Japan's New Defense Policy Outlines and their Impact on the Security in the Asia-Pacific

von Pan Zhenqiang
Online Info-Dienst Ausgabe 1/2005


On December 9, Japan announced that it will adopt a new defense policy guideline, officially called the new National Defense Program Outline. It is the second revision since its first compilation in 1976 and will replace the current 1995 outline beginning April 2005. Along with the revised National Defense Program Outline which maps out its defense policies for the next 10 years, Japan also issued the midterm defense buildup program, detailing the SDF equipment and personnel formation plans in the five years to come. The announcement has immediately drawn close attention from the international community as many analysts believe that the new guideline is a further departure from Japan's previous defense.

The full official texts of the documents are not available yet. The following are believed to be the highlights of the new guidelines that draw the greatest attention from the international community:

--About the new threat perception. The Guideline offers a gloomy picture of the world and particularly of the Asia-Pacific region. It emphasizes the emergence of new threats in diverse situations like international terrorism, ballistic missile attacks, guerrilla wars, invasion of small outlying islands, intrusions of armed spy ships, and massive disasters, etc. But what is most striking is that Tokyo for the first time names DPRK and China as its major concern. The previous outline in 1995 had avoided referring to any specific countries of concern by name. The new guideline is reported, however, to picture DPRK's military moves as "a significantly unstable factor in regional security and a serious problem for global nonproliferation efforts." As with regard to China, the document stressed that "China, which has significant influence on the region's security, is pushing forward its nuclear and missile capabilities and modernization of its navy and air force", and that "it is also trying to expand its scope of naval activities and attention must be paid to these developments." As the guideline called for measures to respond to these challenges, Tokyo has in fact taken DPRK and China as explicit threats in the future.

--About the new scope and nature of Japan's defense responsibility. The new guideline sets out Japan's two major missions: to defend the homeland and to carry cooperative activities for international peace. The wording of the latter task is rather ambiguous as these activities are allegedly to include "improving the international security environment so as to prevent threats from involving Japan". The message it carries is again explicit, which virtually means that the focus of Japan's defense policy has expanded from the defense of its homeland to the one of maintaining international security. Thus, Japan's military force is prepared to go to the world. Reflecting this long-standing ambition to have the SDF play a role in a more far-flung scope, the outline stresses Japan will actively take part in international peacekeeping activities.

The new guideline stresses Japan's determination of further strengthening its alliance of the United States as the most important pillar in its defense efforts. "The alliance with the United States is indispensable to Japan", the guideline declares. It also indicates a go-ahead decision with the missile defense cooperation with the US. To that end, with the Cabinet's approval of the new outline, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda issued a statement announcing Japan will exempt arms parts related to missile defense when the ongoing Japan-U.S. joint research moves to the development and production stages. In the case of arms exports related to other joint projects with the United States and contributions for international antiterrorism operations, the government will decide on a case-to-case basis, the statement says. Since 1976, Japan has maintained a blanket ban on arms exports regardless of the destinations. But the transfer of military technology to the United States has already been an exception since 1983. The current relaxation of the arms sales ban would in fact be a breakthrough in Japan’s overall arms export policy. In future, Tokyo would find no major obstacle to selling anything to any country in legal terms.

---About the modernization of the Japan's armed forces. The new guideline indicates that the SDF is going to change its name to something like a more professional army as in a normal country, which means that constraints to the mission and structure of the current SDF will be further removed. Owing to the financial constraints, military budget for fiscal 2005-2009 will be cut slightly to about 24.24 trillion yen from the previous 25.16 trillion yen. The new guideline also expects a downsizing of the SDF, including a cut of 5,000 ground troops to 155,000 -- a compromise reached between the Defense Agency and the Finance Ministry after tough negotiations. The emphasis is therefore placed on the quality build-up. In this regard, the SDF will be streamlined and shall transform into "a multifunctional, flexible and effective force". Efforts will particularly be made to enable the SDF to have sustained capability of fighting against nuclear, chemical and biological threats, and of maritime operations oversees over long distance. The SDF is also going to be equipped with the most advanced interceptors against ballistic missile attacks and the highly efficient intelligence and monitoring systems based on its science and high-technology so as to be able to deal with various contingencies. In short, the SDF will become the most efficient and advanced armed forces in the world.

Now what are all these about? From the strategic point of view, three points can be argued with regard to the motivations behind Japan's new defense guideline.

First, the new guideline seems part of Japan's efforts to gain recognition by the international community as a world power in its true sense. If one is to link Tokyo's current diplomatic offensives, including a forceful campaign to obtain a permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations, one can sense a growing anxiety and strenuous efforts on the part of Japan to reach that goal. Together with the new guideline, Tokyo has decided to prolong the stay of the Japanese forces in Iraq while many US allies are planning to withdraw their forces in the coalition in that country; to further design the revision of the Constitution so as to become militarily a "normal country" by removing all the constraints on the SDF; and to advocate the legitimacy of preemptive strikes in its future military operations, etc. All these seem to aim to become a military power which should be matching its economic might (1).

Second, the new guideline seems to reflect Japan's determination to mainly rely on the United States in security. It is interesting to observe such a seemingly anti-tidal trend of Japan's, as most of the US allies both in Europe and Asia have been trying increasingly to keep distance with their big ally and to turn to regional cooperation and integration. One reason to explain Japan's decision is that Tokyo seems to genuinely believe that the world today is a unipolar one dominated by one superpower. Given the situation in which Japan is relatively declining while China and other strategic forces like EU are in rise in both economic and political terms, Tokyo seems to opt to be closer to Washington to insure its best interests.

Japan's decision is naturally welcomed by Washington as the US is in need of the allies' support to address various security challenges in the world in general, and in the Asia-Pacific in particular. In the circumstance, the two countries are in fact proceeding to discuss the new definition of the bilateral alliance, and design a new framework of the security cooperation in the future (2). A new "Joint Declaration of the Security Cooperation between Japan and United States" is reportedly to be reached in February 2005. The agreement is said to openly point to China and the DPRK as "major destabilizing factors", and that the two states decide to join efforts to cope with all these threats in Asia. To that end, the two sides seem to have further division of labor; the US force based in Japan will be restructured, and redesigned new missions outside East Asia; and the US encourages Japan to take up greater defense burdens in the region (3). This updating of the Japan-US military collaboration will no doubt have serious impact on the strategic situation in the Asia-Pacific in the future.

Last but not the least, the new guideline seems also to aim at strengthen its rivalry with China. China-Japan political relations have been in their lowest ebb ever since the end of the Cold War despite the two countries witnessed increasing economic interaction and interdependence. There are multi-fold reasons for the growing political frictions and mistrust. Chiefly because of the attitude of Japan negating its responsibility for the atrocities perpetrated in the aggressive war of Japan against China over half a century ago, both countries seem to be unable to turn over the page of history. This situation has been fueled by the rise of the rightist force in Japan. That has made it impossible for China to make effective efforts to lead to political reconciliation. Geopolitical and geo-economics seem also to play a role in Japan's strategic calculations. On the other hand, the guideline's highlight of threats from China and the DPRK seems to provide a good justification for the advocacy of Japan's intended expansion of its military and the updating of Japan-US cooperation, including, for example, the joint project of the missile defense system. In addition, the outline is apparently also referring to heightened bilateral tensions over natural gas development projects in the East China Sea between the two countries. It is therefore unfortunate that Japan should view this most important relationship between China and Japan still a zero sum game, and want to embark on a confrontational approach to dealing with problems with China while most of the nations in the Asia Pacific feel the greatest need to close ranks in order to be more competitive vis-à-vis other parts of the world.

Thus it is understandable that the guideline has immediately generated great concern and criticism from Japan's close neighbors. The Singaporean media has expressed its worry that the new guideline "may reduce sense of security in the Asian region". It holds that it will not be helpful for Japan to seek a peaceful solution of the Korean nuclear issue while taking on openly the DPRK as a potential threat (4). South Korea urged Japan to be more transparent with its defense policy guideline in light of neighboring countries' concerns about Japan's militaristic past (5).

Many analysts believe that the new guideline will cause further problems for Japan with its neighbors, particularly with China and the DPRK. A comment by German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung pointed out that Japan's constitutional pacifism came to an end ever since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi tied the country's defense policy closer with America's Pacific policy. Unlike Germany, the comment said, Japan has never come clean about its history of militarism. The White House probably has forgotten Japan's past, since through sending troops to Iraq, Koizumi provided political covering for Bush. But in Asia, Japan's past will never be forgotten. Before becoming a normal country it wishes to be, Japan has to win trust from its former war-field rivalries, while by setting up imaginary enemies it can only get the opposite result (6).

Meanwhile, China also expressed concern over Japan's new defense guideline that walks away from its previous restraints in its future security strategy and criticized Tokyo for describing Beijing as a threat. "We express our deep concern over the major readjustments of Japan's military and security strategy and the possible impacts arising thereof. Due to historical reasons, the developments in Japan's military and security have always been a very sensitive issue. We hope the Japanese side to take full account of the concerns of the people in its neighboring countries in Asia. It should stay on the path of development through peace and behave with prudence on the military and security issue, so as to maintain the peace and stability in this region.", Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue was quoted as saying by state media. She also said that "Japan publicly plays up the so-called 'China's threat' in its official documents. It is completely groundless and extremely irresponsible. China expresses its strong dissatisfaction at this. We hope the Japanese side to make more efforts in the benefit of the stronger mutual trust between our two sides and the healthy and steady development of our relations." (7)

This would be not only in the interests of regional peace and stability, but also in the security interests of Japan.


(1) For details of Japan's future security and military orientation of Japan, see, for example, "Japan's New Defense Policy to Warn of China Threat", Agence France-Presse, Tokyo, http://www.defensenews, com/story,php?F=520922&C=asiapac.

(2) See news release of gts, Tokyo, December 22, 2004, re-quoted from China's News for Reference, Beijing, December 24, 2004.

(3) See news release, of Japan Economic News, Tokyo, December 22, 2004, re-quoted from China's News for Reference, Beijing, December 23.

(4) See news release of China News, Beijing, December 16, 2004,

(5) "China criticizes Japan's new defense guidelines", Beijing, Japan Times, December 12, 2004,

(6) "Japan's New Defense Outline bares Military Teeth", News Comments, December 13, 2004,

(7) Zhang Qiyue, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, Comment on Japan's New Outline for National Defense, Beijing, December 14, 2004,

The Author:

Major General Pan Zhenqiang (retired) is Professor and Deputy President of the Shanghai Institute for International Strategic Studies.

Frühere Ausgaben des Online Info-Dienstes siehe unter:

The 7th Sino-EU Summit Meeting and the Sino-European Relations in the Future (Nr. 7)

The Sino-American Relations in the Future (Nr. 6)

Nuclear Nonproliferation - Past, present and futu re (Nr. 5)

What the Asia-Pacific Can Learn from the European Integration? (Nr. 4)

Solution for the Nuclear Issue of North Korea Hopeful But Still Uncertain (Nr. 3)

China's Security Agenda in 2004 (Nr. 2)

China's Non-Proliferation Policy and Practices (Nr. 1)