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Sumihiko Kawamura

【#204】Reading Interim Report on Japan’s Defense Capabilities

Sumihiko Kawamura / 2013.08.01 (Thu)

July 29, 2013

       On July 26, the Ministry of Defense released an interim report on Japan's desirable defense capabilities in a run-up to its revision of the defense program outline. Based on practical war scenarios for the first time, the report indicated Japan's necessary defense capabilities. It also showed an attempt to prepare a unified defense strategy to integrally develop defense capabilities according to the assessment of the Self-Defense Forces' capabilities in line with emergency scenarios including natural disasters. The report cited (1) the enhancement of warning and surveillance capabilities, (2) responses to attacks on islands and (3) responses to ballistic missile, guerrilla or commando attacks as priorities for developing defense capabilities. The report thus covered almost all policy measures required to realize "a strong Japan" that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pursues. The content of the report is very appropriate and its release was timely.

A turning point for shifting away from postwar regime
      Developments since the second Abe cabinet's inauguration last December indicate that Japan is reaching a turning point for its transition to a proud and strong independent country. As moves to amend the Constitution have gained momentum upon the birth of the Abe cabinet, we now see a bright prospect for Japan to break through various obstacles such as the government's interpretation of the Constitution as prohibiting Japan's exercise of rights to collective self-defense and to put an end to a miserable national security policy since the end of World War II.
      In the vicinity of Japan, China has rapidly built up its military capabilities on the strength of its economic development and taken aggressive actions in waters including those around the Senkaku Islands, indicating tensions with neighbors cannot be expected to relax.
      In the United States as Japan's alliance partner, President Barack Obama has failed to respond well to developments regarding the Middle East, North Korea and China and apparently has been preoccupied with domestic scandals since his second term started early this year. The Obama administration has thus turned inward-looking, leaving Asia to lack a security leader.
      But the enhancement of the Japan-U.S. alliance is indispensable for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. "A strong Japan," as advocated by Prime Minister Abe, is designed for the enhanced alliance. If Japan proactively builds up its own defense capabilities and promotes cooperation with Southeast Asian nations, India and Australia to take the initiative in building Asian security arrangements, it will be an encouraging support for the Asia-Pacific policy of the inward-looking United States.

Reference to fiscal difficulties is a matter of concern
      The only matter of concern in the interim report is its reference to fiscal difficulties that deviates from the overall tone of the report. "Given severe fiscal conditions, the ministry will specify priorities for future defense buildup and develop really effective defense capabilities from the integrated and comprehensive viewpoint," the report said in Page 7.
      National defense secures a country's survival and sovereignty and must be given top priority. I doubt the advisability of the present system where defense and all other budget requests are equally subjected to a uniform ceiling. The government now should give top priority to a remarkable increase in defense outlays to demonstrate Japan's strong commitment to national defense and promptly implement key defense buildup measures that have so far been left untouched.
      I would like the Abe administration to map out a national security policy for a new era with its unflagging resolve and proudly present the Japanese people and the world with the new defense program outline for realizing "a strong Japan" in December.

Sumihiko Kawamura is Retired Rear Admiral, JMSDF, Representative of the Kawamura Institute for Maritime Security Studies, and Guest Researcher of JINF