Go Beyond Deterrence Dominant Japanese Security Strategy Under a New Paradigm ShiftPolicy Recommendations

Kyoji Yanagisawa, Shigeru Handa, Akihiro Sado, Sayo Saruta

March 2021


Let us start by sharing the basic understanding underlying these recommendations.

First, the concept of security.

Security is a comprehensive concept covering all issues related to the survival of a nation. It includes not only defense against military threat, but also securing a stable supply of essentials, such as food, resources, and energy as well as addressing and recovering from natural disasters like earthquakes and eruptions. Now COVID-19 is spreading globally and severely affecting peoples’ lives across the world. This pandemic is also a significant security challenge.

In short, security includes all challenges regarding how a nation survives. It goes without saying that defense is an essential part of security policy, but security is not all about defense. That is why we are concerned that the current discussion about security in Japan puts too much weight on military issues. In this discussion, information, such as catalogue data about the military equipment that countries develop or deploy, is circulated, and military balance and counterforce come up as the only topics in arguments. People discuss security as if they are members of a general staff office or military command.

Fundamentally, before having tactical discussions, the security debate should start from strategic ones based on comprehensive views on what a nation should be like, that objectively evaluate and analyze the situation around Japan and examine trends in international affairs. We are strongly concerned that Japan does not have these discussions today.

Second, let us share our view on international affairs overall before we go into specific cases. We see that the world is facing a new paradigm shift, which is similar to the one that happened after the Great Depression of 1929, and which led to World War II. In the 1930s, to deal with the Great Depression, countries adopted policies that put their own interests first. With the rise of nationalism and the increase of social unrest, authoritarianism (e.g., fascism and militarism) gained power and marched to war. Today, after the Cold War, the disparities among states and within states are becoming larger under the growth of globalization. Religious and ethnic conflicts also deteriorate international stability. In addition, the world is challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The economic damage during the pandemic is extraordinary. Even if vaccines dramatically reduce the threats of COVID-19, it will take a long time for countries to recover substantially from the economic damage and develop their economies. Under these circumstances, the People’s Republic of China (hereinafter referred to as “China”) is attempting to change the established international order in its favor, when its gigantic economic and military power and Chinese influence keeps growing. The world may be in danger of being divided into authoritarianism and liberal democracy. Moreover, in the United States and European countries, which treasure the universal values of liberalism and democracy, dissatisfaction with the present political system is spreading among people and liberalism and democracy are on the verge of crisis.

Taking these circumstances into account, Japan should pursue a path to maintain liberalism and democracy and become a driving force in the international community to develop them. Before World War II, Japan went to war under a military authoritarian regime, brought disaster to other countries, and lost the war. After the war, having learned from this history and having enjoyed the international cooperation and liberalism that was established based on the lessons the world learned from the 1930s, Japan has developed. Few Japanese would oppose the path to maintain and develop liberal democracy. In the paradigm shift, Japan should focus on this direction and make policies towards this goal. This is the discussion we need for our security strategy.

What the Abe and Suga Administrations DestroyedWhere We Have Been

1. Japan-US Military Integration Under the Abe Administration

Japanese security legislation was enacted in 2015 that allows Japan to take collective self-defense to defend the US in war time and to protect US naval vessels in peacetime. Furthermore, Japan is planning to acquire strike capabilities against foreign bases and expects to possess and develop long-range missiles.

After World War II, Japan upgraded its own defense capabilities along with the development of its national power, while it relied on the United States for military security. While Japan allows the United States to use bases in its territory, it had maintained an exclusively defense-oriented policy, limiting the role of the Self-Defense Force to defense only, resisting integration with US military activity in order to avoid being dragged into a war. Today, those limits are relaxed. Japan can now take offensive action, with the United States, against adversaries.

If the United States and China have a war, it would have an immeasurable impact on Japan, which is geographically located on the frontline. As the tension between the United States and China has intensified, the dilemma of the alliance getting involved in a US-China war becomes a real risk. In this security environment, Japan must find a way to assure its security.

2. Lack of Accountability in the Abe and Suga Administrations Lowered Public Trust in Domestic Politics

Public trust is the basis of politics. The Abe administration lacks accountability and transparency and thus lost public trust in domestic politics. The pandemic also exposed untrustworthiness. Accountability and freedom of information are the foundation of democracy. However, that foundation is destabilized in Japan.

It is a time fulfilled with many risks, such as frequent large-scale disasters caused by climate change, the spread of unknown infections, and inadvertent conflict among superpowers. Logical consideration based on scientific evidence is required for the public to understand the risks and for the government to take proper measures. The public can handle its anxiety and uncertainty with these measures. Politics without accountability makes crisis management difficult. Following the Abe administration, the Suga administration neglected to share scientific risks with the public and persisted with the “Go To” policy encouraging travel to stimulate the economy. As a result, the number of infections surged and worsened public mistrust in politics.

We don’t desire totalitarianism to overcome the crisis of the pandemic by forcefully segregating and controlling people. We seek to find a way for politics to revitalize democracy in this time of risk and anxiety. The same can be said for diplomacy and security policies.We seek to understand the risks Japan is facing and to set an appropriate goal, which is moderate and accountable, instead of relying so much on military force to escape from anxiety.

THE SECURITY ENVIRONMENT AROUND JAPANWhat Does the Environment Surrounding Japan Look Like?

1. US-China Confrontation and the Security Dilemma

The tension between the United States and China heightened in the late stages of the Trump administration. The United States demonstrated its presence against China with the deployment of naval vessels and the flight of bomber strikers in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, as well as military exercises massed with aircraft carrier task forces. China also intensified the tension through frequent activities by its navy and air forces around Taiwan as well as missile exercises aiming attacks towards US naval vessels and bases.

The United States abandoned the traditional engagement policy towards China and sought a new form of cooperation with its allies and friendly states to contain China. It also claimed to support Taiwan joining the United Nations, sold advanced arms and sent high level US officials to Taiwan. The behaviors demonstrated that the United States rejects the “one China policy,” which had been shared among the United States, China and Taiwan as the basic stance on China-Taiwan relations.

Furthermore, the United States not only imposed additional tariffs on China to reduce the trade imbalance between two states, but also raised the tariffs on goods such as steel and aluminum for security reasons. It seeks to shut out Chinese industries from the high-tech field and, further, to promote de-coupling with China to reduce economic interdependence. China responded by imposing sanctions on trade partner states who criticize China and enacting domestic laws to allow the Chinese government to restrict the export of strategic goods.

The US-China relationship is deteriorating and becoming an all-out competition and confrontation, politically and economically as well as militarily. It comes from mutual distrust. The US concern is that China is challenging the international order led by the United States. On the other hand, China doubts the order established by the West, is overconfident in its power, and is afraid of US intervention that destabilizes domestic politics.

It is expected that the United States will change from “America first” unilateralism to cooperative diplomacy under the Biden administration. However, regarding China policy, Biden is foreseen to continue with an aggressive policy and press China more strongly to solve human rights issues. As long as the two countries do not trust each other, their deteriorating relationship is less likely to improve. Under circumstances of mutual mistrust and confrontation, the one’s behavior provokes the other’s retaliatory behavior. That would be sanctions in economy, accusations in politics. In terms of the military, the concern is the security dilemma makes one’s defensive actions provoke the other’s retaliatory actions, heightening tensions. The competition and confrontation between superpowers are significant factors destabilizing not only the region around them but also the whole world.

Unlike the Trump administration, the Biden administration is expected to advance international rule during the confrontation with China. As COVID-19 is the top priority to be addressed, and the US government needs an extraordinary amount of government spending, the United States cannot afford to increase military expenditures to confront China. Therefore, the United States is rushing to recover its relationships with its allies, which weakened during the Trump administration.

Simultaneously, the United States will attempt to establish a crisis management system, using its experience during the Cold War. It is not a realistic and ultimate option for, or even the will of, the United States and China, as nuclear weapon states, to escalate military confrontation to the point of using nuclear weapons. As US allies are worried about getting involved in a US-China military conflict, the United States neither demands that allies intensify the confrontation with China or that the United States get involved in a military confrontation with China. The strategy in the Cold War was not to defeat, but “not to lose” to the adversary, as Brzezinski said.

Many high-level officials in the Biden administration have professional experience in diplomacy and security fields under other administrations. Unlike the Trump administration, which incited crisis, the expectation is the Biden administration will establish rules of crisis management and play the game of aiming to stop the spread of Chinese influence according to these rules.

US China policy will be developed with advanced strategic intention. China will take an aggressive expansionist policy, also with its long-term strategy.

When the United States and China are strengthening containment of each other, it is not a good choice for Japan to focus only on military technical discussions. Japan needs to deliberately examine the policy for its interests with a long-term perspective, as well as to discuss how it can contribute to preventing a US-China military clash. Japan should be a bridge-builder for them, eliciting a positive reaction from both the United States and China.

2. The US-China Military Balance and Japan as a Frontline of Conflict

Preparing for armed conflict in Taiwan and the South China Sea, China is strengthening the capabilities of its medium-range missiles, short-range missiles and submarines. It is developing jamming capabilities against the US command, control, and communication infrastructures in the space and cyber spheres. This is for the improvement of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. Today, there is less area secured from Chinese missiles, and the US force is losing freedom of activity in the Western Pacific and East Asia.

The United States is reforming the posture of the Indo-Pacific Command to recover military superiority in these areas. Because huge military ground bases and large naval vessels including aircraft carriers are vulnerable to missiles attacks from China, the United States downsizing and distributing its military forces as well as increasing the number of platforms for precision strike missiles to distribute attack targets for the adversary and win missiles wars on the sea. At the same time, with the allies, the United States is creating a regional integrated missile defense network to defend Guam, which is a hub base for the US force in the Western Pacific.

In this network, Japan, most likely the Southwest islands, will be a significant battlefront. The missile defense and long-range missile capabilities of the Japan Self-Defense Force are components of the US joint operation. Thus, the increasing risk Okinawa and the military bases on the mainland of Japan will become targets to be attacked in the case of a US-China war should be kept in mind.

The US force understands deterrence as a capability to win a war. On the other hand, Japan has the unique understanding that deterrence prevents a war. While the new US military strategy intends to strengthen deterrence, that is not a viable policy for Japan, located at frontline, unless the Japanese public acknowledges that Japan becomes a battlefield when this deterrence fails.

3. Change in the Situation of US Military Bases in Okinawa

It is likely that the intense US-China confrontation and the new US military strategy against China would change the role of the US forces based in Okinawa, which is a battlefront base in the case of conflict.

First, the main role of the US Marine Corps would change. They will be distributed to remote islands and construct temporary missile launch complexes and air bases. In this plan, it is not clear where new units will be deployed, with what kind of equipment, and how they will use it. It has also not been announced whether the option to relocate 9000 combat force personnel from Okinawa outside Japan, as the review of 2012 US-Japan agreement on the realignment of US forces in Japan planned, is still available.

Second, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31 MEU) is currently stationed at the Futenma base in Okinawa. The new US strategy on China does not describe the role of the 31 MEU and the reason why it needs to station in Okinawa.

The new base in Henoko, under construction now, is planned to have installations for the unit’s helicopters including 31 MEU’s Ospreys. A change in the unit’s operation may not require the use of the new Henoko base or even the stationing of the unit in Okinawa.

Third, the situation of the Henoko base construction changed. Recently, soft ground was found under the planned site of Henoko base. The Ministry of Defense extended the construction period from 8 years to 12 years and adjusted the cost upward 930 billion yen (approx. 9 billion USD), an increase of 270%. Experts cast doubt on the feasibility of construction in the area. In addition, the role of the unit, as a user of the Henoko base, may change, the project could lose its rationale and waste the enormous cost of one trillion yen by the time the construction is completed.

In other words, although the Japanese government explained that the Henoko base is the only option for both the removal of the danger from the Futenma base and the preservation of deterrence, this logic about the significance of the Henoko base no longer makes sense. Okinawa will mark the 50th anniversary of its reversion to Japan in 2022. From the view of Japanese democracy, it is a serious problem that the national government remains unaccountable to the people in Okinawa. The government and the Diet should provide sufficient explanation and information about the Henoko base to convince the people of Okinawa through discussions.

The US bases in Okinawa are a political issue about how to distribute the burdens of the US-Japan security arrangement. It should be discussed separately from military posture. The issue is asking Japan whether to face or ignore the voice of the people of Okinawa, who oppose the construction of the new Henoko base. It is also important to note that even if all the US Marine Corp bases in Okinawa were returned to Japan, the burden on Okinawa’s shoulder would still be heavy because of the areas of the Kadena air force base and the Kadena ammunition storage facility, which together are larger than the total area of the six main US bases on the mainland of Japan: Misawa, Yokota, Atsugi, Yokosuka, Iwakuni, and Sasebo.

Despite considerable Japanese public support for hosting US forces in Japan, people share the view that these forces should respect and follow the rules in their society. When a fire extinguisher spill accident happened at the Futenma base in 2020, Japanese authorities got permission to enter the base, but the United States refused to submit soil samples to Japan so it could not check for damage to the environment. US military personnel were infected with COVID-19 when they entered Japan and several coronavirus clusters among them were reported. Under the current implementation of the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Japan’s sovereignty is too limited to handle many incidents and accidents caused by US forces in Japan. Yet, the security environment is deteriorating, and the frequency of the military exercises and rotations in deployment will presumably be increased not only in Okinawa, but in the Japan main islands.

Amending the Japan-US SOFA can no longer be avoided and it needs to be drastically improved.

4. China’s Attempt to Change the Existing Situation in the Senkakus and the South China Sea

China continues to attempt to change the existing situation by force. China keeps building military structures on the artificial islands it made in the South China Sea. China excludes Philippine and Vietnamese official ships from the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of these countries while it explores for petroleum and catches marine products in these zones. The Senkakus, a territory of Japan, is also a target of these attempts. China deploys many official ships to the contiguous zone of the Senkakus and they intrude into Japanese territorial waters for many hours, many times. It is a major security concern in Japan.

China does not use its navy but its coast guard and fishing flotillas, in a manner called “salami slicing,” to achieve a fait accompli. It creates a gray zone, which is not yet regarded as a use of force. The United States has not been able to efficiently prevent these Chinese attempts, even when US military force was superior to China’s. Recently, the US Navy’s Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea are becoming a normal duty, but China still does not stop its activity to control the area.

At the end of 2020, after his election to the presidency, during a call with Prime Minister Suga, President-elect Biden affirmed that Article 5 of the Japan-US Security Treaty would apply to the Senkaku Islands. However, the political declaration did not impede the activity of the Chinese Coast Guard.

While China does not want to fight a war with the United States, the United States has not shown where the redline is. Whether the US has the will to intervene militarily to stop Chinese attempts to change existing conditions is ambiguous. Some people think ambiguity helps deterrence to work, but, in fact, it does not. China achieves its goals in the gray zone.

China is developing its Coast Guard and making its ships bigger. Its marine power qualitatively and quantitively surpassed the law enforcement and military ships of other countries claiming effective control over the territory. Unlike the territorial confrontation in the South China Sea, China does not exclude and attack Japanese Coast Guard ships around the Senkaku Islands, though the frequency of intrusion by Chinese official ships into Japanese territorial waters has drastically increased in recent years. It seems that China understands the risk of escalation to a Japan-China hot conflict, which would be triggered by a Chinese use of force and a Japanese counterattack against it.

On the other hand, the Japan Coast Guard’s response capacity is reaching its limit. Nonetheless, the Japan Self-Defense Force cannot deal with the problem, and, rather, could make the situation worse. The Self-Defense Force cannot take enforcement actions against foreign official ships even under the duty to police the seas. It can be foreseen that China would deploy naval vessels in response to the Self-Defense Force’s dispatch. Even if the Self-Defense Force successfully recovered control of the island after an occupation by China, there will be the future problems of how to deal with the second and third occupations. Therefore, Japan has limitations when addressing a superpower with its forces. It can be the same in the case of involving the United States. If the US force join, the battlefield would expand beyond the Senkakus to Okinawa and Kyushu and the conflict could escalate to a hot war.

China, with its growing power, will likely continue to expand its activity around the Senkakus. To address this challenge, Japan has no choice but to endure, keep resisting the pressure and patiently seek the way to a political settlement. To this end, it is an urgent matter to develop the capacity of the Japan Coast Guard. As a police force, it can prevent military conflict while it works in the area. However, as China’s New Coast Guard Law lowers the threshold for use of force, while the capability of the Chinese Coast Guard is strengthened, the Japanese Coast Guard’s response capacity presumably will soon reach its limit. Therefore, it is very important to develop the capacity to maintain the status quo in the security environment.

5. The Current DPRK and the Abduction Issue

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) suffers from triple pressures – economic sanctions against the development of nuclear weapons and missiles, reduction of trade with China because of the COVID pandemic, and damage from a typhoon. The planned lifting of sanctions, which was discussed in the meeting between President Trump and DPRK’s leader Kim Jong Un, was not implemented. Experiencing economic difficulty, the DPRK has shifted its policy goal from putting its military first to economic recovery.

The DPRK tested several kinds of missiles and declared “the accomplishment of nuclear power.” This nuclear weapon capability should not be downplayed but it is not sufficiently demonstrated. The DPRK also is not ready for a war with the United States. It does not have the strong national power needed to survive a war. Therefore, the DPRK is not an imminent threat. The DPRK’s emphasis on deterrence against the United States is seen as a domestic message to shift the priority to the economy, and the DPRK uses it as a diplomatic card to play against the United States. It also can be said that the DPRK exaggerates its capability. The United States mentions the DPRK little in its review of strategy.

On the other hand, it is a serious problem for the DPRK to catch so little attention, while the US-China confrontation is intensifying over human rights issues, Taiwan and Hong Kong. It is presumed that the DPRK would take provocative action to solve this problem, but a war with the United States would not benefit the DPRK because its ultimate goal is the survival of the Kim regime.

The Abe administration made the abduction issue its top diplomatic priority but achieved nothing. After the Suga administration began, the DPRK stated that the abduction issue has been thoroughly solved. It is also a problem that Japan has few counterparts in the DPRK who can be used for communication. Although the United States was a virtual contact for negotiation, the new administration’s DPRK strategy is not announced yet. It is clear for Japan that asking the United States, China, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) for help is not enough to resolve the issue.

Nuclear weapons are the ultimate protector of the survival of Kim regime. The DPRK would need a guarantee for the regime’s survival to give up nuclear weapons. However, there is not much time left for the families of abductees to wait for a solution, as they are aging. Japan needs to abandon the rigid idea of “no negotiation without denuclearization” and pursue a new approach that incentivizes the DPRK to denuclearize in the process of normalizing diplomatic relations and resolving the abduction issue.

6. Deteriorating Japan-ROK Relations

Japan and the ROK are conflicted on compensation for victims of forced labor and comfort women during the war. In 2019, Japan took countermeasures against the ROK; to have a strict trade review system for semiconductor materials, and to remove ROK from a list of “white countries” with easier processes for trade management. The countermeasures were not a part of UN sanctions, but unilateral Japanese economic penalties in a bilateral conflict with the ROK. In response to them, the ROK tried not to extend the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which is a framework of sharing defense information with Japan. The ROK also accelerated the development of its own technology for semiconductor materials. The political conflict has expanded to economic and security areas, and both countries are not able to find a way to resolve the political conflict.

Without finding common ground between the two countries, Japan has a new administration coming after the Abe administration. The domestic support to the Moon administration is getting weak. It is becoming more difficult for the two administrations, with less support from the public, to make a political compromise. Under this circumstance, the judicial procedure of compulsory execution to Japanese industries in the ROK is in process. As the time left for the two countries is getting small, an immediate settlement is needed.

The history recognition problem underlies the Japan-ROK conflict. It is very complicated and not easy to find the clue to solving it. However, the Japan-ROK relationship is becoming more vital for both countries when they face China’s expansion of an active foreign policy. The two countries face each other through the Tsushima Channel and have a long history of exchange as well as the challenge of the same security concern.

The discussion on security for both countries has focused on the threat from the DPRK and they have been seen as a quasi-alliance with the United States at the center. Today, when the US-China conflict is intensifying, Japan and the ROK, confronting with China over the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, are facing a shared challenge, which is China’s controversial activities over marine interests. Recently, Chinese and Russian military aircraft flew into Japan’s and the ROK’s air defense identification zones (ADIZ). The deployment of US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles into the ROK provoked China’s aggressive response to it.

On the other hand, Japan and the ROK have a dialogue framework with China for the negotiation of a free trade agreement. In parallel with the other framework in the East Asia centering the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) – which is further discussed in a later section –, it should be possible to develop these frameworks to make a dialogue for creating order in Northeast Asia.

It must be widely shared and acknowledged that Japan and the ROK cooperatively deal with China together for a common goal, instead of individually addressing and struggling with it.

7. The Japan-Russia Relationship and the Northern Territories

The Japanese government has worked to solve the northern territorial issue with Russia and to reach an agreement on a peace treaty, but that work is stalled. Russia amended the Constitution to prohibit cession of territory and told the Suga administration that the negotiation of the northern territorial issue should be on the basis of the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration agreeing on the return of the two islands to Japan after the peace treaty is signed. The Russian claim means the negotiation would only aim to confirm the border of the two islands, not four islands. The claim asks Japan to either give up seeking the return of all four islands to Japan or to close the opportunity for negotiation.

Russia’s relative loss of power has led it to prioritize pursuing its own interests, and it now tends to legitimize its policy by creating a narrative that the islands are important for security against the United States. Although the northern territories is an issue of restoring a fair post-war order, it cannot be discussed outside the context of the balance of power with the other superpowers.

Russia claims it will not hesitate to retaliate with nuclear weapons against missile attacks and is developing intermediate-range hypersonic missiles, which are difficult to intercept. It announced it would not deploy these missiles in Europe: the announcement demonstrates Russian understanding that the development of these missiles violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Yet, if the missiles are deployed in the Far East and the United States deploys intermediate-range missiles within the first island chain, Japan would become a battlefield in an arms race with intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

It is not realistic to try to develop territorial negotiations, which have been stalemated since 1956, during a new Cold War with an intermediate-range missile arms race.

With China as a big actor, it is not feasible to encourage and press the United States and Russia to eliminate all intermediate-range missiles by pressing ahead with the active deployment of US intermediate-range missiles in the Far East. A new arms control arrangement is urgently needed in order to prevent Japan from becoming a battlefield in this missile arms race. The northern territorial issue should have a new prospect of resolution on the ground of a stable relationship between the United States and Russia.

8. The Current Status of “Indo-Pacific” and a Path to Cooperative Security

Countries have different views and thoughts on the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” proposed by Prime Minister Abe. Japan sees it as a countermeasure to the China’s Belt and Road Initiative and has promoted it since “Operation Malabar” in 2017; the first joint military exercise among India, Japan, and the US. Though Japan and the United States agree to cooperate more for the success of the FOIP, the United States has had a hard posture against China in its FOIP policy.

France adopted a new diplomatic strategy in the Indo-Pacific in 2018. ASEAN did it in 2019. Germany and the Netherlands did it in 2020. Some countries from ASEAN are reluctant to participate in the policy, which seems to be for the containment of China, to avoid provoking China.

Several countries share a stance where they choose neither to be hostile nor to exclude China, and where the United States and China are not alternatives to one or the other. That shows the reality that China is too powerful to ignore, and these countries demand an option which does not require choosing China or the United States. Japan also changed its terminology from the FOIP “strategy” to the FOIP “concept” after improving Japan-China relations. It explains that the concept is not confronting the Belt and Road Initiative and, furthermore, suggests the possibility of China’s participation.

Through this change, the FOIP is incrementally developing the alternative role of cooperative security, in addition to collective security against “an adversary.” Its themes are also broadening from the rule of law and the marine order to free trade, environmental issues, and human rights, which require global cooperation.

There may be a possibility that FOIP could be a new cooperative framework in an international environment with US-China confrontation, which aims to reach an agreement about shared interests without excluding China.

On the other hand, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), which aims to strengthen ties among Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, has focused on military cooperation in recent years. India accepted the participation of Australia in “Operation Malabar” in 2020 when it clashed with China at their border. The United States fosters military information sharing along with the export of arms to India. Japan is hastening to sign the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with India, and the Status of Forces Agreement with Australia for the future acceptance of Australian troops. Understanding the significance of cooperation with other states, it is necessary to monitor the implementation of the QUAD so as not to overweigh military force for countering China.

China condemns these activities as a revival of the military alliances of the Cold War and counters these activities. For instance, China imposes economic sanctions on Australia. Contrarily, coercive responses increase the wariness over China in Europe and ASEAN and encourages them to unite.

We hope that a comprehensive FOIP would trigger the pursuit of cooperative security, paving a path to broader cooperation, and become an effective measure to constrain China’s coercive activities.

9. A Disordered Middle East

The Trump administration upset the framework for the stability of the Middle East. The conflict in Syria caused a humanitarian crisis. The United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. The US assassination of an Iranian general, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, in the beginning of 2020 strengthened Iran’s anti-US posture and intensified the tension in the region. The proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen created a severe humanitarian crisis. Trump’s Israel-Palestine peace plan accepted Israeli settlement of the West Bank, taking all space away to negotiate and compromise on the Palestinian issue, a core issue of the Middle East.

No one has the will and capability to address this issue, and the situation in the Middle East is disordered. However, the region remains a supply source for energy to Japan and an ignition point for war affecting the whole of international society.

Japan dispatches the Self-Defense Force to the region. The Self-Defense Force serves to counter piracy in the waters off Somalia, using its base in Djibouti, Africa, and to collect information under the name of “surveying and researching” in the Arabian Sea. As the number of pirate attacks decreases, the mission of the Self-Defense Force is shifting more to containment against China, which established its first oversea base in Djibouti. The collection of information supports US activity against Iran. The name of these missions does not accord with their actual work. Therefore, it is the government’s responsibility to determine what kind of role the Self-Defense Force plays and how it avoids risks during its mission. From the perspective of how Japan can help the Middle East, it also should be evaluated from time to time whether Japan contributes to stability in the Middle East and whether the dispatch of the Self-Defense Force is vital for the region.


In the previous sections, we looked through whole situation in Japan and the world. This report does not have an independent section about Japan-US relations and Japan-China relations because the relationships between the two superpowers are intertwined with multiple fields so that the one perspective is not enough to cover all. Nonetheless, the examination we discussed in the other sections shows the basic view on the relationships.

The US-China relationship is like a jigsaw puzzle and one piece has influence over the whole picture of the puzzle. When you see the picture from one perspective, it is difficult to avoid any bias, whether pro-US, anti-US, pro-China, or anti-China.

In this section, we will present policy recommendations for the Japanese policy discussion. First, we will argue the traditional rigid mindset focusing on deterrence is not being reviewed or questioned during this age of a huge paradigm shift. Subsequently, we will discuss concrete defense policy to apply this mindset to practice.

Deterrence is to prevent an adversary from taking a hostile measure by demonstrating the will and capability of retaliation against attacks from an adversary. This logic works when an adversary believes our will and the capability for retaliation is enough– in other words, the will and the capability that we do not hesitate to retaliate – and, as a result, stop or bear an attack on us.

Since deterrence is to stop an adversary from doing hostile acts, there must be a common ground about what kinds of activity are redlined. The redline must also be acceptable to the adversary. These are conditions for making deterrence stable and feasible. In other words, deterrence stability is on the premise of providing an adversary with the reassurance that if an adversary can hold itself not to cross the redline which is acceptable, war is not a good option for an adversary. In the case of the US-China relations, both states seem to lack this understanding of deterrence.

Thus, China and the United States have a security dilemma and thrust an alliance dilemma upon Japan, which relies on the US-Japan alliance to enhance its own defense capabilities. What Japan needs to do now is to reduce risks and make a feasible goal under this double dilemma.

If a situation follows the logic of deterrence, it is necessary to share mutually acceptable limits and have common rules to maintain stable relations between the United States and China. However, it will take decades to do so.

In the meantime, the biggest risk for Japan is that the confrontation between the United States and China gets out of control and they go to a hot war. Therefore, Japan should set a goal of preventing a US-China war. To this end, it should be realized that the current enhancing of deterrence in the US-Japan alliance contrarily risks inducing the outbreak of a war in this era of security dilemmas.

Deterrence cannot be stable without an adversary’s reassurance. A discussion only about deterrence misses an important part of national security policy. The efforts for dialogue are as essential as a wheel of a car, because they complement and maintain deterrence.

There may be a limit to Japan’s ability to influence the superpowers. However, as a potential battlefield of a US-China war, Japan should pursue dialogue in cooperation with other countries in East Asia who could be affected by the war.

The intent is not to deny US deterrence. Rather, the aim is to let deterrence work properly as a factor for the stability in the region and not to excessively coerce or provoke China and intensify the risk of war. To that end, Japan should discuss specific limits for the operation of the Self-Defense Force, the US military’s arrangements and operations based in Japan, neither rejecting uniformly nor agreeing uniformly with the on-going deterrence strengthening policy.

Particularly, Japan is one of countries most affected by the US-China confrontation. Thus, using its influence as a middle power nation, and cooperating with other countries in East Asia, Japan should lead and contribute to peacebuilding and security in the region.

In addition, European states such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany are paying more attention to security in the Indo-Pacific and deploying their militaries to the region. The background factor is that the Indo-Pacific is becoming the center of international economic development. Great attention to the movement of European countries is needed to prevent this from escalating confrontation with China and accelerating the trend dividing the international community into the two blocks. Rather, Japan should try to be a leader to create a cooperative security system, building a bridge between Europe and Asia in addition to between the United States and Asia.

Japan, the only country suffering from the catastrophic consequences of atomic bombings during a time of war, occupies a unique position in international politics. Japan has Article 9 of its Constitution, which renounces war. It experienced a brutal battle in Okinawa where hundreds of thousands of civilians were involved. It successfully developed its economy in the cooperation with the rest of East Asia. Messages from a country having this unique history are still meaningful to the world. It would be a Japanese way of contributing internationally to disseminate the values of not only “the rule of law, freedom, human rights and democracy” but also of “no war and no nukes.”


  • The world is in an era of structural change, and mutual distrust raises the risks of making the security dilemma tangible. It worsens the divisions among ethnicities, races, religions, and social classes and exacerbates domestic and international instability and confrontation. Public anxiety is increasing during natural disasters and the pandemic of an infectious disease.
  • In this time of change and anxiety, protecting a nation and its society, so people can have a safe life, are intrinsic purposes of security. Security cannot be achieved only with military measures, and accountability to people based on scientific evidence is strongly demanded. Security needs a broad perspective and accountability.
  • Japan has developed while it pursued “stable deterrence during the Cold War” and “multilateral cooperation” after WWII. Today, Japan, as a bridge builder, needs to lead the world from confrontation to cooperation.
  • In the military aspect, it is urgent to prevent the US-China confrontation from leading to war. Having deterrence strengthened, it is important to provide reassurance to stabilize the deterrence and to manage confrontation through confidence-building and multilateral cooperation, like two wheels of a car.
  • On these points, we are concerned that the current political discussions focus on only tactical deterrence.

Issues We Face

  • Issues for the frontline country of the US-China confrontation
    Although the defense effort is important in the US-China confrontation, consideration of the enormous damage to Japan in the event of war between them is also vital. When Japan collaborates with the US strategy, Japan should be ready to prevent itself from getting involved in the war. Japan should pursue the role of a bridge builder between the United States and China as well as in the region. Based on this stance, Japan should
    • Oppose the US policy of making Japan a battlefield in the arms race, such as the deployment of US intermediate-range missiles.
    • Consider that the longer-range missiles of the Self-Defense Force and presence of its naval vessels could increase the regional tensions. Set a brake for the operation of the Self-Defense Force, such as the prohibition of attacks on adversary bases.
    • Cancel the construction of new Henoko base, with its enormous costs, because the overwhelming burden of US bases to Okinawa is the biggest risk for the US-Japan alliance. In addition, Japan should distribute the US bases outside of Okinawa and amend the SOFA with the United States.
    • Enhance the capacity of the Japan Coast Guard to respond to movements around the Senkaku islands and build a political system for crisis management between Japan and China, since it is difficult to protect the Senkaku islands only with force.
    • Not accept the increase of the cost of host-nation support for US forces stationed in Japan without rational grounds when Japanese finance is tight due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Advance cooperation with countries in the Indo-Pacific. Japan should pursue not the containment of China and military cooperation, but a comprehensive agenda for further cooperation in the region with diverse actors.
  • Other Diplomatic Issues
    • Do not stick to the conventional steps for DPRK issues, which pursue denuclearization first and the resolution of the abductions next. Make the abduction issue a priority in parallel to the process of denuclearization.
    • Pursue a new negotiation framework for the northern territorial issue in the process of assuring strategic stability between the United States and Russia, because currently the feasibility of the reversion of even two of the islands is less likely.
    • Seek a new direction for cooperation with the ROK to counter China together, understanding the difficulty of overcoming the gap in recognition on history, and sharing the values of freedom and democracy.
    • Make a new policy package about Japan’s responsibility to the Middle East, understanding the limits of the Self-Defense Force’s capacity to address the stability of the region, including Palestine and the humanitarian crisis.
    • Lead to establish and activate a multilateral framework, taking advantage of being the only country suffering from the consequences of atomic bombings in the war, and of being a pacifist country with Article 9 in the Constitution, which renounces war. Participate actively in the meetings of state parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and have the leadership to build confidence in our region towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.


Kyoji Yanagisawa
New Diplomacy Initiative (ND) Board Member / Former Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary

After graduating from the University of Tokyo, Kyoji Yanagisawa took up a position as the Deputy Vice-Minister at the Defense Agency (the predecessor of the Ministry of Defense) and served as director at the National Institute for Defense Studies. He served as the Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary for the Koizumi, Abe, Fukuda, and Aso administrations from 2004 to 2009. During this time, he oversaw national security and risk management. Today he is the director at the International Geopolistic Institute Japan.

Shigeru Handa
Defense Journalist / Adjunct Professor at Dokkyo University and Hosei University

After working at the Shimotsuke Shimbun, Shigeru Handa joined the Chunichi Shimbun in 1991 and served as an editor and senior staff writer at the Tokyo Shimbun. In 2007, he was awarded the 13th Peace and Cooperative Journalist Fund of Japan award for his column, “Shin Sakimori kou (New Thought on Defense)”, which was published in the Tokyo Shimbun and the Chunichi Shimbun.

Akihiro Sado
Professor at Chukyo University School of Global Studies

Akihiro Sado graduated from the Graduate School of Social Sciences, Tokyo Metropolitan University and earned Ph.D. in Political Science at Gakushuin University. After working for Toshi Shuppan’s journal “Gaiko Forum (Diplomacy Forum)” and serving as a senior corporate director and publisher of Toshi Shuppan, he became an assistant professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in 1998. In 2004 he became an assistant professor at Chukyo University and has been a full professor since 2005. From 2011 to 2012, he was a visiting researcher at the MIT Center for International Studies.

Sayo Saruta
New Diplomacy Initiative (ND) President / Attorney at Law (Japan/the State of New York)

ayo Saruta researches Japan-US diplomacy, particularly its system and decision-making process.
She also works on diplomatic issues including the US military bases in Okinawa and the disposition of nuclear waste. This includes making policy proposals to the legislative and administrative branches of the governments of Japan and the United States, as well as organizing visits to Washington DC for Japanese lawmakers and local government officials. She is a lecturer at Rikkyo University and special researcher at Okinawa International University. In the past, she has worked with Amnesty International Japan and Human Rights Watch.