DAVID ADEBAHR, M.A., cand. phil.
Japan Center,

When North Korea launched a new nuclear rocket test on February 12th 2013 it became evident that Pyongyang’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, seemed to have no intention to undertake new attempts to restart negotiations with South Korea or even try to calm the present tense situation on the Korean Peninsula. Even though aggression from North Korea primarily aims at Seoul – its potential nuclear deterrence is threatening Japan and affecting Tokyo’s security measures as well.

Regardless of its pacifist post-war constitution that forbids any military engagement, such as an oversea-deployment or any other form of security engagement if not mandated by the U.N., Japan has played a leading role in the U.S. global security strategy since the Cold War.  However, since the 1990s and especially between 1997 and 2004, the long-term leading Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) introduced a series of laws that had loosened the interpretation of the pacifist Article 9 in Japan’s Constitution, strengthened the bilateral alliance with the U.S., introduced a modernization of its military forces and introduced a new strategic mandate.

With the introduction of the U.S. – Japan Defense Cooperation agreement in 1997 and its amendments, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) personnel were no longer restricted to using small arms and light weapons, and the deployment of the SDF to secure Japan was no longer limited to a UN mandate. Further, the most significant shift in Japans Defence Guidelines was the transformation of its defence strategy to one of flexible response, which now allowed deployment of Self-Defense Forces into “…every conflict that may occur worldwide.”

Moreover the revised Defence Guidelines state that Japan‘s most vital security concerns are within the area surrounding Japan. However, this term is not meant to be understood in a geographic sense but in a situational one.  This situation will be determined by the governments of Japan and the United States which will define whether a specific event fits the the intended scope of the concept. Within these guidelines Japan acknowledges that the probability of large-scale war between major countries has declined due to increasing interdependence among countries, but identifies now a growing risk where the impact of a security problem in a single country will immediately spread worldwide.  The Japanese planners have not stated exactly which security issues fall within these parameters– but one could easily think of the Taiwan strait and North Korea.  Also the Japanese Defense Policy identifies a number of so-called “gray-zone” disputes —confrontations over territory such as the Senkaku Island Dispute, sovereignty and economic interests that have not yet escalated into wars.

Responding to this new policy,  means a new shift in Japan’s SDF. First, it marks a signal to the U.S., stating that Japan‘s military is able to interact with the high-end technology of US Forces. Second, it signals Japan’s assertiveness to protect its own territory with a well-equipped Navy and Air Force. And third, it is a part of recently re-elected LDP prime minister Abe Shinzos‘ plan to bring Japan’s economy back on track by providing orders for Japan’s arms industry – even though a European or U.S. company would be cheaper. For instance, because the Japanese government does not allow Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to export arms, it has to provide orders for the company itself. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Japan‘s arms industry ranks 6th in national comparisons in 2011. Japan has spent approximately 60 billion USD for its defence, the SDF has around 250 000 personnel with an additional 60 000 strong reserve force. In December 2011 Japan bought 42 F-35 Jets and a 13 500 tonnes transport vessel.

Although Japan is still relying on the bilateral security alliance with the U.S., Tokyo also acknowledges the increasing danger for Japan to become entangled in Washington’s foreign interests – even if they are against Japan’s foreign agenda. For instance, Japan is very unlikely to support Washington’s attempt to isolate Iran internationally or even potential military actions against Teheran. Instead, Japan is interested in natural resources in the region since Japanese companies had acquired oil-promote-rights in 2001 for the Iranian Azadegan oil field.

Due to China’s growing military and the current North Korean nuclear threat, Japan’s has increased it’s security cooperation with other countries than the U.S., such as Canada, New Zealand and the UK. In November 2010, Japan and Canada announced a joint security declaration and both countries are currently undertaking annually consultation among foreign affairs and defense authorities. The 2010 Canada-Joint Declaration on Political Peace and Security Cooperation established a 2+2 Dialogue that will review and advise the work of Political-Military Talks, Military-to-Military Talks and the Canada-Japan Symposium of Peace and Security Cooperation. With the pacific region becoming more vital for both countries, Japan and Canada should consider new security options, apart from being overall protected by Washington’s universal military presence – deepening the Tokyo-Ottawa alliance could mean a first step.

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