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Research Report

JAPAN’S SECURITY ROLE AND CAPABILITIES IN THE 2020s: Japan as a Regional Security Leader

Roger Cliff
Copyright Date: Nov. 1, 2015
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 40
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 7-7)
    Jon M. Huntsman Jr.

    A new era is dawning in the Asia-Pacific. After two and a half decades in which US military dominance has ensured regional peace and prosperity, China’s rapid growth in power is threatening the prevailing order. As the region faces a host of challenges that include North Korea’s nuclear development scheme, the questionable future of the Pyongyang regime, and escalating territorial disputes in the South China Sea, China’s role remains undefined.

    Fortunately, the Asia-Pacific region is home to many vibrant democracies that can work together to promote their common set of values and to ensure the region’s continued stability and prosperity....

  2. (pp. 11-12)

    Security challenges and opportunities for Japan are growing. Over the past decade, China has emerged as a major military power, and its official defense budget has grown from $30 billion in 2005 to $145 billion in 2015.¹ Since 2012, moreover, China has begun to actively contest Japan’s control over the islands that Japan calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu, which both countries regard as part of their national territory.² Beijing also continues to assert the right to use force against Taiwan, which has been self-governing since the Nationalist government retreated there in 1949, after being defeated by the...

  3. (pp. 13-14)

    Japan’s security environment over the next ten to fifteen years will be dominated by two major challenges. The first of these is North Korea. Although its conventional military capabilities are outdated, and a North Korean attempt to invade and conquer South Korea no longer seems plausible, North Korea still has the capability to launch destructive attacks on its neighbors through ballistic missile strikes, artillery bombardment, limited ground offensives, or raids by surface ships, submarines, aircraft, or commandos. Of particular concern is the fact that North Korea possesses biological and chemical weapons and is expected to soon complete the development of...

  4. (pp. 14-14)

    Under these circumstances, it is not in Japan’s interest—nor in that of regional security and stability—to play a passive, self-focused security role. The United States has long been the region’s security guarantor. Given the growing severity of security challenges and the global demands on the United States, however, the region needs other countries to supplement the United States in that role. As the most militarily capable Asian democracy, Japan is the most important nation in this regard. The future security and stability of East Asia, therefore, require Japan to assume a more active role in regional security affairs....

  5. (pp. 15-23)

    As with any country, it is difficult to predict the specific events to which Japan’s security forces will be called upon to respond in coming years. However, identifying a range of plausible potential demands for Japan’s security capabilities and then determining the capabilities needed to respond to those demands will likely identify most or all of the security capabilities that will be needed from Japan over the next decade or so.

    Interviews and analysis of political, economic, technological, and security dynamics in the region suggest that Japan’s security forces should be prepared to respond to nine broad types of demands...

  6. (pp. 24-29)

    The set of capabilities required to respond to the range of demands for which Japan’s security forces could be called upon, as described in the previous section, are derived in the appendix. Japan’s security forces already possess or plan to acquire many of the needed capabilities. Nonetheless, there are key capability gaps that should be addressed. In addition, even in cases where Japan’s security forces already possess the requisite capabilities, those capabilities must be sufficient to meet future demands. At the same time, the resources available for security are finite and, with the ongoing fiscal constraints on Japan’s government, it...

  7. (pp. 30-31)

    This report has identified a future security role for Japan, that of a regional security leader, that responds to the growing challenges to security in the region but is achievable within the constraints of the domestic and international political environment and Japan’s fiscal realities. Based on the potential demands associated with playing such a security role, the report then identified the capabilities of Japan’s security forces that should be priorities for improvement or whose sufficiency for the future should be further assessed. How Japan goes about acquiring those capabilities, however, will affect its ability to play the role of regional...