Defending Japanese Defense

Japan’s government and National Security Council plan to revise the country’s National Defense Program Outline (NDPO) by the end of this year. A draft of proposed changes submitted to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi assigns three key tasks to the Self-Defense Forces (SDF): effective response to new threats, participation in international peacekeeping activities, and defense against invasion.

Today’s complex security environment, with terrorist attacks by non-state actors occurring alongside traditional state-to-state wars, demands a nimble, integrated strategy. The draft revision of the NDPO seems to recognize this, emphasizing the need for Japan’s own defense efforts, cooperation through the Japanese-US alliance, and contributions to multilateral missions. Moreover, the National Security Council has indicated the need to introduce a new plan for multi-functional flexible defense forces.

Unfortunately, key components of Japan’s emerging security strategy remain vague and contradictory. For example, while the likelihood of an invasion threat is judged to be low, the Defense White Paper of 2004 argues that the SDF’s “most fundamental function” is to prepare for the worst, because sufficient defensive power cannot be developed overnight. In other words, Japan will clearly assert its will to defend the nation, and to prevent invasion in combination with the Japan-US security system.

On the other hand, the National Security Council proposes “scaling down the size of defense forces,” implying mitigation of the will to defend. Indeed, the failure to suggest any possibility of an “emergency expansion” of the SDF compounds this anxiety.