Japan turns its guns from the Bear toward the Dragon

Posted by: Phineas on December 23, 2010 at 6:08 pm

The New York Times recently published an intriguing piece on Japan’s strategic focus: having directed their self-defense forces toward the USSR/Russia since being allowed to rearm after World War II, they are now turning their attention towards a growing threat – China:

In what would be a sweeping overhaul of its cold war-era defense strategy, Japan is about to release new military guidelines that would reduce its heavy armored and artillery forces pointed north toward Russia in favor of creating more mobile units that could respond to China’s growing presence near its southernmost islands, Japanese newspapers reported Sunday.

The realignment comes as the United States is making new calls for Japan to increase its military role in eastern Asia in response to recent provocations by North Korea as well as China’s more assertive stance in the region.

The new defense strategy, likely to be released this week, will call for greater integration of Japan’s armed forces with the United States military, the reports said. The reports did not give a source, but the fact that major newspapers carried the same information suggested they were based on a background briefing by government officials.

The new guidelines also call for acquiring new submarines and fighter jets, the reports said, and creating ground units that can be moved quickly by air in order to defend the southern islands, including disputed islands in the East China Sea that are also claimed by China and Taiwan. These disputed islands are known as the Senkakus in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese.

Read the whole thing, not only for general interest, but for a good glimpse of the evolving strategic game in East Asia. Don’t let the mention of Taiwan claiming the Senkakus distract you; Taiwan is not what Japan worries about, not when Taiwan will need the help of Japan’s patron, the US, in any confrontation with China. (And Tokyo’s, too, even if just diplomatic and political.)

China, a rising, potentially hypernationalistic power with global ambitions and an increasingly offensively oriented military, poses much more of a strategic threat to Japan than declining Russia. Small wonder than that, faced with China’s growing challenge to the 65-years old total dominance of the Pacific by the US Navy, America is encouraging Japan to rearm and expand its strategic mission.

And it’s not just China Japan is worried about: Beijing’s obstreperous protege North Korea has repeatedly caused jitters in Tokyo, with its recent nuclear tests and violent acts against South Korea. While the history between Japan and Korea (both of them) is difficult to say the least (colonization, sex slavery, and kidnapping tend to spoil even the best of relationships), the US has been working to encourage a greater strategic cooperation between the two, and there are some signs of early efforts to reach an understanding.

All things considered, this represents a significant change in Japanese policy with important strategic implications for the region and America. Japan may be on the verge of a serious demographic decline, but it is a technological powerhouse of the first order and has in the past shown an amazing ability to adapt to new circumstances. (Its one failure to adapt, during its war with the US, lead to Japan’s only defeat. Don’t think they haven’t learned that lesson.) Should the Japanese feel threatened enough by China, where anti-Japanese feelings frequently erupt, or the mountain bandits in Pyongyang, I have no doubt they would find the will to quickly amend their constitution to allow for a larger, more active military. And if they felt the need to go nuclear? Regardless of the memories of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they could do it within month, folks. Within months.

While the Jihadi War is our immediate concern, our strategic competition with China is a long-term crucial issue. Japan is one player to keep a very close eye on.

And to keep on our side.

via DaveedGR on Twitter

RELATED: Like Japan and Russia, China is facing its own demographic decline. Like Imperial Germany prior to World War I, this may lead China to feel the need to strike for domination before its position weakens.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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6 Responses to “Japan turns its guns from the Bear toward the Dragon”


  1. Frank says:

    Interesting analysis, but regarding Japan two points come to mind which I’d like to clarify: firstly, while Japan’s birthrate has been declining I bet any concerted external threat toward a very homogeneous nation-state would see that reversed in very short order as a sign of patriotic duty.

    Secondly, Japan didn’t lose the Second World War because they didn’t adapt – they changed tactics and strategies several times during the war. However, all of their historic models of European nations’ military and economic patterns didn’t begin to predict the American ability to adapt even more quickly, let alone how fast we could gear up a civilian economy for total war production. They never believed we would react the way we did – as an enraged and awakened polar bear – let alone that we would or could mount a morale-buster like the Doolittle Raid in as few as four months. Many Japanese military strategists knew at that moment that the war was not going to be short or end favorably for the Chrysanthemum Throne.

  2. Tango says:

    …It is wise to understand that we live in the era of proxy wars. And to presume the Masters of Bejing will utilize the DRPK accordingly, if push comes to shove. Honestly, I don’t think it will come to that. I believe Pyongyang will eventually act on their own, and thus enable Bejing to appear embarrassed in front of the world press. Be mindful the North Koreans still harbor a festering generational hatred towards Japan for what the Nipponese did to Koreans in the course of WWII.

  3. serfer62 says:

    Tango…those memories are fading just as the honor paid to US troops by older Koreans isn’t there for the newer generation.
    If war comes, alliances form fast as Britian found out even after they burned our Capitol

  4. Severian says:

    You just watch, the Japanese will build nukes. They will be very small, have wifi and Bluetooth, and be impossible to control because they will accelerate like mad without any provocation. The Japanese nuke symbol will be a Hello Kitty with a demonic expression.

  5. Phineas says:

    You mean Hello Kitty isn’t already demonic?? :o

  6. Carlos says:

    Tango, as a general rule the North Koreans hate not only the Japanese, but the South Koreans. And the Chinese. And the Russians. And the Americans. And…

    People whine endlessly about South African apartheid, but nothing is ever said about that communist, malevolent dictatorship’s endless belief in racial superiority.