The Landing Zone | 10.21.13
By Alan W. Dowd
Japan has just christened its
largest warship since World War II—a brawny helicopter carrier seemingly
tailor-made for defending an archipelago nation. This follows Japan’s first
increase in year-to-year military spending in 11 years and first troop-strength
increase in 20 years. Nearly 90 percent of Japan’s lower house now supports Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to lift post-World War II restrictions on military
action by Japan’s Self Defense Forces (JSDF). In short, Japan is reawakening to the responsibilities of regional
security. This policy path is right for Japan and good for the United States.
getting into what the reawakening means for Japan and its allies, it’s
important to discuss what roused Japan from its long slumber: China, specifically,
China’s passive approach to North Korea and aggressive approach to the rest of
percentage basis, the growth in military spending by China in the past decade
is unparalleled: from $20 billion per year to around $180 billion per year. Fueled
by that spending binge, China now deploys 79 principal surface combatants, 50
submarines, scores of ship-killing missiles and a growing armada of high-tech
warplanes. Beijing is brandishing these assets to extend its reach, undermine the
territorial claims of its neighbors and take control over oil-rich areas in a
August, for example, four Chinese ships loitered in Japanese-administered
waters for 28 hours. The New York Times notes that such incursions are taking place “almost daily.”
February, Tokyo reported that a Chinese frigate used its weapons-targeting
radar to “paint” a Japanese ship in disputed waters. Plus, China is
seeding waters near Japanese islands with sonar buoys, apparently to monitor
Japanese submarine activity.
aircraft encroached on Japanese airspace 83 times in 2011. Japan was forced to
scramble fighter-interceptors 91 times in the fourth quarter of 2012 alone,
according to The Wall Street Journal.
In July, Chinese planes were at it again near Okinawa, triggering a
response from the JSDF—and opening the door to miscalculation and escalation.
As a Japanese Defense Ministry report warns, “China’s military trend includes high-handed
actions that could trigger unforeseen situations.”
Worryingly, Beijing’s rhetoric is as bellicose as its behavior.
In 2012, Hu Jintao, then-president of China, called on the Chinese navy to
“make extended preparations for military combat.” His successor, Xi Jinping,
declares, “We must insist on using battle-ready standards in undertaking combat
preparations, constantly enhancing officers’ and troops’ thinking about serving
in battle, and leading troops into battle and training troops for battle.”
Korea is doing more than simply talking about war. Since 2010, North Korea has shelled
a South Korean island, torpedoed a South
Korean warship, conducted long-range missile tests, detonated a nuke, threatened nuclear strikes against the U.S. and warned Japan that it is “always in the
crosshairs of our revolutionary army…the spark of war will touch Japan first.”
short, given that Japan’s nearest neighbors are a leftover Cold War time-bomb
that could explode at any moment and a rising behemoth intent on buying, blustering or bullying its way to regional
primacy, no one should blame Japan for strengthening its military and
redefining what its military is permitted to do.
These two very different threats—China’s chess-like encroachment
onto Japanese territory and North Korea’s volatile unpredictability—have
convinced Japan that it’s time to shrug off six
decades of postwar pacifism. Of course, there has been an asterisk attached to
Japan’s pacifism for many years. After all, Japan fields one of the most
sophisticated militaries on earth: mid-air refueling aircraft, F-15
fighter-bombers, ground- and sea-based missile defenses, power-projecting
warships like the new helicopter carrier, and soon next-generation warplanes
like the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber. (Tokyo will
take delivery of 42 F-35s in 2017.)
Put another way, although
Japan had the economic means and technological muscle to play a lead role in
regional security, it lacked the mindset—until now.
is embracing this role with gusto. As he challenges his nation to make
military, budgetary and constitutional adjustments, he has pursued deeper partnerships
with other democracies in the region. Abe
envisions “a strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. state of
Hawaii form a diamond to safeguard the maritime commons,” and he is
eager “to invest, to the greatest possible extent, Japan’s capabilities in this
India have agreed to joint naval exercises and resource-development projects. Japan
and Australia signed a bilateral declaration on security cooperation in 2007
and a defense-acquisition agreement in 2010. Japan and South Korea conducted
unprecedented joint air maneuvers in August under the auspices of the U.S.-led Red Flag Alaska. And Japan is helping rebuild the Philippine military. Tokyo has
pledged Manila 12 new cutters, and the former
foes recently signed a long-term military-cooperation agreement enfolding exchanges of personnel and technology.Most remarkably, Manila is open to
Japanese troops deploying to the Philippines.
But no partnership is more important to Japan than its enduring
partnership with America. Tokyo calls the U.S.-Japan alliance one of the
“pillars of Japan’s national defense.” Similarly, President Obama describes the
alliance with Japan as a “cornerstone” of America’s security.
To extend the architecture metaphors, the
U.S.-Japan security scaffolding is bearing an increasingly heavy load, as the
U.S. military shifts its focus to the Asia-Pacific region and Japan faces up to
a range of new threats.
With China’s military power increasing and with sequestration diminishing America’s military power,
Washington needs Japan to do more in the security arena. And with Japan
shouldering a larger security burden, Tokyo needs American cover (to reassure
Japan’s neighbors) and American guidance (to steer the JSDF into the new
terrain of overseas engagement).
That explains this month’s updates to the U.S.-Japan
military alliance—updates that allow for the basing of U.S. drones and maritime
reconnaissance planes in Japan, outline the creation of a U.S.-style National
Security Council for Japan, and warn that the allies will respond to “coercive
and destabilizing behaviors” by regional bullies.
also explains training operations like Dawn Blitz in July, which brought a
thousand Japanese troops to California to learn the finer points of amphibious
warfare. The Wall Street Journal reports that maritime threats and the
2011 tsunami have convinced Tokyo that it may be time to stand up a special
division within the JSDF modeled after the U.S. Marine Corps. If the lessons of
the Cold War are any guide, such a force would help deter—not trigger—war.
deterrence, Adm. Robert Willard points to a
trio of “burgeoning trilateral relationships” as essential to keeping the
Pacific, well, pacific: the U.S.-Japan-ROK partnership, U.S.-Japan-Australia
partnership and U.S.-Japan-India partnership. It’s no coincidence that the
common ingredient to each—and to a peaceful Pacific—is the bond between the
United States and Japan.
The Landing Zone is Dowd’s monthly column on national defense and international security featured on the American Legion's website.