Outlook for Japan's security strategy in "post-Abe era"

China Military Online
Huang Panyue
2020-09-29 08:27:58

Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga recently said that he would carry on the security policy of the Abe administration with a focus on continuously increasing the national defense expenditure. It’s clear that although Japan has entered the “post-Abe period”, its economic, diplomatic, and military strategies won’t see significant changes.

In the future, Japan’s security strategy will still pivot on the Japan-US military alliance. However, the country will try to seek military independence and local advantages by expanding alliances and ensuring its security, to shake off the constraints imposed by the international order set with the end of WWII and become an influential military power.

Keeping firm and stable its military alliance with the US has always been the fundamental goal of Japan’s security strategy. During his first phone conservation with Trump on the evening of September 20, Yoshihide Suga said, “the Japan-US alliance is the cornerstone for keeping the Pacific region peaceful and stable,” a stance that reportedly points out the direction of Japan’s America policy in the post-Abe period.

In recent years, Trump has kept complaining that the US-Japan security agreement isn’t “fair” and has demanded Japan bear more obligations in America’s global military deployments and pay a much larger proportion of the defense expenses, all of which have made unprecedented “shocks” to US-Japan military alliance.

Nevertheless, countries know perfectly well that Washington needs Tokyo to be its “bridgehead” and Tokyo needs Washington as its “protective umbrella”, either regarding the new changes in the Asia-Pacific security situation or concerning America’s military deployments in the West Pacific.

Of course, with profound changes taking place in the world security landscape today, Japan is no longer content with following in the steps of the US but has been much bolder in bargaining with Uncle Sam for its interests, displaying a growing tendency to leverage on their alliance to serve its own purposes. This has raised alarm for the US.

The Yoshihide Suga administration vowed to continue increasing the defense expenditure and enhancing Japan’s capability in emerging fields. While it’s hard to expand its troops largely, Japan will adjust its defense deployments and prioritize developing offensive capabilities under the pretext of “active defense”, with a focus on its southwestern islands, while continuing to expand its military influence.

First of all, Japan will keep intensifying the development of vigilance, monitoring, and air defense anti-missile systems to foster the “preemptive” attack capability. The country has made a slew of military deployments in recent years on the grounds of so-called nuclear and missile threats from the DPRK.

After the Japanese government announced to give up the land-based Aegis anti-missile system, it revealed the plan to introduce the stand-off missile with a shooting range of 500km to match with the F-35 aircraft, to be able to attack important targets from outside the shooting range of the opponent’s air defense weapons. This means Tokyo will continue to seek the capability of attacking opponent bases from a long distance.

Second, Japan will step up military deployments in its southwest to foster the capability of strategically controlling the sea route. Japan has made constant moves on its southwestern islands in recent years and has primarily completed its deployments on almost all islands with military values. The Japan Ground Self-defense Force (JGSDF) stationed missile and radar monitoring troops on the Miyako Island and other islands to establish a “missile barrier.”

Meanwhile, Tokyo has continuously reinforced its amphibious troops, bought the Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, built new landing ships, and increased the number of fighter jets and airborne early warning aircraft on the Okinawa base. Japan’s defense budget for the new fiscal year makes it clear that a new electronic warfare unit will be formed in JGSDF Camp Asaka in 2021.

At last, Japan will continue to expand its military influence. Aiming to become a major military power, Japan has made arduous efforts to enhance its influence in Southeast Asia by selling weapons and equipment to countries like the Philippines and Indonesia at a meager price. It has participated in bilateral or multilateral military exercises, including the US-Japan-India maritime drill in the Indian Ocean. It has also enlarged the Japan-US “two plus two” mechanism involving both sides’ foreign and defense ministers to include also the UK, France, Australia, Russia, and India, to ramp up its military influence worldwide.

In general, Japan’s future security strategy will continue to follow America’s lead. Still, the country will take advantage of the current changes in the international security situations to enhance the combat capabilities of its self-defense forces, which will exert essential effects on the Asia-Pacific security situation.

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