Panel Recommends Japan Abandon Cold War Defense Policies
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — A government advisory panel in Tokyo will recommend major changes in Japan’s self-defense policy, joint Japan-U.S. weapons development and the redeployment of forces in response to increased Chinese military activity and North Korean nuclear weapons and missile development, analysts said.
The panel, led by Keihan Electric Railway Chief Executive Shigetaka Sato, will send a final report to Prime Minister Naoto Kan in early August, but a draft was leaked to the Japanese media last week.
Recommendations will include abolishing now-unsuitable Cold War-era guidelines, said Sumihiko Kawamura, deputy director of the Okazaki Institute in Tokyo.
Kawamura said it is “significant that the draft contains one of the most important defense policy issues: the call on the government to discuss whether Japan should be able to exercise the right of collective self-defense,” which suggests the legal interpretation of constitutional laws and policy must be more flexible to deal with new threats.
The recommendations are largely that — “recommendations” designed to “generate ideas to feed” the Ministry of Defense’s National Defense Program Guidelines that are due at the end of the year, said Christopher Hughes, author of the book, “Japan’s Remilitarisation.”
Some of the recommendations bolster new policies already being implemented, such as the redeployment of forces to the southern island chains between Kyushu and the east of Taiwan, in response to Chinese naval activities in the area. The report will “accelerate these moves,” Hughes said.
Relations this year with Beijing have not been helped by Chinese claims that the South China Sea is a “core interest” and refusal to condemn North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean naval vessel.
“Recent territorial encroachments by Chinese ships and extreme measures that China employs to obtain resources are a vital problem with regard to Japan’s own national interests,” Kawamura said.
The recommendations stress that the military should be capable of dealing with multiple contingencies rather than a singular event, such as a North Korean missile strike on Tokyo.
“North Korea has shown no signs of abating its nuclear program or stabilizing its foreign politics,” said Peter Woolley, author of the book, “Japan’s Navy.” “The only question here is how long can Japan afford to wait before getting its missile defenses in order — including a reliable chain of command.”
The panel also suggests the military should work “proactively” to respond to limited, small-scale contingencies on the Korean Peninsula and in the Taiwan Strait. “Much of Japan’s defense posture remains a legacy of the Cold War and Soviet naval and air force deployments,” Woolley said. Much of Russia’s Far East Navy is “little more than rusty bolts,” and China’s Navy has been on the ascendency. “It is time for Japan to consider a much different and broader array of threats and confrontations,” he said.
One recommendation gaining attention in the defense industry is the panel’s proposal to allow for international research and development (R&D) of weapons, something forbidden in Japan during the Cold War.
Japan’s current arms procurement policies are “simply too expensive, too inefficient,” a Tokyo defense industry source said. “The current situation is unsustainable.”
One example is Japan’s F-X requirement for 40 to 50 fighters, which has placed those in the Air Force favoring the F-35 in a difficult position. Due to the ban on international R&D on weapons, Japan was unable to participate in the international partnership development program for the F-35.
Consequently, those favoring the F-35 as the “only serious contender for the F-X ... have zero content on it,” the industry source said. “To enter the program now means negotiating with a whole passel of people, and huge costs, for a small initial buy.” The result is that Japan might have to consider the F/A-18 Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon as a co-assembly option, but involvement now in the F-35 program as a partner is nearly impossible, he said.
Japan remains a world leader in technology and has “shown remarkable restraint by not being a leader in arms exports,” Woolley said. “But that position seems more and more inefficient and difficult to explain in this era of globalized research, development and production.” The only problem with the panel’s recommendations is potential political opposition to changes in policies that have been in place, in many cases, since the end of World War II.
In the case of lifting the ban on international weapons development collaboration, the original “notion was to enhance Japan’s national security by not embroiling it in foreign conflicts, but the resulting isolation of the Japanese defense industry, increasingly expensive and not competitive, only led to decreased national security,” the defense industry source said.
There are certainly political elements that will oppose the changes, including leftist elements within the current party in power, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Kawamura said. “It can be said that it will be the first step forward in a serious attempt to alter Japan’s defense guidelines of engagement” by the DPJ.