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: