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Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010


Defense for the next decade

The Kan administration on Dec. 17 endorsed a new National Defense Program Outline, which will serve as a guideline for Japan's defense policy for the next 10 years from fiscal 2011. The guideline has introduced the new concept of "dynamic defense capabilities" focusing on "rapid response, mobility, flexibility, sustainability and multipurpose functions" of the Self-Defense Forces to cope with Japan's rapidly changing security situation.

The first National Defense Program Outline was adopted in 1976, and was revised in 1995 and 2004. The new outline is the nation's fourth defense program outline.

On the surface, the concept appears to only concern the deployment and operation of SDF units. But it can easily lead to a policy of countering a military buildup of other parties like China by building up Japan's military capabilities, while forgetting about using other means such as diplomacy and economic power. It represents a complete departure from the long-standing "basic defense power" concept — the basis for the past and current National Defense Program Outline.

Embodying Japan's defense-only posture, the basic defense power concept has called for Japan to limit the buildup of military capabilities to the minimum level needed to cope with "limited, small-scale invasion" while depending on the Japan-U.S. security arrangement to deal with greater threats. It has regarded the existence of the SDF itself as serving as a deterrent against invasion. Thus, Ground Self-Defense Force units have been evenly scattered across the nation. Because the concept was developed during the Cold War, the GSDF has heavily deployed tanks in Hokkaido to defend against the Soviet Union, later against Russia.

The concept has expressed Japan's determination to put self-restraint on the growth of the defense budget and military capabilities. This policy has helped Japan gain trust in the international community, especially among neighboring countries. It is regrettable that the new defense guideline has so easily abandoned the concept without incorporating a strong philosophy and mechanism for self-restraint on the growth of the defense budget and military capabilities. Regrettably, the Kan administration also did not invite wide public discussions on the shape of the new guideline.

The new document describes China's steadily growing military budget, rapid military modernization, active naval actions in seas around Japan and lack of transparency in military matters as a "matter of concern for the region and the international community."

It describes North Korea's development of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction and military provocation on the Korean Peninsula as an "urgent and grave destabilizing factor" in regional security. It also says that the North is "posing a serious problem to the international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation."

Specifically, the new guideline calls for a reduction of SDF unit deployment and weapons that were designed to cope with the Cold War. It instead calls for improving patrol, surveillance, air and missile defense, transport, and command and communication around the Nansei Islands between Kyushu and Taiwan and in other areas. It also calls for the deployment of "minimum necessary" SDF units to remote islands, meaning those of Okinawa Prefecture, which at present have no SDF presence, to respond to attacks on them and to maintain security in the seas and air space around them.

An appendix to the new guideline — a list of specific levels of SDF personnel and weapons — shows an increase in the number of submarines from the current 16 to 22 and that of AEGIS destroyers with missile defense capabilities from the current four to six and a decrease in the number of tanks from the current 600 to 400. GSDF personnel will be cut by 1,000 to 154,000.

A problem with the new defense guideline is that it may spawn an illusion that security problems will be solved by countering a military threat or buildup with the corresponding action on the part of Japan. Deploying an SDF unit with offensive capabilities in places that presently have no SDF presence may give other parties an excuse to carry out their military buildup, thus leading to a vicious cycle of military one-upmanship that would further destabilize a security situation. Japan should create a maritime crisis management mechanism with China to prevent accidental contact or collision between Japanese and Chinese ships.

Japan should take utmost care so that its defense efforts will not turn into "threat of force" as prohibited by the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. The new guideline's call for the SDF's "effective response to acts that violate Japan's interests" could run counter to the constitutional principle that the right to self-defense should be evoked only when there is "imminent and unjust invasion." The government should place priority on removing destabilizing factors and diffusing tension around Japan through diplomacy and self-restraint in its defense buildup.

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