a particular emphasis on the progress that China has recently made in space exploration, which, according to the logics of the planners behind this document, means that Beijing is going to acquire anti-satellite capabilities in the foreseeable future. To counter this alleged threat, Tokyo is going to create a space force, following the example of the US that has announced its plans to create space armed forces a long while ago.

It is noteworthy that, after this latest revision of the Japanese national defense strategy, Shinzo Abe is going to kick start covert militarization of Japan, building the momentum after the revision of the Japanese Constitution of 2015, which significantly expanded the scope of operations that the Japan Self-Defense Forces were allowed to conduct. This also means that Washington will increase its military capabilities across the region without spending a single penny.

The rapid transformation that Japan undergoes these days clearly reflects the views of a certain group of ruling elites in Japan that are convinced that no one can serve two masters. That is why, while choosing between the so-called US-led international order and good standing with its immediate neighbors, Japan prefers to choose the former, while facing a chill in its relationships with both Russia and China. Of course, when steps a state takes are so drastic they cannot possibly affect peace initiatives in a positive manner. This means that the future of inter-Korean negotiations and the peaceful settlement between Moscow and Tokyo are starting to look bleak once again.

Jean Périer is an independent researcher and analyst and a renowned expert on the Near and Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook