New PM’s priority: Redo security strategy

The U.S. armed forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan resulted in extreme disarray due to the far-earlier-than-expected takeover of Kabul by the Taliban. Nevertheless, we should not decide that what recently happened in Afghanistan has markedly weakened U.S. leadership in international politics. Rather, it means that Washington has chosen to position itself better in its rivalry with China, which it currently terms as “the only competitor” to the United States.

If the presidential transition in the United States from Donald Trump to Joe Biden had been a smooth process, the new administration might have been able to carry out the withdrawal from Afghanistan in a more orderly way. But the immediate meltdown of the U.S.-backed Afghan government made it impossible for the United States to provide further support for the regime from the outside.

The international community now faces a major challenge — it has to figure out how to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a hotbed of terrorism again. Biden is aware of this necessity but is believed to have thought that his administration could no longer afford to treat Afghanistan as a de facto protectorate of the United States.

As we ushered in September, it became clear from Washington’s latest diplomatic moves that its pullout from Afghanistan was an essential step toward moving ahead to engage in a new phase of international affairs.

On Sept. 15, the United States, Britain and Australia announced that they had agreed on a new trilateral security cooperation pact, known as AUKUS, that included helping the Australian military build nuclear-powered submarines. On Sept. 24, Japan, the United States, Australia and India held an in-person summit of the Quad leaders in Washington. The United States seems to want to concentrate fully on how to maneuver in what Biden calls the competition between “autocracy and democracy.”

After the Washington meeting, I want Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who attended the Quad summit, to inform his successor in detail of what Japan should do as part of the four-nation security partnership. I also urge that the next prime minister embark on amending the National Security Strategy (NSS). A series of drastic changes are taking place in the international situation, including the abovementioned shift in Washington’s geostrategic positioning, that go beyond the assumptions made as of December 2013, when the landmark strategy was adopted.

The first change in the circumstances surrounding the NSS is the acceleration in the expansion of China’s national power and its hard-line stance toward other countries. The existing security strategy does not necessarily make light of the rise of China, but it is true that when the NSS was introduced, there were still hopes that China might change its stance.

Such hopes have become empty. China has continued implementing a steadfast military buildup. It has reclaimed land in the South China Sea to build artificial islands as military outposts. Furthermore, no end is in sight to its rapid shift toward a surveillance society and Beijing has effectively ditched the “one country, two systems” model for Hong Kong.

China now has an arsenal of 1,250 intermediate-range missiles capable of hitting Japan and the U.S. territory of Guam, according to the U.S. Defense Department’s latest annual report to the U.S. Congress. Beijing was able to strengthen such missile capabilities because it is not bound by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between Washington and Moscow — from which the United States notified Russia in 2019 of its withdrawal.

The second change is China’s technological and economic prowess, which enables the country to bring other countries under its control without using military muscle.

The United States, realizing that China’s cyber takeover of its intelligence network can pose an immediate threat to its national security, has excluded China’s Huawei Technologies Co. from its 5G infrastructure, while pressing its allies to follow suit.

In 2010, China suspended shipments to Japan of rare earths to protest Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain in waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. At around that time, China began attempting to control other countries by economic methods.

When South Korea allowed the United States to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system on its soil, Beijing caused Seoul to see a huge decrease in Chinese tourist arrivals. When a Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, China restricted salmon imports from Norway. More recently, when Australia called for a probe into the origins of the novel coronavirus, China reacted by imposing crushing import tariffs on Australian wines and other products.

These developments are sometimes referred to as examples of “weaponizing economic interdependence” and discussed as matters of economic security. The NSS does not grapple squarely with this issue. Therefore, in addition to the conventional definition of economic security as the security of the economy, we have to define economic security as security of the nation from threats by economic and technological means. In a nutshell, this point leads to the questions of how the country should prevent the transfer of dangerous technology on the one hand and how to reduce the vulnerability of Japan’s supply chains on the other.

The third change is the weakness of Japan’s national governance system, which has been exposed by the coronavirus pandemic, an issue to which the existing NSS does not necessarily give sufficient consideration.

On June 4 this year, I pointed out in this column the insufficient capabilities of Japan’s mainstay organizations tasked with addressing infectious diseases, as well as the absence of a system to mobilize personnel and resources from the market and society in the event of an emergency. Japan needs legislation for imposing lockdowns as required to stem the spread of infectious diseases, for mobilizing marketplace and social capabilities in the event of an emergency, and for adopting a system that ensures that all these emergency measures are carried out without fail. Such efforts should be pursued not only with measures against infectious diseases in mind, but also armed conflicts in areas such as the Taiwan Strait.

The fourth element is the series of changes in defense-related systems made by the government since December 2013 — the existing NSS does not reflect those changes. For example, the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe adopted “the three principles on transfer of defense equipment and technology” in April 2014, reversing the past policy of banning almost all such offshore transfers and instead permitting such activity based on strict examinations.

In July 2014, the Abe Cabinet interpreted the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense to a limited extent and based on this, the country enacted security-related legislation. These policy shifts have expanded the potential of joint defense responses with Japan’s ally the United States — in fact, the two countries have been able to expand the scope of their joint defense exercises. It also has become possible for Japan to export defense equipment abroad. Nonetheless, the country has not yet realized such transfers to the extent that they strengthen the foundation of the defense industry.

The fifth change is the fact that the Japanese government has affirmed, both domestically and internationally, that “a free and open Indo-Pacific” is indispensable to ensuring Japan’s security and prosperity. The regional concept of the Indo-Pacific as a future growth center of the world economy is not shared just by the United States. In addition to Australia, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Britain and the European Union have also become aware of the importance of the concept. The recent port call in Japan of the flagship of Britain’s Carrier Strike Group, the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, symbolizes this growing international trend.

Of course, I do not think that Japan should completely amend the existing NSS. The current definition of the country’s national interests can stay as it is.

That said, I think the NSS still should be amended to a considerable extent, given the abovementioned changes in the circumstances pertaining to the security of Japan. The country needs to stay prepared for not only an armed invasion but also possible gray areas, which are too ambiguous to be seen as an outright invasion, as well as large-scale cyber-attacks. Major disasters and infectious diseases are threats to “human security.” To enable the country to better prepare for and deal with such situations and threats, the government must amend the existing NSS and present a revised version to the Japanese people in a way that is easy to understand.