Japan accelerates defense strengthening amid threats to stability

Japan accelerates defense strengthening amid threats to stability

Felix Kim

Japan is enhancing its defense capabilities in the face of ongoing military provocations by North Korea, the People’s Republic of China and Russia, with supplemental spending and indications of a modified defense posture that could include the capacity to strike enemy bases, according to officials and experts.

Such a modification could serve to deter threats to Japan and regional stability.

Japan’s Ministry of Defense has been holding “defense strengthening acceleration” conferences, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters December 7, 2021. The reassessment, he added, has been necessitated by the “increasingly severe security environment.”

In mid-2021, Chinese vessels made daily unauthorized intrusions into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, The Japan Times newspaper reported. A fleet of five Chinese and Russian warships circled Japan in October 2021 as they traversed the Pacific Ocean to the East China Sea, according to The Associated Press. Aircraft from the two nations also entered Japan’s airspace in tandem in November 2021, forcing Japanese fighter jets to scramble in response.

North Korea, meanwhile, fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on September 15, 2021, just days after testing a new weapon capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to targets across most of Japan, according to The Japan Times.

Japan’s Defense Ministry announced a U.S. $6.8 billion supplement to the record-high U.S. $46.9 billion national defense budget for the 2021 fiscal year in late November 2021, according to the defense publication Janes. The supplement includes funding for new Patriot Advanced Capability Missile Segment Enhancement interceptors, three Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft, pictured, a Kawasaki C-2 transport aircraft, Mitsubishi AAM-4/5B air-to-air missiles, Mitsubishi Type 12 and Type 18 torpedoes and 13 Subaru UH-2 multirole helicopters.

“Deterrence will be achieved by firmly defending,” Kishi said. “I think this is important.”

Beijing and Pyongyang will be forced to consider Tokyo’s defense buildup as they contemplate further saber rattling, Dr. Bruce Bennett, a senior international/defense researcher at the Rand Corp., told FORUM.

“China wants to dominate a good part of the world, not so much by having to conquer them as by simply being able to apply influence,” Bennett said. “And if Japan is sufficiently strong militarily to counter that influence, that’s troublesome for the Chinese.”

Japan’s capacity to respond in kind to a missile strike could deter North Korea, he added. “If North Korea is being smart, the new Japanese capability ought to deter them from doing missile launches in the first place.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.