Japan's government and National Security Council plan to revise the country's National Defense Program Outline (NDPO) by the end of this year.
A draft of proposed changes submitted to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi assigns three key tasks to the Self-Defense Forces (SDF): effective response to new threats, participation in international peacekeeping activities, and defense against invasion.
Today's complex security environment, with terrorist attacks by non-state actors occurring alongside traditional state-to-state wars, demands a nimble, integrated strategy.
The draft revision of the NDPO seems to recognize this, emphasizing the need for Japan's own defense efforts, cooperation through the Japanese-US alliance, and contributions to multilateral missions. Moreover, the National Security Council has indicated the need to introduce a new plan for multi-functional flexible defense forces.
Unfortunately, key components of Japan's emerging security strategy remain vague and contradictory. For example, while the likelihood of an invasion threat is judged to be low, the Defense White Paper of 2004 argues that the SDF's "most fundamental function" is to prepare for the worst, because sufficient defensive power cannot be developed overnight. In other words, Japan will clearly assert its will to defend the nation, and to prevent invasion in combination with the Japan-US security system. On the other hand, the National Security Council proposes "scaling down the size of defense forces," implying mitigation of the will to defend.
Indeed, the failure to suggest any possibility of an "emergency expansion" of the SDF compounds this anxiety. To be sure, the government is ultimately responsible for determining the appropriate scale of defense power in line with fiscal considerations.
But it is also the responsibility of the government to prepare a detailed and realistic policy aimed at securing the necessary level of defense capability in the event of unforeseen threats. Japan's government should thus give a clear indication of a true will to defend the country's security.
Of course, defense capability cannot be judged solely according to force levels.
The draft NDPO's vision of a new, more adaptable, mobile, flexible, and multi-purpose SDF, with advanced technological resources and information gathering capacity, calls for a fundamental reassessment of the existing organization and equipment.
In conformity with the international community's efforts to secure peace and stability, the draft also creates a core unit within each of the military branches, and establishes an integrated operational system.
The military reorganization that the NDPO envisages is far-reaching. Japan's ground forces are to re-orient their current structure, which is geared to combat capability in response to large-scale invasion, toward increased adaptability for military action in less severe circumstances.
The navy is to shift its focus away from the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability of the Cold War era, creating a structure aimed at defending islands, monitoring and responding to ballistic missiles, and combating illegal spy ship activities.
The air force is to continue its monitoring activities in neighboring airspace and maintain response readiness against air attack, while modifying invasion response tactics somewhat as the likelihood of an attack from the air diminishes.