A video recording of the complete webinar is available here.
In the wake of Japan’s historic revision in December 2022 of its national security strategy and on the eve of the upcoming January 13 Biden-Kishida summit in Washington, DC, 21JPSI hosted a panel of leading experts from both countries to analyze the U.S.-Japan alliance and regional security issues; to reflect on the significance of the U.S.’ and Japan’s new national security strategies; and to discuss major challenges in store for the alliance in 2023…and beyond.
This January 5th special webinar event was co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) Japan Chair. It attracted roughly 200 live viewers from around the world, overwhelmingly from the U.S. and Japan. Welcome remarks from 21JPSI Founding Director Adam P. Liff and CSIS Japan Chair Christopher Johnstone were followed by the five panelists’ prepared remarks and an intra-panel discussion and audience Q&A moderated by Professor Liff. A summary of the 90-minute event appears below.
To provide some scene-setting and context for the more future-oriented discussion to follow, Professor Liff kicked things off with an overview of changes in the regional security environment since Japan’s first national security strategy back in 2013, with a particular focus on what Japan’s 2022 national security strategy identifies presents as “the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II.” Prof. Liff noted that Japan finds itself in an increasingly dangerous security environment marked by escalating tension with neighboring China, North Korea, and Russia, in particular. Stability in the Taiwan Strait, especially, has emerged as a front-burner policy concern in both Tokyo and Washington. This presents a stark contrast with the situation in 2013, when China-Taiwan ties were considerably more stable under the Ma Ying-jeou administration and the cross-Strait and regional balance of power had not yet shifted so significantly. The twelve months leading up to Japan’s December 2022 release of its new strategy witnessed Beijing significantly ramping up military and other forms of coercive pressure on Taiwan, such as a record number of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft entering Taiwan's air defense identification zone. Particularly jarring for the Japanese public were the PLA’s massive military exercises in early August, during which five missiles splashed down in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Prof. Liff also noted that the perceived threat to Japan posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs has also grown significantly since Japan’s last national security strategy nine years ago. He pointed out that in 2022 alone Pyongyang shattered its previous record for missile tests, launching approximately 70 between January and December—including multiple ICBMs and one test which flew over the Japanese archipelago. Beyond the direct threat to Japan, the new national security strategy also raises concerns about potential instability on the Korean peninsula.
Lastly, Prof. Liff highlighted a striking, if unsurprising, shift in how Japan’s new national security strategy discusses Russia. Whereas the 2013 document barely mentioned Russia, and actually called for enhancing security cooperation with Moscow in two of the three sentences which did, developments in the years since—most notably the annexation of Crimea (2014) and, far more profoundly for Japan, the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine last year, led the 2022 document to state that “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has easily breached the very foundation of the rules that shape the international order.” Significantly, it also warns that a similar conflict could arise in East Asia.
Following Prof. Liff’s “scene-setting” overview of Japan’s changing security environment, Chris Johnstone of CSIS and Satoru Mori of Keio University offered their forward-looking analysis of the major features and specific implications of Japan’s three new national security documents. They also shared their perspectives on U.S.-Japan alliance priorities in the years ahead.
Mr. Johnstone began his remarks by highlighting the “dramatic and unprecedented change” in Japan’s new national security strategy, as well its important implications for the future of the U.S.-Japan alliance. He noted that the new strategy had “shattered” some past norms, including the half-century tradition of Japan’s defense budget being pegged at roughly one-percent of GDP.
If implemented as written, Mr. Johnstone argued, the new national security strategy would allow for material, transformative change to Japan’s defense posture and the defense alliance. The planned growth in defense spending—60% over five years—is extremely significant. For example, the government has announced its intent to invest roughly $50 billion to acquire counter-strike capabilities (e.g., long-range precision missiles). The document also emphasizes the need to develop an active cyber defense capability and invest in sustainability (weapon stockpiles, maintenance, parts, etc), among many other important priorities.
While the new strategy is indicative of dramatic changes in key areas, Mr. Johnstone also noted that important constraints on Japan’s military activity will persist, as will questions about the realistic timelines for implementation and resourcing. For Japan, prioritization among its many stated objectives will be a challenge, and tradeoffs are inevitable. In closing, Mr. Johnstone emphasized that as Japan’s strategy and capabilities change, the U.S.-Japan alliance must also adapt in order to ensure that this critical partnership continues to work with maximum efficacy.
Next, Prof. Mori provided his perspective on the three new security documents as well as their implications for the U.S.-Japan alliance. He began by emphasizing two points: (1) that Japan’s new strategy identified China as its main strategic challenge, which aligns well with the U.S.’ recent strategy; and (2) that the new documents have three core foci: China strategy, alliance partnership, and economic/technology security. These three “lines of effort” are likely to necessitate a “whole of government” approach in the years ahead.
According to Prof. Mori, the most striking features of the new documents are their emphasis on counter-strike capabilities and active cyber defense—capabilities which would facilitate Japan achieving its stated goal of being able by 2032 to deter and disrupt attacks much earlier and from further away. However, Prof. Mori also emphasized that the government has explicitly clarified that preemptive strikes remain impermissible on constitutional grounds.
In terms of top priorities going forward, Prof. Mori stated that Japan must improve its readiness by increasing operational rates, securing sufficient munitions and fuel, and surging investment in defense facilities. Overall, Japanese defense readiness still has a long way to go to achieve full operational effectiveness. Whether or not this situation can be remedied will be contingent on the current strategy receiving full funding under multiple governments over the next several years, which may prove to be a major political challenge.
As for tasks specifically for the U.S.-Japan alliance, Prof. Mori stated that Japan and US defense authorities will need to further integrate targeting and planning processes, and develop closer command and control arrangements. In addition, joint capability development must be advanced in order to ensure the alliance’s technological edge. Finally, Japan should build on recent deepening of Japan-Australia security cooperation by convening a Japan-U.S.-Australia foreign and defense ministers (2+2) meeting to enhance trilateral coordination on Indo-Pacific defense and security issues.
The two presentations specifically on Japan’s new national security strategy were followed by comments from Sue Mi Terry of the Wilson Center, who shared her thoughts on what to expect from North Korea in 2023, as well as prospects for enhanced trilateral cooperation among the U.S., Japan, and South Korea in confronting regional security challenges.
Dr. Terry began her remarks by emphasizing that North Korea will almost certainly continue down its current path of expanding nuclear and missile capabilities, all-but-guaranteeing that the threat it poses to the U.S. and Japan will worsen in the years ahead. Pyongyang’s launch of the Hwasong-17 ICBM last fall was especially concerning, as that missile is designed to carry multiple warheads. In other words, North Korea is one step closer to its goal of overcoming even the U.S.’ most advanced missile defenses.
Regarding North Korea’s priorities for 2023, Dr. Terry noted that Pyongyang has already signaled that solid-fueled ICBMs are at the top of its list. Furthermore, all signs indicate that North Korea will soon conduct its seventh nuclear test and continue to develop smaller, more compact next-generation tactical nuclear warheads. A new law announced last September outlined five conditions under which North Korea would launch a preemptive strike, effectively lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. Of particular concern to prospects of positive change, North Korea has cemented its nuclear power status into law and stated that it will never give up nuclear weapons—even calling its nuclear program “irreversible” and “non-negotiable.” In short, there seems to be little ground for hope that North Korea will return to the negotiating table anytime soon.
Dr. Terry emphasized that we should expect more provocations from North Korea, as from Pyongyang’s perspective the current geopolitical environment is favorable. North Korea’s increasing alignment with Russia and China is particularly significant, as worsening ties with Washington mean that both Beijing and Moscow appear unwilling to cooperate with the international community to enforce sanctions or take other measures against North Korea—even after it repeatedly violates UN Security Council resolutions. In fact, both countries have vetoed further actions on North Korea. Against this backdrop, Pyongyang appears to judge that it has an open pathway to further testing and escalation—without fear of serious consequences from the international community.
Given this worsening situation regarding North Korea, Dr. Terry emphasized that the U.S. and South Korea must strengthen regional deterrence and defense via an allies-focused strategy, which will require close coordination among Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo on theater missile defense and military exercises. She closed by noting some positive news in terms of Korea-Japan relations, as both nations have recently pledged to improve their strained bilateral relationship. In the years ahead, the U.S.-South Korea-Japan relationship will one of the most important for the United States and for deterrence against North Korean aggression.
The fifth and final speaker, Kristin Vekasi of the University of Maine, shared her perspective on Japan’s approach to economic security in the context of competition with China, as well as prospects and challenges for deeper U.S.-Japan cooperation specifically in the economic security space.
Prof. Vekasi began her remarks by highlighting the ways in which Japan has increasingly incorporated economic security into its domestic and foreign policy—culminating in extensive mention of the concept in its new national security strategy. For example, in late 2021, Prime Minister Kishida created a new ministerial level position for economic security. Last year, the government passed the Economic Security Promotion Act, which had four primary goals: (1) protection of intellectual property; (2) strengthening of cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protections; (3) promotion of public-private partnerships and research and development; (4) supply chain resilience and security.
Prof. Vekasi noted that supply chain resilience is one of Japan’s key priorities, and the new law provides the government with more industrial policy tools to develop industries such as semiconductors, batteries, and biomedical products. The goals of these initiatives include more government support for firms to return production to Japan and to diversify production away from China by shifting it to Southeast Asia. Prof. Vekasi emphasized that the roots of economic security legislation significantly predate COVID-19 supply chains disruptions. Indeed, many of the supply chain resiliency initiatives were written into the bill in order to promote deeper cooperation with the U.S., especially concerning defense-related production and research.
According to Dr. Vekasi, these economic security initiatives reflect Japan’s concerns about excessive dependence on China, especially with regards to semiconductor development and critical goods like rare earths. However, this is not just about China. Economic security is also important for improving Japan’s resilience against a variety of potential causes of supply chain disruptions—including many that have nothing to do with geopolitics, such as natural disasters and pandemics.
After the speakers’ prepared remarks, Prof. Liff moderated a twenty-minute discussion among the panelists, who considered how quickly Japan can bring new capabilities online, the (challenging) domestic politics of major increases to defense spending, prospects for specific improvements to Japan-South Korea security cooperation, and the possibility of frictions between the US and Japan if economic security-related approaches differ, especially vis-à-vis the issue of “decoupling” from China. The final twenty minutes of the event were focused on answering questions from the live audience of nearly 200 on issues including prospects for enhanced “jointness” across the JSDF, improvement in Japan-China relations, and U.S.-Japan intelligence cooperation.
*The 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI) was launched at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies in 2018. Under the leadership of Founding Director and HLS faculty member Adam Liff, 21JPSI aims to invigorate and expand research, teaching, and programming on contemporary Japanese politics, society, and international (esp. U.S.-Japan) relations, and to educate, raise awareness, and debate policy responses to the various political, social, and foreign policy challenges that Japan faces in this extremely dynamic era of 21st-century change. Seeded by a generous $900,000 grant from the Japan Foundation, in its first five years 21JPSI has enabled a new tenure-track faculty line in contemporary Japanese politics and society; facilitated the creation of four new courses on contemporary Japan; launched a new multidisciplinary speaker series on Japanese Politics and Society, national conferences and webinars on U.S.-Japan relations, and academic manuscript workshops; and funded graduate fellowships and faculty travel grants to support field research in Japan. For more information, please see https://jpsi.indiana.edu/ or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.