Sailing close to the wind: Japan’s forward deterrence posture toward the Taiwan Strait

In December 2022, Tokyo released three security documents that grabbed headlines worldwide. Highlighting the acquisition of counterstrike capabilities, the large increase in defense spending and other decisions enshrined in the documents, some scholars claim that they mark a critical juncture in Japan’s security policy. Is this the case? I argue for a positive answer but, based on deterrence concepts, not for the reasons advanced by others. In the context of Tokyo’s hybrid deterrence strategy, made of its armed forces and the alliance with the United States, counterstrike capabilities and other aspects of the documents pinpointed by scholars are more adaptations of, than deviations from, past deterrence practices. A barely noticed and more substantial evolution is taking place amid an intensifying deterrence-entrapment dilemma: the adoption of a forward deterrence posture aimed at reducing the risk of crisis in the Taiwan Strait through the projection of general deterrent effects. This posture constitutes a critical juncture because it sets Japan on the path of becoming a potent regional security actor. It also skews Japan’s traditional policy vis-à-vis China toward deterrence and against engagement. The new, adapted liberal deterrence policy raises questions about Tokyo’s ability to keep a balanced approach toward Beijing.

Asian Security:

Japan’s Rush to the Pacific War

This book investigates the phenomenon of overbalancing through an analysis of Japan’s foreign policy during the interbellum. In the mid-1930s, Japan withdrew from a naval arms control framework that had restrained military buildup on both sides of the Pacific Ocean since the early 1920s. By doing so, Japan not only triggered a naval arms race with the United States that exhausted its economy, it also destroyed the last institutionalized structure regulating the relationship between the two Pacific powers. Japan and the United States became caught in a spiral of tensions that culminated with the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Puzzling is the fact that the international environment in the Asia-Pacific was relatively stable in the mid-1930s, while Washington was pursuing a policy of accommodation toward Tokyo. By rejecting arms control and engaging in unfettered naval expansion, Japan overbalanced against the United States and began its rush to the Pacific War.

The book explains Japan’s overbalancing with a neoclassical realist model that combines the literatures on threat perception and civil-military relations. Amid the Manchurian crisis of 1931-1933, as the Japanese government collaborated with the military institution to address the situation in China, military influence on the formulation of foreign policy surged. The perceptual and policy biases of the military, which include the tendency to distrust other countries’ intentions, to adopt worst-case analyses of international dynamics and to strive to maximize military power, gradually penetrated the decision-making process. Dysfunctions in the preexisting structure of Japanese civil-military relations, engendered by an over-depoliticization of the military institution, allowed the navy to convince policymakers that the United States was inherently hostile to Japan, hence the necessity to prepare for war. The government was brainstormed, adopting the biased military perspective on international affairs. Japan overbalanced in a myopic but conscious way.

Palgrave Macmillan:

Vers une nouvelle ère de militarisation (et d’instabilité ?) en Indo-Pacifique

Si la militarisation de l’Indo-Pacifique, caractérisée par des dépenses militaires croissantes et la modernisation des forces armées régionales, est une tendance structurelle de l’après-Guerre froide, soutenue par un fort développement économique, elle est en train d’évoluer de manière substantielle. Au cœur de cette nouvelle dynamique se trouvent bien entendu la Chine et sa puissance grandissante, ainsi que l’intensification de ses activités militaires conjointes avec la Russie et l’attitude belliqueuse de la Corée du Nord, qui menacent la sécurité nationale de nombreux États. Cependant, la cause directe de cette évolution, qui laisse entrevoir une véritable course aux armements à l’échelle régionale, est à chercher de l’autre côté de l’océan Pacifique, aux États-Unis.

Le Rubicon:

Japan’s Space Program: Shifting Away from “Non-Offensive” Purposes?

Concerns about the United States’ readiness and ability to fulfill its security commitments have led Tokyo to enact security reforms to enhance its value as an ally while moving toward a more autonomous defense posture to prepare for the worst-case scenario of abandonment. This has transformed the Japanese space program from one based on the principle of peaceful use of space to a program aimed at ensuring national security through non-offensive means.
The security track of Japan’s space program currently aims at boosting the combat prowess of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in accordance with the non-offensive principle, and at maintaining in all circumstances the ability to use space-based assets for this purpose. Therefore, the country is not militarizing outer space beyond what is necessary to guarantee the proper functioning of the SDF.
Information-gathering and maritime domain awareness devices, positioning services and military communications satellites provide Japan with better understanding of its environment, help anticipate and tackle threats, and allow greater interoperability between the SDF services. And, because national security increasingly depends on space operations, space situational awareness has taken prominence in Japan’s space program as a way to protect space assets against orbital debris and anti-satellite weapons.
Compared to the United States, China and Russia, Japan is still inhibited by domestic constraints when it comes to military-related affairs, and thus the use of space for security purposes. But, although Japan’s space program is today almost purely non-offensive in nature, the intra-alliance hedging strategy implies a potential weaponization of space, beyond the non-offensive principle. This offensive use of space could materialize through the acquisition of strike capabilities, and the development of Japan’s own anti-satellite weapons or of active defense systems for space assets.

Asie.Visions, French Institute of International Relations (Ifri):

Is Japan entering the new space race?

During the new session of parliament in January this year Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated his pledge to utilise outer space to guarantee national security. Only last year, Abe confirmed that a unit responsible for space operations will be established inside the Air Self-Defense Force (SDF) by the start of fiscal year 2020. The announcements triggered media attention and concerns in some overseas capitals, but Japan’s outer space ambitions are not new. Neither do the announcements imply that the country is about to enter the space race heating up between the United States, China and Russia.

East Asia Forum:

Japan’s Awakening: Moving toward an Autonomous Security Policy

Japan has been moving toward a more independent security policy since the early 2010s, duplicating the military assets of the United States and reorganizing the Self-Defense Forces. In Japan’s Awakening, Lionel P. Fatton and Oreste Foppiani argue that the country faces an entrapment-abandonment dilemma in which any attempt to prevent abandonment by the United States vis-à-vis China negatively affects its national security by heightening the risk of entrapment in the Korean Peninsula, and vice versa. A move toward autonomy is the only way for Japan to solve this dilemma. The subject is at variance with both the insistence on the constraining effect of domestic norms on Japan’s security policy and the assumption of everlasting reliance on the United States for protection.

Peter Lang:

“Japan is back”: Autonomy and balancing amidst an unstable China–U.S.–Japan triangle

Japan’s security policy has changed dramatically in recent years. The country balances harder against China, and its armed forces are increasingly autonomous from their American counterparts. What explains Japan’s growing autonomy and balancing tendency after decades of relative apathy? I argue that this new strategic orientation results from unprecedented doubts about the effectiveness of its traditional security policy amidst an unstable China–U.S.–Japan triangular relationship. Tokyo is increasingly uncertain about American security commitments in the face of a more assertive China. As both the alliance with the United States and the accommodation of China are becoming unsuitable strategies for guaranteeing national security, Japan reverts to a more autonomous and resolute posture. Japan’s new security policy will have important consequences for the triangular relationship.

Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies:

A new spear in Asia: why is Japan moving toward autonomous defense?

Japan is on the verge of what would be a dramatic shift in defense posture. The ‘spear and shield’ structure of the US–Japan alliance, at the center of its security policy for most of the postwar era, is being revamped by a move toward autonomous defense. Why would a country confined to a largely passive and Americanocentrist posture for more than half a century suddenly change course? I argue that autonomy is for Japan the only way out of an unprecedented ‘entrapment-abandonment dilemma’: any attempt to prevent defection by the United States in the face of an increasingly assertive China heightens to an unacceptable level the risk of Japan being dragged into a US-led conflict in the Korean Peninsula, and vice versa. Japan’s ability to wield the spear would likely have destabilizing consequences for the whole Asia-Pacific region.

International Relations of the Asia-Pacific:

The impotence of conventional arms control: why do international regimes fail when they are most needed?

Amid tensions with the West over Ukraine, Russia pulled out of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe in March 2015. The Russian case is another example of a country disengaging from conventional arms control when relations with other member states deteriorate. This raises an important question: can arms control regimes aimed at preventing conflict survive periods of tension and preserve peace? This article argues no. It demonstrates that the prospect and stability of conventional arms control regimes depend on healthy international relations. In times of tension, governments rely on military institutions for advice and absorb military biases incompatible with arms control. Therefore, these regimes fail when most needed and are impotent as instruments of peace. Beyond conventional arms control, the article hints at the fragility of nuclear agreements such as the 2015 Iran deal and the 2010 New START between the United States and Russia.

Contemporary Security Policy: