“This is an inflection point” for Asia, says Kurt Campbell, who oversees regional policy for Biden’s National Security Council. It moves Japan from dependence on its soft power and US weapons to a true military partnership. It redraws the security map, and frames a NATO-like containment alliance in the Indian and Pacific Oceans as well as the Atlantic Ocean.
Why is Japan taking this step towards remilitarization? U.S. officials say one of the euphoric moments for Japanese leaders was when China and Russia flew six heavy bombers close to Japan in a joint exercise on May 24, as Tokyo was hosting a meeting of the “Quartet” partnership between Australia, India, Japan and others. United State.
Japan expressedSerious concernsAbout flights. But China and Russia did it again in late November, sending two Chinese heavy bombers and two Russian planes over the Sea of Japan. This time Tokyo expressed “severe concerns,” again with no apparent response.
Another wake-up call came in August, when China fired five missiles into Japan’s “exclusive economic zone” during a series of military exercises after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Taiwan. “We protested vehemently through diplomatic channels,” said Nobuo Kishi, a former Japanese defense minister who is now a special adviser to the prime minister. The lesson was that “nothing in the Taiwan Strait stays in the Taiwan Strait,” Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Tokyo, told me in an interview.
Japan has moved from talk to action over the past year. A big reason is the shock caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, less than a month after Russia and China announced a “borderless” partnership. “The world has changed in a dramatic way, and the Japanese know it,” said Emmanuel.
Although Kishida is a new prime minister and politically weak, he has moved aggressively in support of Ukraine. Japan quickly sent military and humanitarian aid, and in March succeeded in lobbying eight of the ten ASEAN countries to support a UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion.
Kishida realized early on that the Russian attack on Ukraine represented a blending of the Indian, Pacific, and European worlds. Campbell says he saw a fundamental challenge to the world order. So, instead of adopting the usual approach of relying on the United States to fix things, Kishida has decided to “make common cause with Europe.”
The core of Japan’s security problem is missiles, and not just from China; North Korea regularly tests ballistic missiles flying over Japanese territory. A decade ago, Japan invested heavily in anti-missile technologies, hoping this would mitigate the threat. But several years ago, Japanese military planners realized that an adversary could overcome the missile defense shield. They needed something more.
The “counter-strike” strategy should provide just that. The United States will supply Japan with 400 to 500 Tomahawk missiles It could hit missile sites in China or North Korea. Japan also wants to protect its space defense assets, which include satellite-guided bombs and a Japanese version of the US Global Positioning System, from China’s expanding anti-satellite arsenal. Therefore, the Biden administration will extend the long-standing US security treaty with Japan to cover attacks in space.
Neo-Japanese militancy will inevitably cause a backlash in China, where there is an intense antipathy to Japanese military power dating back to the Japanese occupation in the 1930s and early 1940s. If you doubt it, just visit the museum in Nanjing that documents Japan’s brutal attack on the city in 1937. Japan has disdained displays of force since its defeat in 1945 in part out of respect for such historical memories.
Japan is still a very peaceful country. But the weight of the past is receding, and younger Japanese want a stronger army to deal with warring neighbors. A Jiji Press poll last summer showed that 75 percent of respondents ages 18 to 29 supported increased defense spending, and more than 60 percent of those age group favored Japan’s “counter-strike capabilities.”
China is in the early stages of what may be the largest military buildup in history. The Russian invasion of Ukraine ended the post-Cold War era. Japan reacts rationally to these developments. But beware: with the erosion of global order, the chain of action and reaction is just beginning.