- In 2007, India, Japan, Australia, and the United States formed the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the Quad for short, to counter Chinese influence. Since March 2021, the frequency of meetings has increased showing a revived effort to bring security to the area. While the original focus of the group was aimed at countering Chinese influence, other focus groups have been created that tackle health, cyber, infrastructure issues, etc. These focus groups cover issues that benefit lower income nations in the region giving the Quad members more legitimacy, vice an alliance with an emphasis in security.
- Efforts to open a NATO liaison office in Japan have been discussed, but were opposed by French President Emmanuel during a July summit. The main point of President Macron’s opposition was that NATO should focus on the Euro-Atlantic area and not antagonize Beijing. While NATO has identified Chinese “stated ambitions and coercive policies” as challenge for the first time in 2022 Strategic Concept, the Allies do not see eye to eye on how to tackle this challenge. For instance, NATO considers Taiwan outside of their purview, while the U.S. has stated its intent to maintain Taiwan independence in the event of a Chinese led invasion.
- Opening a liaison office outside of the Euro-Atlantic area has been done before. In 2013-2017, a NATO office was established in Uzbekistan which was used to increase dialogue with 5 Central Asian partners. Like the Tashkent liaison office, a Regional Centre was opened in Kuwait City in 2017 to provide a meeting ground for NATO’s Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Partners. Along the same lines, NATO has liaison offices in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova also.
- In July 2023, Japan and NATO signed an Individually Tailored Partnership Program where NATO has outlined areas of cooperation between the alliance and Japan. The ITPP can pave the way for standardization, allowing for mutual use of military installations and the ability to repair equipment there.
- In December 2022, Japan announced a move to increase military spending up to 2% of its GDP. The increase equates to a 60% increase in spending over the next 5 years. This decision highlights a strategic shift in the Japanese military spending, which previously reflected a defensive posture, focusing mostly on repelling an attack on Japanese territory to now being able to conduct counterstrikes.
Japan has recently decided to increase its defense spending and develop its military capabilities in response to growing threats in the region. Japan feels that the security of its nation is increasingly under threat from China, North Korea, and Russia.
This new direction taken by Japan contrasts sharply with its military spending trend since the end of World War II. Following the war, Japan maintained a defense budget of under 1% of its GDP and a policy of territorial defense. This policy originated out of a war torn Japan, aimed at alleviating the financial burden of defense spending by focusing on reinvesting into the economy. The defense provided by the United States allowed for Japan to take these dramatic measures. Only until recently has the government made statements about the divergence from the historical 1% spending.
This new defense strategy comes in light of the war in Ukraine. Russia occupies parts of a historically Japanese island chain known as the Northern Territories or as the South Kuril Islands by the Russians. The military build-up on the Russian-controlled territories has provided them with a large defense zone and denial of Japanese sovereignty of the islands. Plans to reach an agreement over the contested island chain were halted after the relationship between the two countries deteriorated following Russia’s war.
In recent years Japan has strengthened ties with many countries to promote their interests. As such, NATO has likewise looked to open a liaison office in Japan to further its interests in the region. A move like this would be mutually beneficial for all parties. Still, the implications of NATO opening an office eastward can be seen as a sign of aggression.
Japan’s Regional Security
China has been asserting its authority in economic exclusion zones in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. In the East China Sea, both Japan and China claim control over a series of islands called the Senkaku Islands, which are presently administered by Japan. Additionally, China has been asserting its authority in the South China Sea which threatens 80% of oil shipments to countries in Northeast Asia, including Japan.
As previously stated, the Northern Territories are a point of contention between Japan and Russia. Russia occupied the islands in the final days of World War II. Over the past few years, Russia has been establishing permanent military barracks across various islands and has deployed missile systems that could strike areas of Japan. The military presence on the islands allows Russia to keep open its waterways for its Pacific Fleet.
Cooperation between Russia and China in military exercises also threatens Japan. The two countries have conducted multiple joint bombers and fighter flights near Japan. Between April 1 and June 30, Japan scrambled its jets to identify potential threats 238 times with 66% of the scrambles being against Chinese planes and 31% against Russian. This period reflects an increase in Russian activity compared to that of the previous year.
North Korea has been increasing its launching of missiles and recently changed the laws surrounding nuclear use. In April, a North Korean missile launch triggered an evacuation order in Japan. This missile flew about 1,000 km and could not be determined whether it entered the Japanese Economic Exclusion Zone. The evacuation order was rescinded after 30 minutes, but the missile launch had already disrupted the lives of Japanese citizens through delays in public services. A different missile launch resulted in it being launched over Japan in October 2022.
According to the changes in North Korea’s nuclear use doctrine, there is an allowance for preemptive strikes against an attack or in defense of a its sovereignty. In July, North Korea made threats of using a nuclear missile in retaliation for the USS Kentucky making a port call in South Korea, citing the deployment of US troops as justification. The continued development of missiles and its updated nuclear use policy means that North Korea poses a grave threat to the region.
The growing regional threats have increased support for bolstering defenses in Japan. Various polls conducted in December indicate that the public is in favor of counterstrike capabilities with 55% voting in favor. This same poll shows how people are dissatisfied with the proposed tax increase to finance the new defenses even though about 80% of the Japanese people consider China a serious threat.
Japan is faced with numerous threats, yet also has numerous options to help promote its security. Of particular interest is a recent move to open a liaison office by NATO on its soil. Such a move is likely to cause the ire of China, which would see it as an aggressive act against Beijing.
Japan continually develops strong defense ties with the U.S., but the cooperation has put the country in a bind with its strong economic partner, China. In October, the U.S. announced to control semiconductor exports to China. Such controls have been likened to strict cold war measures.
Conversely, Japan implemented controls on the exports of its machineary used for chipmaking while ensuring the export controls do not target China specifically. These measures are taken by Tokyo to ensure their technology is not used for military purposes and to promote international peace. Even still, China has warned Japan to back down from the semiconductor controls and Japan fears a retaliation on their exports of Japanese cars.
Even though Japan is trying to remain diplomatic in its goal for peace, the country has no option other than continuing to build up forces for defense against regional threats. Japan desires to build its own forces to satellite constellation for counterstrike operations, but presently doesn’t have the means to do so. Therefore, Japan would continue to integrate with existing U.S. capabilities until the time it has means to develop indigenous capabilities. While the U.S. is an important partner for Japan to use in developing its defense force, it is important for Japan to focus on multinational organizations to neutralize perceived threats.
China, through its Belts and Roads Initiative, is expanding its sphere of influence over lesser developed countries to further its global reach. To properly exert regional influence, Japan, and thus members of the Quad, should also focus on providing lesser developed nations with an alternative to China. The Quad has already conducted two initiatives. One was to provide Covid vaccines in the region and the other is the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness.
Pursuits of regional stabilization must begin with the regional development of lesser countries through a unified force. While the Quad is an avenue to conduct these developments, it should also foresee extension of security to those countries through the buildup of alliances. The U.S. is committed to helping Japan to develop into a regional defense actor. Although strengthening ties with NATO provides benefits to both Japan and the region, they must be done so cautiously so that it doesn’t appear to be an overt threat against China.
Joshua Perkins is a research assistant intern at Beyond the Horizon ISSG. He is also pursuing a degree in Homeland Security with an emphasis in International Relations through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.