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Crafting Deterrence and Defense: The New Defense Policy of Japan

Tags: China , Dynamic Defense Force , Defense , SDF , National Defense Program Guidelines

Takahashi, Sugio

October 10, 2012


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Japan’s New Defense Strategy: NDPG 2010

The Government of Japan (GOJ) released the new National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) in December 2010. The NDPG is the most fundamental, capstone document in Japanese defense policy that analyzes Japan’s security environment; defines roles, missions, and capabilities of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF), and outlines force structure. In addition, with the new NDPG, the GOJ released the Mid-Term Defense Program (MTDP), which is a shopping plan for the coming five years.

This new NDPG is actually the fourth NDPG. The first was drawn up in 1976 during the Cold War, and the second one was issued in 1995 after the end of the Cold War. Following that, in 2004, another NDPG was rolled out. The 2004 version set the direction the SDF would adopt in the post-9/11 international security environment.

On December 17, 2010, the latest version of the NDPG was adopted by the Security Council of Japan and the Cabinet. Among the various innovations introduced under the new NDPG, the most important is the invention of the concept of “Dynamic Defense Force,” which consists of readiness, mobility, flexibility, sustainability, and versatility reinforced by advanced military technology and intelligence capabilities.

Backdrop to the “Dynamic Defense Force”

The basic idea that underlies the new concept of “Dynamic Defense Force” is the recognition of a transforming conception of military forces: from roles and missions based on the dichotomy of peacetime and wartime to the gray areas between wartime and peacetime. Looking back on recent military history since the Gulf War, most military operations have unfolded in such gray areas: the Northern Watch/Southern Watch Operation, peacekeeping operation in Bosnia and Kosovo, counter-insurgency/stabilization operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, and various UN peacekeeping operations. Military operations in such gray areas often begin suddenly and usually continue for a very long time. This is the reason why “Dynamic Defense Force” emphasizes readiness and sustainability.

Not just global military operations but also the regional security situation requires such “dynamic” characteristics of the SDF. Even with two big security challenges in the Asia-Pacific—North Korea and rising China—it is unlikely that a conventional, high-end military conflict will break out, at least over the coming five years. Even across the Taiwan Strait, the current situation is relatively stable. However, this does not mean that East Asia is now a very peaceful region. North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. With robust deterrence against conventional conflict by the US-ROK alliance, a Korean War–like conventional invasion is inconceivable. However, military provocation at a low level, such as the Cheonan incident and Yeonpyeongdo artillery bombardment in 2010, may happen.

In the case of China, even though a large-scale conventional amphibious invasion against Japan is inconceivable, there is some possibility of “opportunistic creeping expansion” by China if Japan shows a “windows of opportunity” or gives an impression of a “power vacuum” in the East China Sea. For this reason, the new NDPG strongly focused on military operations in the gray area somewhere between wartime and peacetime while emphasizing the importance of continuous, steady-state operations.

To respond to these security challenges, a defense strategy and posture should not be based on a dichotomy between peacetime and wartime, leading to a distinction between “deterrence in peacetime” and “response to a contingency.” The Dynamic Defense Force concept proposed in the new NDPG does not employ this dichotomy but rather emphasizes the proactive use of a defense force in the “gray zone” between peacetime and wartime and the importance of constant activities.

These characteristics of the Dynamic Defense Force concept mean that the operational guidance articulating the principles of the operation is a very important ingredient of this defense posture/strategy, in addition to the sizing concept determining how many platforms and personnel are necessary, which had a very important role in the Basic Defense Force concept—Japan’s traditional notion of defense posture/strategy. The operational guidance of the Dynamic Defense Force concept is summed up in Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa’s statement made at the time of the release of the NDPG.

According to the statement, the role of military power is diversifying. It is now becoming normal practice for military forces to be used on a regular basis for humanitarian aid, disaster relief, peacekeeping operations, and counter-piracy activities. He went on to say that, against this background, “it has become commonplace for Japan’s SDF to be employed overseas,” and that “many of Japan’s neighboring countries are modernizing their militaries, and their activities are increasing in a variety of fields.” Because of these factors, the statement notes “the government will create a ‘Dynamic Defense Force’ with a focus on ‘operations.’”

With regard to what sort of defense “operations” would be pursued, the statement specified three fundamental principles that would provide operational guidance. The first principle is “the continuous and strategic implementation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities (ISR).” Since organizations, including military forces, are becoming more active on a regular basis in the surrounding region, Japan must conduct constant, more intense, and more frequent monitoring activities. This corresponds to the “dynamic deterrence” called for in the new NDPG.

The second principle is “immediate and seamless response to contingencies.” As a result of the development of military technology, in the current world, a crisis can happen with very short warning. Or, owing to the ripple effect, a contingency in one country could rapidly spread all over the world could become a serious concern in the “globalized” world. Therefore, “immediate response” is an important requirement for the current defense posture. In addition, to deal with security challenges in the “gray area” between peacetime and wartime, a seamless interagency response is definitely important.

The third principle is “the multilayered promotion of coordinated activities with other nations.” Since security challenges and destabilizing factors are becoming more complex and multilayered, it is necessary to coordinate actions among many countries to deal with these problems effectively. Japan therefore needs to pursue approaches to the solution of such problems from all possible angles, including effective cooperation within a bilateral or multilateral framework. For example, after collaboration between Japan and Australia in Iraq, the security relationship between the two countries greatly developed. The cooperation in Iraq paved the way to the current close cooperation between Japan and Australia. In this way, shoulder-to-shoulder military cooperation on global security issues would help create cooperative relationships between Japan and the international community. If cooperation with China in such a manner could develop somewhere in the world, that would help to develop cooperation between these two countries.

The operational guidance will lead to the understanding that the central focus of the Dynamic Defense Force concept is on “how to operate,” in contrast to “how to build,” a force. This conceptual shift is particularly important at a time when undertaking the dynamic employment of defense forces in the so-called “gray zones.”

Countering Opportunistic Creeping Expansion

One big security challenge from a rising China is “opportunistic creeping expansion.” Again, with deep economic interdependence and robust deterrence through the US-Japan alliance, large-scale conventional amphibious invasion by China is highly unlikely. However, if China finds there are some “windows of opportunity” or a “power vacuum,” opportunistic behavior to take advantage of the situation may become a concern. Therefore, the important role of the SDF is not to show any “windows of opportunity” to prevent a crisis from occurring in the first place. “Dynamic deterrence,” a newly invented concept in the new NDPG, is meant to counter such creeping expansion and is a very important element of the “Dynamic Defense Force.”

According to deterrence theory, there are “windows of deterrence” situations in which deterrence hardly works, including fait accompli and probing. Fait accompli is a situation in which the adversary adopts a strategy seeking to change the status quo without giving enough time to deter such action. Probing is a situation that the adversary is challenged to find the lower ceiling of a deterrence commitment. Japan’s concern regarding China’s opportunistic creeping expansion is exactly these “windows of deterrence.”

The dynamic deterrence concept was developed as a result of concerns that Japan would be unable to deal with certain situations through a traditional deterrence posture, designed to deter high-end conventional conflict. In the dynamic deterrence concept, the objective is not to deter a conventional “invasion” or “armed attack” but to deal with situations that cannot easily be assigned to either of the two traditional dichotomous categories of wartime and peacetime.

In particular, the main objectives of dynamic deterrence are the two types of situations mentioned above in which conventional deterrence is likely to fail, that is, fait accompli and probing activities. This is done through continuous, steady-state ISR, information gathering, military exercises, and actual military operations, such as international cooperation or disaster relief, as cited in the operational guidance of the defense minister’s statement mentioned above. In these ways, dynamic deterrence differs considerably from traditional deterrence in that it comes into being through the actual operations of military force.

Special emphasis in dynamic deterrence is placed on deterring the enemy from acting by denying it any geographical or temporal opening. This is done through surveillance and warning activities, information gathering, military drills and training exercises, and actual military operations, such as international cooperation in peacekeeping. In these ways, dynamic deterrence differs considerably from traditional deterrence in that it comes into being through the actual exercise of military force. The various activities that constitute dynamic deterrence are different from “punishment” or “denial” based traditional deterrence, which seeks to deter armed attack, since dynamic deterrence intends to prevent opportunistic creeping expansion, rather than explicit armed attack. It is expected to encourage potential challengers to realize that there would be little probability of success for a strategy of attempting to change the status quo either through fait accompli or probing activities.

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