During his time as the Minister of Defense of Japan, promising Japanese politician Taro Kono made a remarkable statement that the country's military and political leadership deemed it possible to strike "enemy military bases, from which there is a threat." It kindled heightened interest and numerous comments. Some experts have hastened to call this statement startling, although it is not, since Tokyo was generating similar statements several years ago either. Back then, this was brought about by the appearance of North Korean nuclear missiles capable of reaching the territory of Japan. Now there are options, as they say.
New Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihide Suga has also announced his intention to review the country's defense policy in terms of security. Shortly before being elected to the high post, he stated that the self-defense retaliation concept against a preemptive strike may be changed under new conditions.
For a long time, Japan's military doctrine has been considering North Korea, China, and Russia as the most likely opponents. The sequence was determined by the level of threat of a possible armed conflict. Changes in the military-political situation of the Asia-Pacific region suggest that the DPRK and China should change places in the new doctrinal narrative. Thus, Taro Kono, who used to describe Beijing's military activity as a source of concern, changed its category to dangerous.
The root cause for the shift of priorities was certainly China's growing military power. Moreover, an important factor with a bearing upon Tokyo is the policy pursued by the White House in the Asia-Pacific region. After President Trump virtually declared a cold war on China, Washington stepped up efforts to generate problems in the region to weaken Beijing. Japan, as a strategic ally of the United States, should comply with the American plans and contribute to this process in the following areas of activity.
The first thing is the preservation, and preferably the escalation of tensions in Sino-Japanese relations based on a decades-old conflict over the ownership of disputed island territories. The second thing is Tokyo's participation in the anti-Beijing "Eastern NATO" being created by the Americans (the United States, Japan, Australia and India).
The third thing is the increase in the number of military exercises by the self-defense forces, including joint drills with the US air force, in the waters of the East China and South China seas.
Finally, it remains possible that official-level contacts take place between Tokyo and Taipei, as allowed for by Yoshihide Suga.
Yoshihide Suga is conceived a consistent follower of his predecessor Shinzo Abe, who set out to change the country's Constitution. This primarily refers to the pacifist article 9, which contains Japan's renunciation of war as a means to resolve international disputes. It is already the case that many constitutional restrictions in the military sphere are formal and relatively easy to legislatively circumvent under the pretext of "objective necessity" to ensure the country's self-defense.
Japan's next year defense budget will set a record in the country's history, amounting to $51.5 billion and surpassing the military expenditures of nuclear powers like France and the United Kingdom. The self-defense forces take an active part in armed UN peacekeeping missions around the world, and the Japanese military-industrial complex expands the production of the most cutting-edge weaponry.
Japan is clearly strengthening its military capabilities and seeking greater military independence from the United States. President Trump, in keeping with his policy of reallocating defense spending between the United States and its allies, endorsed this approach and favored every possible increase in Japan's contribution to regional security. Moreover, the American leader declared the admissibility and even desirability of nuclear weapons for the country of the rising sun.
With nuclear technologies, Japan could certainly join the nuclear club within a few months. But for a variety of reasons, such a scenario seems unlikely for the time being. Tokyo is quite happy with the American nuclear umbrella, although discussions have recently revived on its reliability in case of an armed conflict with China.
As for its own conventional weapons production, Japan will ramp it up in all the segments and classes. According to the Japanese authorities, loading the military-industrial complex can help revitalize the country's economy. Sophisticated technology and powerful industrial potential may well ensure Japan's gaining a significant share of the global arms market, as well as import phaseout of foreign weapons, primarily American.
Among the factors hindering armed preparations and the Japanese authorities' bellicose rhetoric, is the opposition's critical stance, which has scaled up ahead of the parliamentary elections, as well as the traditionally strong general pacifist mood. Thus, Japan's recent refusal to deploy the American Aegis Ashore missile defense system in its territory was largely predetermined by the tough resistance with the local authorities and people dwelling in the areas where the launchers were supposed to be deployed.
Japan has been and remains a reliable US ally in the Asia-Pacific region, the one fully linking its security with Washington. Strengthened US-Japanese relations is declared by Tokyo as a foreign policy cornerstone. At the same time, influenced by modern geopolitical realities in international relations, a more flexible, multi-vector approach typical of a multipolar world order is replacing the unconditional "slave and leader" formula. In this regard, the lengths Japan may be prepared to go to support Washington in its battle with Beijing remains an open issue.