How to Safeguard Japan In the Years Ahead: National Security and the Japan-US Alliance

Japan’s Defense Policy and the Future of the Japan-US Alliance


With the world in the midst of profound change, Japan’s security is also changing. Takahashi Sugio of the National Institute for Defense Studies examines new defense policy focusing on the Dynamic Defense Force concept and the future of the Japan-US alliance.

Building a Dynamic Defense Force: The National Defense Program Guidelines

The National Defense Program Guidelines is the capstone document of Japanese defense strategy and posture, presenting the government’s analysis of the security situation and specifying roles, missions, and capabilities of the Japan Self-Defense Forces and their force structure. There have been four versions: 1976, during the Cold War; 1995, following the end of the Cold War, 2004; after the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001; and most recently in December 2010.(*1)

The most important point in the new guidelines is the creation of a “Dynamic Defense Force.” The current NDPG document describes this policy as follows:

Clear demonstration of national will and strong defense capabilities through such timely and tailored military operations as regular intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities (ISR), not just maintaining a certain level of defense force, is a critical element for ensuring credible deterrence and will contribute to stability in the region surrounding Japan . . . To this end, Japan needs to achieve greater performance with its defense forces through raising levels of equipment use and increasing operations tempo, placing importance on dynamic deterrence, which takes into account such an operational use of the defense forces . . . Japan will develop a Dynamic Defense Force that possesses readiness, mobility, flexibility, sustainability, and versatility. These characteristics will be reinforced by advanced technology based on the trends of levels of military technology and intelligence capabilities.

Gray-Zone Deterrence

Key in understanding the Dynamic Defense Force concept is the fact that the NDPG does not posit a dichotomy between peacetime deterrence and contingency response in considering the role of defense force. As the document notes, “There are a growing number of so-called ‘gray-zone’ disputes—confrontations over territory, sovereignty and economic interests that are not to escalate into wars.” In today’s world, activities for the improvement of international security are being conducted at all times; examples include counterterrorism operations, peacebuilding in failed states, and antipiracy patrols. In gray zones, which are neither at peace nor at war, the need for less intense yet prolonged military operation is increasing. A “dynamic” defense force that provides continuous steady-state operations, rather than static deterrence against high-end conventional conflict, is thus required in these areas. The shift to a Dynamic Defense Force in the new NDPG reflects this change.

The new guidelines divide the role of force into three categories: “effective deterrence and response,” “efforts to further stabilize the security environment of the Asia-Pacific region,” and “efforts to improve the global security environment.” I will further explain “effective deterrence and response,” as it includes the new concept of dynamic deterrence.

While a large-scale conventional invasion against Japan seems inconceivable, lively military activities are being conducted in areas surrounding Japan, and there is friction in the East China Sea. The military activities in question clearly do not represent the sort of aggression that is the object of deterrence as traditionally defined. The concept of deterrence thus needs to be overhauled, and dynamic deterrence is an orientation that has been proposed for this purpose.

Deterrence theory was developed to prevent the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union from turning hot—in other words, to prevent a tense peace from escalating into an all-out war. But it was noted that deterrence would fail to work in two cases: (1) the adoption of a “fait accompli” strategy, in which the initiator acts to change the status quo without giving the counterpart time to respond, and (2) the “limited probe,” in which the initiator tries to determine the minimum threshold at which the counterpart will activate its deterrent power.

Dynamic defense aims mainly to deter the sorts of behavior corresponding to the above two cases, in which the dichotomy between peacetime and war is difficult to apply and traditional deterrence fails to operate. Specifically, dynamic deterrence entails the seamless exercise of defensive force both temporally and geographically to prevent the opposing country from taking action. It includes surveillance, intelligence, training, and exercises, as well as international peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

Dynamic deterrence and dynamic defense are the key concepts for the future evolution of the Japan-US alliance.

Toward Bilateral Dynamic Defense

The Japan-US alliance is an important foundation supporting the US commitment to Asia, and ever since the time it was established, through the Cold War years and on into the present, it has played a major role in maintaining the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region. Given the uncertain future of the Korean Peninsula following the death of Kim Jong-il and the power shift caused by the rapid economic growth of China, the alliance is becoming ever more important.

In order to enhance the strategic importance of the Japan-US alliance, it is essential not only for the two countries to deal with the issues that arise between them from time to time, such as the relocation of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa and relations between the US forces in Japan and the local communities where they are based, but also for them to work on the basis of a medium- to long-term perspective toward maintaining regional stability and addressing global security issues, taking into account both the changes in the two countries’ strategies and the fruits of bilateral cooperation. This is the most important point of the moves that have been undertaken to deepen the Japan-US alliance in recent years.

Agreement on Japan-US Defense Cooperation Confirmed in 2+2

One of the results of these moves was the meeting of the Japan-US Security Consultative Committee, the so-called 2+2, on June 21, 2011, the first meeting of the committee in four years. The joint statement issued by the committee set forth common strategic objectives and reconfirmed their commitment to deepening and expanding bilateral security and defense cooperation and to steadily implementing the realignment of the US military presence in Japan in keeping with the “road map” agreed on in 2006.

The shared awareness present in Japan’s current National Defense Program Guildelines and the United States’ latest Quadrennial Defense Review (2010) was an integral part of the background of these common strategic objectives. As noted above, one of the goals of Japan’s NDPG is to create a Dynamic Defense Force not bound by the traditional dichotomy between peace and war. In this same vein, the QDR states, “The future strategic landscape will increasingly feature challenges in the ambiguous gray area that is neither fully war nor fully peace.”(*2) It also spells out agreement on the importance of bilateral dynamic deterrence, committing to ongoing regular deterrence operations.

Toward “Dynamic” Defense Cooperation

It naturally follows that pursuing bilateral cooperation in dynamic defense while building Japan’s own Dynamic Defense Force is a key in deepening the future Japan-US alliance. By focusing on proactive operations of the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the US military in regions that fall in this gray area in furthering bilateral cooperation, synergies with the Dynamic Defense Force can be achieved. In each of the three roles of defensive force laid out in Japan’s NDPG, there is much to be gained through cooperation between the JSDF and the US military as they actively tackle their missions.

For example, we can hope for the promotion of effective deterrence and response from the hardening of bases, increased troop readiness and operational capacity through the joint use of facilities, joint training and exercises, and surveillance, as well as increased interoperability, clear deterrence and response capacity, and dynamic deterrence through constant surveillance. Both the US military and JSDF demonstrated their advanced disaster relief capabilities following the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Sumatra and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Cooperation in regional disaster relief centered on this bilateral strength is also important way of promoting stability in the Asia-Pacific region. In this way, enhanced and “dynamic” Japan-US cooperation in the area of dynamic defense is extremely significant in fulfilling the role of the alliance in the security of the region.

New Challenges: US Defense Budget Cuts and A2/AD

The United States is in the midst of defense budget cuts. Under Budget Control Act of 2011 enacted last summer, a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction was established to come up with a set of budget cuts, but it failed to reach an agreement by its November deadline. As a result, “sequestration” (mandatory, automatic cuts) on the order of $1 trillion in defense spending might be made over the next 10 years. As we consider the future of the Japan-US alliance we cannot ignore the possible effects of such cuts, but it seems unlikely that they will have a major negative impact on the security of the Asia-Pacific region.

Implication of Defense Budget Cuts

First, even if sequestration is implemented, the cuts will be relatively small by comparison with earlier large-scale reductions in US defense spending. According to a report by the Stimson Center, a US think tank, America’s defense outlays were cut 31% after the Korean War, 28% after the Vietnam War, and 31% after the Cold War; the prospective reductions this time are seen as totaling only 8% without sequestration and 17% even with sequestration.

Second, US defense spending has increased from around $350 billon before 9/11 to around $700 billion currently (in nominal terms, unadjusted for inflation). What is crucial to bear in mind is that during this rapid increase in spending, US priorities have centered on the war on terror and not the Asia-Pacific region. But in the defense strategic guidance issued by the Department of Defense this January, entitled “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” strategic priority shifted to the Asia-Pacific. We must wait for a detailed analysis of the fiscal 2012 budget request announced on February 6 and of the defense budget eventually approved by Congress to see how these new guidelines will affect actual spending. However, we can take heart from the fact that the Asia-Pacific has taken center stage at this time of budget cuts, in contrast to its secondary placement during the years when defense spending was growing.

Thirdly, a large amount of equipment was modernized during the 10 years of increased defense spending. The Air Force has nearly completed procurement of the F-22 and C-17. They Navy is already building the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Arleigh Burke class Aegis destroyers. The Marines have completed development of the MV-22 Osprey. Whether F-35 development will proceed is a large factor of instability, but the above equipment will play a large role in the security of the Asia-Pacific region.

A possible area of concern is a review of priorities based on strategic shocks. The defense strategic guidance states, “U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities.”(*3) This implies a return of the “arc of instability” cited in the 2001 QDR. Until the tragedy of 9/11 struck just before the publication of the 2001 QDR, the Bush administration adhered to the line of an Asia-centric strategy similar to that of the Obama administration. The 9/11 attacks exemplify the very type of strategic shock that could lead to a reordering of strategic priorities.

Countering A2/AD: The Importance of Forward Presence

Another important element of the Japan-US alliance is responding to China’s increasing strength in terms of anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. This includes countering China’s efforts to interfere with or prevent the deployment of US forces in the region with its ballistic and cruise missiles and submarines. The overall strategy put forth by the United States in the 2010 QDR is the “joint air-sea battle concept,” and the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued the “Joint Operational Access Concept” as specific guidelines for its implementation in January 2012.

The US military in Japan plays a crucial strategic role in an A2/AD environment. Because US military bases in Japan fall within the scope of China’s A2/AD capabilities, they are critical in the deployment of the US military into the Asia-Pacific theater to counter the A2/AD threat. It is clear from the 2010 QDR that forward-deployed US bases will retain an important role: “Forward-stationed and rotationally deployed U.S. forces continue to be relevant and required . . . We cannot simply ‘surge’ trust and relationships on demand.”(*4) For forward-deployed bases to continue to be effective in an A2/AD environment, naturally, hardening them against A2/AD attack will be key. Japan-US cooperation will become extremely significant in this context.

(*1) ^ The current guidelines are available online in Japanese here. The quotes below are taken from the English translation prepared by Ministry of Defense, titled ”National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2011 and Beyond,” available here.

(*2) ^ US Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report, February 2010, p. 73.

(*3) ^ US Department of Defense, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense”, January 2011, p. 2.

(*4) ^ Quadrennial Defense Review Report, p. 63.

Japan-US Alliance National Defense Program Guidelines Japan-US Security National Institute for Defense Studies Ministry of Defense Takahashi Sugio Dynamic Defense Force Dynamic Deterrence antiterrorism Quadrennial Defense Review Air-Sea Battle Concept