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‘Peace-loving’ Japan to add more offensive firepower

‘Peace-loving’ Japan to add more offensive firepower

Jamie McIntyre

January 20, 02:30 AM January 20, 02:30 AM

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Having lived under a pacifist constitution since its inglorious defeat in World War II, Japan is now coming around to the idea that the best defense is, indeed, a good offense.

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, drafted under U.S. supervision in 1947, specifically denounces “war as a sovereign right.” It further forswears “the threat or use of force” as means of settling international disputes.

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The provision, which includes a ban on maintaining “land, sea, and air forces,” was meant to ensure Japan never again became the aggressor in a major conflict. But it has been interpreted over the past 75 years to mean that Japan’s de facto military, its Self-Defense Forces, must primarily be just that — defensive.

Now a loyal ally of the United States and living in an increasingly dangerous region within missile range of nuclear neighbors China and North Korea, Japan has written new national security and defense strategies. It’s also embarked on a defense buildup program that will give it a substantially more muscular offensive capability over the next five years.

“Japan and the United States are currently facing the most challenging and complex security environment in recent history,” said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida when he met with President Joe Biden earlier this month. “Japan decided to fundamentally reinforce our defense capabilities, including in possessing the counterstrike capabilities, and, in order to ensure that, increased our defense budget.”

Under its ambitious new plan, Japan will double defense spending over five years from the current 1% of gross domestic product to the NATO standard of 2%, which could push its annual defense spending close to $80 billion.

Japan already has a formidable military — ranked fifth in the world behind those of the U.S., Russia, China, and India — with more than 900 warplanes, 48 destroyers (including eight equipped with U.S. Aegis anti-missile systems), and 20 submarines, which places its overall ranking ahead of the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy.

But what Japan lacks, despite a substantial buildup during the eight-year reign of conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is what’s known as “power projection”: strategic bombers, long-range missiles, and aircraft carriers.

Under the new plan, Japan will convert two helicopter-carrying destroyers, the Izumo and Kaga, into small aircraft carriers outfitted with vertical/short takeoff F-35Bs. That’s akin to what U.S. Marines fly off American amphibious assault ships.

The 42 F-35Bs are part of a planned buy of 147 Lockheed Martin F-35s, which will make Japan the largest user of American stealth fighters outside the U.S.

In addition, Japan plans to arm its destroyers and frigates with standoff weapons, such as the Japanese-made Type 12 surface-to-ship missile and a long-range version of U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile made by Raytheon.

In addition, Japan’s fleet of submarines will be retrofitted with vertical launch tubes, so they, too, would be capable of striking targets deep inside China and North Korea.

“The prospect of a Japan that can strike back in response to an attack, at long range and on its own, would represent a significant new variable for potential adversaries in Pyongyang and Beijing, and one that would help to reinforce deterrence,” writes Christopher Johnstone, Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It would also send a powerful signal about Japan’s status as a U.S. ally — today only the United Kingdom possesses the Tomahawk, although Australia has also announced the intent to acquire the capability.”

Two developments have prompted Japan to turn the page on its pacifist past: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — which, during his visit to Washington, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi called “an event that shakes the foundation of international order” — and increasing threats to Taiwan and the uninhabited Japanese Senkaku Islands by China, which Hayashi called an “unprecedented and greatest strategic challenge.”

The reaction in Washington to Japan’s more aggressive military posture is nothing short of elation.

At a joint news conference after Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with their Japanese counterparts at the State Department earlier this month, Austin gushed, “I want to underscore my support for the bold decisions that Japan has made.” Austin added they would “optimize U.S. force posture in Japan by forward-stationing more versatile, mobile, and resilient capabilities.”

The U.S. has some 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, mostly in Okinawa. And Austin said for its part that the U.S. would reconfigure the 12th Marine Regiment based on the southern island into a “littoral regiment” that’s “more lethal, more agile, more capable” over the next two years.

“We will equip this new formation with advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as anti-ship and transportation capabilities that are relevant to the current and future threat environments,” said Austin. “It consists of a combat element, which is a battalion-size element, [and] a long-range fires element, which gives us an anti-ship capability.”

Japan insists that despite its more aggressive force posture, it’s not abandoning its anti-war ethos, forged on its disastrous defeat nearly 80 years ago at the end of World War II.

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By labeling its improved offensive firepower as “counterstrike capabilities,” Japan is subtly signaling its force that would be employed in response to an attack and is primarily meant to serve as a deterrent.

“As a peace-loving nation, Japan will adhere to the basic policy of maintaining an exclusively national defense-oriented policy, not becoming a military power that poses a threat to other countries,” says one section of the new national strategy document.

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