Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Fumio Ota

【#539】Is Japan-U.S. Alliance Unshakable?

Fumio Ota / 2018.09.05 (Wed)

September 3, 2018

     At a cabinet meeting on August 28, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera reported the defense white paper for 2018. I appreciate the latest annual report as putting a digest with easier-to-understand headlines at its outset than previous white papers. Some major news media dealt with the paper as if it were designed to justify the introduction of the Aegis Ashore ground-based missile defense system by contending that there is no change in North Korean threats. However, comments on the Aegis Ashore system are limited to only one page of the 580-page white paper. The defense white paper is not for such a simple issue.

U.S. criticism against allies may spill over to Japan
     The defense white paper fails to point out the fact that U.S. President Donald Trump known for his “America First” foreign policy has taken a tough stance against its traditional allies Canada, Australia and Turkey as well as Germany with low defense spending as a percentage of gross domestic product. While the fact indicates that Trump would soon criticize Japan for failing to shoulder a due defense burden, the paper reiterates the Japan-U.S. alliance is unshakable.
     The Washington Post on August 28 reported that Trump at his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in June had criticized Japan’s economic policies after saying, “I remember Pearl Harbor.” Abe denied the report as totally erroneous in an interview with the Sankei Shimbun newspaper on September 1. Some Japanese media organization indicated Trump had mentioned Pearl Harbor at the meeting with Abe in a bid to urge the “samurai country” which used to fight with foreign adversaries to take more responsibility for East Asian security. Given President Trump’s criticism against U.S. allies, this report looks plausible.

China aiming at U.S. from South China Sea
     The defense white paper makes comments for the first time on China’s JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) under development. While the JL-2 SLBM fails to put the U.S. mainland within its range of some 8,000 kilometers from the South China Sea, the JL-3 can do so. An apparent objective of China’s artificial island construction in the South China Sea is to create a sanctuary for nuclear submarines armed with JL-3s. Numerous U.S. experts have noted this objective. However, the five objectives cited by the defense white paper for China’s maritime expansion do not include this. Why?
     China has learned much from Soviet military strategies. Its anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy and its plan to deploy SSBNs (Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines) in a sanctuary originate from the former Soviet Navy.
     Lastly, I would like to appreciate the defense white paper as including a section about outer space and cyber security. However, the paper fails to mention security for seabed optical fiber cables indispensable for Internet communications in the section of maritime security. Japan’s “exclusively defense-oriented policy” does not work in the cyber space. As I noted when last year’s defense white paper was released, Japan’s defense policy has remained totally unchanged since 50 years ago when the exclusively defense-oriented policy was fixed while the security environment surrounding Japan has grown tougher and tougher.

Fumio Ota is a JINF Planning Committee Member and retired Vice Admiral of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.