Japan’s New National Security Posture and Taiwan’s Security: Japan’s Constitution Is Not a Suicide Pact

Japan’s New National Security Posture and Taiwan’s Security: Japan’s Constitution Is Not a Suicide Pact

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Japan’s New National Security Posture and Taiwan’s Security: Japan’s Constitution Is Not a Suicide Pact

Taiwan’s security just got a significant and positive boost. Japan’s new security assessment and direction, clearly intended to enhance the defense of all of its 6,852 islands, serves Taiwan well. Taiwan is now no longer stranded in an anomalous “special” status, separated somehow from the Japanese archipelago, which forms the northern part of the First Island Chain. It’s no longer just a matter for the United States, and Japan’s declaration of the obvious – that Taiwan’s security is critical to Japan’s security—marks a real sea change, literally as well as figuratively.  

The informal league of democratic maritime nations, including relationships like “The Quad” (Japan, India, Australia, United States), and AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, United States), and the five US treaty allies, as well as numerous other friendly regional states, is stirring. The whole-of-government power represented by these various arrangements can be decisive. Japan, already a regional leader, will be assuming a stronger leadership position.  

On December 16, Japan formally published its new National Security Strategy. It was accompanied by a new National Defense Strategy and an ambitious Mid-Term Defense Buildup Program (now called the Defense Buildup Program, or DBP). A defense budget increase, the start of a process to double resources in five years, is explained in detail. It will bring Japan up to the NATO standard, which calls for a commitment of 2 percent of gross domestic product to defense. This will represent a doubling of Japan’s resource commitment to defense.  

The three documents are solidly linked and integrated. This is no accident. The strategy and the implementation plans were developed by an array of security and government specialists, both active and retired, and overseen by the ruling party’s defense council, ensuring support in Japan’s Diet. The strategy document itself is a well-reasoned and measured explanation of how Japan intends to defend its national interests and how it intends to expand security ties across the nations along the First Island Chain, and with the nations of Southeast Asia. It explains Japan’s intent to exercise its right of self-defense, including collective self-defense. It makes clear that all of this is within Japan’s constitutional requirements.  

The National Defense Strategy replaces the periodic alliance defense guidelines. The new defense strategy is “made in Japan” for the defense of Japan, and adds more detail to the military components of the National Security Strategy. The third piece is the Mid-Term Defense Plan, detailing the resources needed, how they will be applied, and when, over the next few years. Most notably, the plans and the increased spending plans will allow Japan to acquire many standoff counter-force weapons, starting with the US-made Tomahawk missile. The missiles will be used in a counter-strike role, not in a preemption role. Less well-known, but perhaps of even more importance over time, is the increase in resources to better house and support the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF). Technology can provide wonderful capabilities, but ultimately the proficiency of the force depends on taking care of the people who choose to serve. Look no further than today’s Ukraine for proof.  

The new defense posture will also include a hardening of bases in Japan, as well as new command and control structures to ensure effective operations across all domains. Joint and combined capabilities will be improved across air, land, and sea, and across the alliance. Ammunition, fuel, and other resource storage capacities will be increased, especially in the Ryukyu Islands.  

Hyperbolic reactions from critics charge that Japan is abandoning pacifism and undertaking the largest military buildup since World War II. China’s embassy in Tokyo charged: “Saying such things within the documents severely distorts the facts, violates the principles and spirit of the four China-Japan political documents, wantonly hypes the ‘China threat’ and provokes regional tension and confrontation.” China subsequently demonstrated its pique by sailing an aircraft carrier and flotilla through the Miyako Strait in Okinawa Prefecture. [1] 

On the contrary, Japan’s new National Security Strategy—the second ever, and the first since 2013—is the product of a very careful reappraisal of the changing nature of Japan’s security challenges since the end of the Cold War, especially in the last ten years. The documents represent a profound shift in response to the rise of major threats and the transformative effects of emerging technologies on combat – for example, massive surveillance capabilities paired with weapons accurate at a great distance. Russia’s attack on Ukraine occurred in the last phase of Japan’s careful reappraisal, serving as a proof statement, should any be needed, of the growing threat.   

It is not hyperbolic to say that the new policies are unprecedented in nature. Japan’s security policies and strategies have been changing incrementally over time. The pace of change began to accelerate under the late Prime Minister Abe, demonstrating that the constitution was never intended to be a suicide pact. The overworked adage of change happening slowly, then suddenly, proved true in this case.  

In this new National Security Strategy, China is cited as the most worrisome threat, over North Korea. Taiwan’s importance to Japan’s own security, cited seven times in the document, is made clear:

Japan’s relationship with Taiwan has been maintained as a non-governmental working relationship based on the Japan-China Joint Communique in 1972. Japan’s basic position regarding Taiwan remains unchanged. Taiwan is an extremely important partner and a precious friend of Japan, with whom Japan shares fundamental values, including democracy, and has close economic and personal ties. Peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait [are] an indispensable element for the security and prosperity of the international community, and Japan will continue to make various efforts based on its position that the cross-strait issues are expected to be resolved peacefully. [2]

But what, exactly, would Japan be expected to do in a Taiwan contingency? A strong defense of Japan, and specifically that of the hundreds of islands of Okinawa Prefecture, is a good place to start. They are often referred to as the Ryukyu Islands, the Southwest Islands, and as the Nansei Shoto. They were called a “keystone” in early Cold War days. Those islands are 63 miles from Taiwan at their closest point of approach, well south of Taipei’s latitude. They also constitute the eastern barrier, or limit, of the East China Sea.  

Recent events in these islands signal Japan’s new posture. Yoma Guni, only 63 miles from Taiwan, is home to a JSDF surveillance station. The deployment of a surface-to-air guided missile unit is now under consideration. An Okinawa defense group, vastly upgrading the Ground Self-Defense Force 15th Brigade now based in Naha, is currently being planned.  

Japan and the United States maintain and enjoy a range of unofficial relationships with Taiwan. These relationships can be valuable channels to ensure mutual understanding of plans and strategies at the operational and tactical levels. A strong cadre of liaison officers, military and civilian, can and must be enhanced.  

A strong defense of Japan—including the Ryuku Islands—and Taiwan is solidly within the ethos of collective self-defense at the core of our alliance. The way is clear, thanks to Japan’s new declarations, to greatly enhance this defense with solid integration of our alliance forces under a single common operating picture. (Defense jargon might call this the integration of fires and maneuver in real time, across all alliance forces.) A valuable strategic effect of this would be the denial of sea and air control to hostile forces—eventually leading to our recovery of sea and air supremacy, a critical objective for ensuring Taiwan’s security.  

The main point: Japan’s new National Security Strategy, released in December, commits the country to double its defense spending over the course of five years. This represents a significant and positive change that will allow Japan to better defend its own territory—and thereby better uphold its defense commitments as an alliance partner of the United States in the event of a major crisis over Taiwan. 

[1] See a fuller discussion of December’s Liaoning aircraft carrier deployment in “Beijing’s Air and Naval Activity in December Dials Up the Coercive Pressure Against Taiwan—and Political Signaling towards the United States,” elsewhere in this issue.

[2] Office of the Japanese Prime Minister, National Security Strategy of Japan (December 16, 2022), p. 14. https://www.cas.go.jp/jp/siryou/221216anzenhoshou/nss-e.pdf.