Editorial: Protecting citizens through defense-only strategy

April 3 , 2023

From April 1, the start of a new fiscal year, Japan’s defense posture will be fundamentally bolstered. With North Korea’s repeated missile launches, the threat the country poses has escalated dramatically. And the divide between conflict and peace, military and nonmilitary realms, are disappearing as advances in military technology expand into such fronts as outer space and cyberspace.

In a security environment riddled with these and other challenges, Japan must step up, abiding above all else by its longstanding commitment to pacifist diplomacy, and only then by relying on an exclusively defense-oriented policy to enhance its deterrence capabilities.

The Japanese doctrine of deterrence is founded on discouraging a potential adversary from launching an armed attack on the nation and to make the necessary preparations to defend its citizens across the gamut of contingencies, be it in times of peace or in times of hostilities. At the same time, it is vital to strengthen the efficacy of the Japan-US alliance. The enhanced security legislation enacted in 2015 was enacted to secure these objectives.

Under this legislation, if a US military unit is attacked while defending our country, our self-defense forces can defend said US unit through the use of arms—but only when the attack poses an existential threat to Japan should it not be met with an appropriate military response. This legality represents a significant evolution of our bilateral security relationship with the US.

Japanese deterrence was further enhanced following the approval of three new strategic documents—the National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy and Defense Buildup Program—by the administration led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the end of 2022.

With these moves Japan can now deploy long-range missiles, providing it with a capability to retaliate with the minimum necessary force to defend itself and thereby deter further attacks. This capability does not give it a first-strike capability nor does it run counter to its exclusively defense policy. In fact, the first-strike strategy is only viable if it can cripple or even eliminate an adversary’s capacity to wage war, a capacity which Japan’s self-defense forces do not have.

Japan will also be able to prepare for peacetime contingencies like cyberattacks. Other steps, such as building up ammunition stockpiles and hardening storage facilities in order to sustain its capacity to defend itself over time, can be taken as well. At the same time, Japan’s command and control structure will be reinforced while achieving greater flexibility in military operations, to further enhance the nation’s deterrence posture.

At the House of Councilors session in January 2023, Komeito Chief Representative Natsuo Yamaguchi emphasized that enhancing Japan’s ability to deter and defend against foreign aggression should complement Japan’s diplomatic initiatives seeking peaceful outcomes. This is the very point that the Japanese government must strive to underscore to enlist the understanding and backing of its citizens.