Japan embarks on its largest defensive breakthrough since World War II to contain China

Japan embarked on its biggest defense turnaround since World War II on Friday with its new roadmap for the next decade, the main goal of which experts say is to contain China’s military ascendancy and maintain its dominant position. of the United States in Asia.

The three documents approved by the Japanese government foresee a 50% increase in military spending over the next five years, bringing it to the level of NATO countries, and the acquisition or development for the first time of new weapons such as long-range weapons or missiles hypersonic. .

New balance of power in Asia-Pacific

Keio University professor ken jimbo calls the new strategy “one of the most significant changes in post-war Japan”, and underlines that it was conceived to adapt to a new scenario “in which the military superiority of Tokyo and above all of the United States – its main ally and guarantor of its defense – against China can no longer be taken for granted”.

China’s rapid progress to bolster its anti-ship, ballistic and cruise missile capabilities, coupled with the dominance of cyber warfare, “opens up the possibility of Beijing carrying out an air and naval blockade in the region,” warns this academic specializing in security and Foreign policy.

For this reason, he points out that Japan’s new guidelines “seek to ensure that the United States can deploy assets and have operational access to a potential war zone,” and cites specific possible scenarios such as an invasion of Taiwan.

“In the last decade the balance of power in the region has changed”, underlines prof Jeff Kingstondirector of Asian studies at Temple University in Japan.

Kingston believes Japan’s change of course “responds to its desire to match the United States in the bilateral security alliance, of which Tokyo is a subordinate member, rather than a desire to develop more self-sustaining or autonomous security capabilities.” “. .

According to the historian, Japan “has no alternative but to demonstrate that it is doing everything possible to keep the United States in the strongest position on the board of directors.”

arms race

Both experts agree that Japan’s military spending expansion comes against a backdrop of an arms race in the region in recent years, and where, although Beijing has led the largest increases, growing investment from India or the group of countries, as well as advances in North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.

China has spent about as much as Japan in 2005 on weapons. Since then, the Asian giant’s military spending has skyrocketed to five times that of Japan in 2020, according to comparative data from the Stockholm Institute for Peace Studies.

“If Japan doesn’t increase its defense spending, the balance of power in the region could become even more unbalanced. This is a very big risk,” says Jimbo, who also points out that Japan’s defense budget “has been significantly lower than other countries’ for years.

Kingston cites the Russian invasion of Ukraine and North Korea’s continued missile tests this year – some of which have flown over Japanese territory – as other factors that “have loaded the government with reasons” to push for more military spending and get a increased public support for this initiative.

Counterattack or preemptive strike?

One of the thorniest points of the new defense guidelines is the development of “counterattack capabilities,” defined as the power to attack enemy military installations to repel or prevent potential offensives against Japan or against allied countries.

The ambiguous formulation of this significant novelty and its possible interpretations have generated a wide debate in Japan for its potential to violate the pacifist Constitution of Japan, which renounces war as a means of resolving international conflicts.

Jimbo believes that the increase in military spending and the controversial point about “counterattack” should not be seen as something “worrisome or provocative” for neighboring countries, as long as Tokyo “remains faithful to the principles of using force only to defend itself” as established by its Constitution.

“How do you determine that the enemy is going to launch? Will this be limited to enemy launch centers and control bases?” asks Kingston, who also sees “too much opacity in a situation where it would be desirable to have as clear as possible .

This lack of transparency is, in his view, “intentional” and indicates that the government “may try to get you a blank check”, as well as being “very difficult to reconcile with the doctrine of self-defense” embodied in the Constitution. Japanese pacifist, he warns the American professor.

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