ASCF REPORT 10.11.21

Most national-security news of late has focused on the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the surprise announcement of a new U.S.-U.K.-Australia maritime partnership. But all the while, Japan has steadily been expanding its role and reach in the Indo-Pacific. Just as the island democracy of Britain was America’s key transatlantic ally during the Cold War, it increasingly appears that the island democracy of Japan will be America’s key transpacific ally during Cold War 2.0.

Defense and Deterrence
Having a stalwart and trusted ally like Japan is essential given the growing PRC menace. In the past 19 months, Beijing has threatened to take Taiwan, absorbed Hong Kong, attacked Indian troops in the Himalayan border region, repeatedly violated Japanese waters and airspace, unleashed a pandemic through incompetence or intention, lied about its origins, leveraged it to gain geopolitical advantage, and continued its unparalleled military buildup.

On the strength of a 517-percent jump in military spending since 2000, China bristles with hundreds of anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, deploys a high-tech air force, and boasts a 350-ship navy (now the world’s largest). In fact, China’s navy is 55-percent larger than in 2005. China’s military outlays are larger than that of Britain, France, Japan and South Korea—combined.

With a front-row seat for Beijing’s reckless emergence, Tokyo’s recommitment to defense should come as no surprise.

Spurred by Beijing’s military buildup, Japan has increased defense spending annually for a decade running. Japan’s 2022 budget calls for a 2.6-percent increase in defense spending—“the largest percentage jump in spending in eight years,” according to Bloomberg News. Japan is investing these resources on a range of deterrent capabilities, including: space-tracking and early-warning systems; enhanced cyber-warfare and cyber-defense capabilities; and lots of F-35s. Tokyo is building toward a fleet of 157 F-35 variants, including 42 F-35Bs. Importantly, the F-35B is designed for short take off and vertical landing, which will enable Japan to deploy it from small-deck carriers like the two destroyers Tokyo is upconverting into full-fledged aircraft carriers. U.S. Marine F-35Bs are participating in sea trials with one of those ships, the Izumo.

In addition, Tokyo is standing up new island-defense units, building new military bases in the East China Sea, and adding military-grade runways to Mageshima Island, with plans for U.S. and Japanese warplanes to operate from the base. To borrow a phrase, Mageshima could become “an unsinkable aircraft carrier” for Japan and America.

Japan’s navy recently unveiled its newest submarine: the Taigei. The 3,000-ton warship will go into service next year, joining 21 other submarines in Tokyo’s sub fleet.

Tokyo also is pouring resources into missile-defense systems. Japan is a global leader in missile-defense development and deployment—and understandably so, given the reckless regime next door in North Korea. Japan already deploys a fleet of eight Aegis missile-defense warships, with two more in development. Japan hosts two powerful AN/TPY-2 missile-defense radars, which are networked with other U.S. missile-defense assets. And Japan joined the U.S. in co-developing the SM-3 Block 2A interceptor missile.

Regional Collaboration
Tokyo sees its defense buildup and defensive assets as part of wider regional effort to deter the PRC—an effort Japan is spearheading.

Japan and Indonesia signed an agreement in March to facilitate the transfer of Japanese military equipment and technology, speed up the “modernization of Indonesia’s defense capacity,” and open the way for “joint training between our services—maritime and also land forces,” according to Indonesia’s defense minister.

Hoping to deter China’s provocative actions in the South China Sea, Japan and Vietnam have signed a similar agreement providing Vietnam with Japanese-made patrol boats—the first such deal between Vietnam and Japan. The ships will contribute to “the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to Tokyo.

Australia and Japan have signed a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) opening the way for the two nations to deploy their armed forces for training and operations on each other’s territory. As Reuters reports, it’s the first agreement allowing foreign military presence on Japanese soil since 1960, when the U.S. and Japan inked a status of forces agreement. In a joint statement, the Australian and Japanese prime ministers cited “negative developments and serious incidents in the South China Sea, including militarization of disputed features [and] dangerous coercive use of coast guard vessels”—a not-so-veiled reference to China. Related, Japan and Britain also are hammering out an RAA.

Japan is delivering air-defense radar systems to the Philippines, and the former foes recently conducted their first-ever joint military exercises.

Japan is doing far more than facilitating and delivering military hardware; it’s also literally lending a helping hand to allied militaries. The Japanese military conducted 39 asset-protection missions for U.S. warships and warplanes in 2019-20. Japanese warships participated in the recent Talisman Sabre exercises that included assets from the U.S., Australia, South Korea and Canada. Japanese and British ships joined up for maneuvers off Japan’s coast in September. Japanese and German warships conducted drills in the Indian Ocean. And Japan has joined large-scale naval maneuvers involving the Quad partners—the U.S., Australia, India and Japan—as they deepen cooperation on military basing, intelligence-sharing, supply-chain resilience, technology infrastructure and security, and global health.

Once an informal diplomatic dialogue involving low-level government representatives, the Quad is edging toward a security partnership. Last October, Quad foreign ministers vowed to enhance “cooperation on maritime security, cybersecurity and data flows” and “deepen cooperation to create resilient supply chains, promote transparency, counter disinformation and advance shared efforts to support a post-pandemic recovery.”

In March, the Quad held its first summit involving all four heads of government. Calling for a region that’s “free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic?values and unconstrained by coercion” and committing to “a free, open?rules-based order, rooted in?international law to advance?security and prosperity and counter threats to both?in the Indo-Pacific and beyond,” the Quad communique’s target audience was obvious. At their second summit, which was held last month, Quad leaders pledged to donate more than 1.2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines and announced that the four democracies have already delivered 79 million doses to Indo-Pacific countries. In addition, President Biden and his Quad counterparts reported that they are “advancing the deployment of secure, open, and transparent 5G and beyond-5G networks,” working together “to combat cyber threats, promote resilience, and secure our critical infrastructure,” “building democratic resilience in the Indo-Pacific and beyond,” and strengthening “our commitment to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Diplomatic Vision
Importantly, there would be no Quad without Japan’s leadership. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s former prime minister, is considered father of the Quad concept. Thanks to Abe’s vision and persistence, the U.S., Australia, Japan and India are turning this loose diplomatic grouping into a bulwark against China.

The Quad is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Tokyo’s diplomatic efforts. While Beijing tries to annex the South and East China Seas by building illegal islands and militarizing the region, Tokyo envisions linking the region’s waterways as “seas of freedom and of prosperity.”

While Beijing threatens and intimidates Taiwan—and U.S. policymakers try to build a new consensus that carries America beyond “strategic ambiguity”—Tokyo is sending unmistakable signals about its commitment to the free people of Taiwan.

Not only is Japan pushing for Taiwan’s membership in a new Pacific trade partnership; Japanese leaders are advocating for Taiwan’s long-term security and defense.

“The front line of the clash between authoritarianism and democracy is Asia, and particularly Taiwan,” contends Japan’s incoming prime minister, Fumio Kishida.

“We have to protect Taiwan as a democratic country,” argues Yasuhide Nakayam, Japan’s deputy defense minister.

“If a major problem took place in Taiwan, it would not be too much to say that it could relate to a survival-threatening situation,” adds Japan's deputy prime minister, Taro Aso. That’s diplomatic code for a threat that would trigger either Japan’s use of its armed forces in self-defense or Japan’s mutual-defense alliance with the U.S.

Regarding that last point, Tokyo vowed earlier this year to “closely cooperate” with the Pentagon in the event of a PRC attack on Taiwan.

We can hope Beijing never takes that step. But since history proves that hope is never enough to deter aggressor nations, we should follow the example of our Japanese allies and prepare for the worst.