Tie together efforts to improve defense system / Boost deterrence with counterattack capabilities

They are historic revisions that will significantly revise the past security policy and the level of defense spending. The government needs to steadily implement the new programs with threats to national security in mind.

The government has adopted three national security and defense documents: the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, and the Defense Buildup Program. “We will drastically strengthen our defense capabilities to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a press conference.

The three documents are guidelines that systematically define Japan’s foreign and defense policies. The prime minister announced an intention to revise the documents in October last year in light of the worsening security environment. The government and ruling parties have continued to study the issue.

Change in rigid budget

The National Security Strategy was revised for the first time since its formulation in 2013. The National Defense Strategy replaces the National Defense Program Guidelines and the Defense Buildup Program replaces the Medium-Term Defense Program.

China, which has been aiming to become a “maritime power,” has been ramping up hegemonic activities around such areas as the Nansei Islands, which stretch across Okinawa Prefecture and southern Kagoshima Prefecture. North Korea has repeatedly been launching missiles with dramatically enhanced performance.

In response to the growing threat, a complete review of the national security policy and strengthened defense capabilities are appropriate.

Based on the three documents, the government has set the total defense budget at around ¥43 trillion over five years from fiscal 2023, more than 50% higher than the current budget of ¥27.5 trillion over five years from fiscal 2019.

The government’s decision to change the rigid allocation for the entire budget and to significantly expand defense spending is a demonstration both domestically and internationally of its will to protect the nation.

The pillars of the new defense policy are the possession of “counterattack capabilities” and the introduction of “active cyber defense.”

Japan and the United States have traditionally assumed a division of roles, with the Self-Defense Forces responsible for defense and the U.S. military responsible for offense. Counterattack capabilities are intended to enhance the deterrence effect by allowing the SDF to attack enemy territory to some degree if Japan is attacked.

Under the National Security Strategy, the requirements for exercising counterattack capabilities must meet “three conditions for the use of force,” which were established in 2014 when the limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense was introduced.

The three conditions are based on the nation’s exclusively defense-oriented policy under the Constitution, and stipulate that “in the event of an armed attack on Japan and if no other appropriate means are available, the minimum necessary force will be used.” Counterattack does not constitute a preemptive strike, which international law prohibits.

In order to use counterattack capabilities, it is necessary to have the capabilities to identify enemy military bases and detect incoming missiles, for which the cooperation of the U.S. military is indispensable. It is important for the government to promote the deployment of long-range missiles and deepen cooperation between Japan and the United States.

China, Russia and North Korea are also enhancing their cyber-attack capabilities. Preventing cyber-attacks on defense networks and critical infrastructure such as electric power is a serious issue.

Cyber measures urgently needed

However, Japan’s Telecommunications Business Law prohibits violating the secrecy of communications. Intrusion into a third party’s computer system for purposes other than criminal investigations may also violate the Law on Prohibition of Unauthorized Computer Access.

On the other hand, if cyberspace is not monitored to detect the source of an attack and render it harmless, damage cannot be avoided. The government needs to establish a legal system for active cyber defense while taking into consideration the secrecy of communications. It is also important to train and utilize expert personnel.

The Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, which were established in 2015, state that “U.S. forces may conduct operations involving the use of strike power, to support and supplement the SDF.”

The alliance will be deepened if the guidelines specify the possession of counterattack capabilities and the strengthening of cyber defense systems. Japan and the United States are urged to consider this issue.

It is commendable that the prime minister has decided to strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities, but the process leading up to the decision was remarkably poor.

This month, the prime minister announced that the defense budget would be ¥43 trillion over five years. However, it was unclear what kind of expense items the prime minister had added up to come up with the ¥43 trillion spending.

Financial resources not settled

Regarding financial resources, the prime minister had expressed a policy of raising taxes in stages, in addition to spending reforms and the use of fiscal account surpluses, but the Liberal Democratic Party opposed tax hikes.

In the end, the LDP and coalition partner Komeito decided in their tax reform outline to increase corporate, income and tobacco taxes as future sources of defense spending, but postponed a decision on the timing of the hikes.

It is clear that there was insufficient coordination between the Prime Minister’s Office and the LDP. It is essential to secure financial resources through the tax system to avoid shifting the burden onto future generations. The government and the ruling parties must not stay away from the debate on tax hikes.

Never before have the national security policy and the defense budget received so much attention. The government should make every effort to explain in detail the importance of defense to gain public understanding.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 17, 2022)