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What Japanese Deterrence Would Look Like

In new strategy documents, Japan’s government has broken new ground with a public commitment to build up the country’s counterstrike and rapid mobilization capabilities. Though executing this task will not be easy, it has become essential to peace in the region.

LONDON – Japan’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and to the “strategic partnership” that Russia and China announced shortly beforehand, has been impressively decisive. The government’s proposal for a near-doubling of the country’s defense budget over the next five years demonstrates political realism and practical determination. The key question now is how to spend the money.

In its new National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, Japan acknowledges that it must continue to work with allies – especially the United States, with which it has had a security treaty since 1951 – if it is to defend itself and help maintain peace in the region. But these documents also offer something new. The government has publicly stated its determination to take the leading role in Japan’s self-defense, and to deter others from attempting “unilateral changes to the status quo.”

This commitment to deterrence is the most important task that Japan has set for itself. But it is also the most difficult. It means deterring an attack – conventional or nuclear – by North Korea. It means deterring aggression by Russia (such as from the four Kuril Islands off Japan’s northern coastline, which the Soviet Union seized in the final days of World War II). But most of all, it means deterring moves by China against either Taiwan or Japan’s strategically located Nansei Islands nearby.