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12 January 2023, Gateway House

Japan’s new comprehensive security strategy

Japan’s recently released National Security Strategy document has pathbreaking commitments to strengthen Japan militarily. It reflects a dramatic change over the last decade, when the national threat for pacifist Japan was largely China. Now North Korea and Russia are included, and a Japan with superior defence capabilities will play a larger role in the Indo-Pacific.

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The changes in the strategic ambience of the Indo-Pacific region were acknowledged when Japan enunciated its new National Security Strategy (NSS) on 16 December 2022. It contains several pathbreaking new commitments, which include ambitious plans to array long-range missiles with second strike capabilities.

The Kishida Cabinet formally endorsed new versions of three important security policy documents: the National Security Strategy (NSS),[1] which sets guiding principles for foreign and security policy for the next decade, and two reformulated policy papers to augment the principles ascribed in the NSS, the National Defence Strategy[2] and the Defence Capability Enhancement Plan.[3]

Immediately prior to these policy decisions, an announcement was made to increase the defence budget to 2% of GDP in five years and provide 1 trillion yen ($7.4 billion) from tax increases.[4]

The NSS says that “comprehensive national power” includes diplomatic, defence, economic, technological and intelligence capabilities. It is important to assimilate these power elements in formulating Japan’s security system. This has thus far been the responsibility of the Defence Ministry and the Self-Defence Forces (SDF). The NSS seeks to breach the bureaucratic nature of ministries and agencies, to promote combined academic, industrial and government efforts.[5]

Almost 60% of Japan’s public opinion[6]  supported the strengthening of Japan’s defence capabilities even though national debate has not ensued, despite promises made by the ruling party. While people support a stronger Japan, this is not the case for raising taxes to do this. for this is weak. In a Kyodo poll conducted shortly after the Dec 19 announcement, 65% disapproved of the raising taxes to fund defence expenditure.[7]

This is a significantly different Japan from 2013 when China was a central concern especially for Japan It is now a more determined rival and greatest strategic challenge to Japan. “China has intensified its attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the maritime and air domains including in the East and South China Seas,” says the NSS document. The strengthening of [8] China’s strategic relationship with Russia is a challenge to the international order in general and Japan in particular.

North Korea with its continuous and threatening missile programme is the other major target of Japanese concern. Its launching of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) with an ability to cover the U.S. mainland, launching in new ways including missiles flying with irregular trajectories, and launching from various platforms such as Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL), submarines and trains is seen as major threat.

Russia is the third main rival mentioned in the strategy. Its invasion of Ukraine is now viewed as far more threatening than the persistent issue of the Northern Territories since World War Two. The NSS especially points out Russia accelerating military activities in the Sea of Okhotsk which “plays as an area of activity for strategic nuclear submarines, an important part in Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.’[9]

The NSS is usually renewed after a decade, and this the second time that Japan has announced an NSS. It aims to take Japan to a position that it can respond effectively to the altered regional and international security situation.

Any debate over the Japanese pacifist constitution, the ceiling of 1% of GDP for defence spending and a defensive posture for the SDF, are now things of the past. The three documents in their entirety have overhauled these restraints on Japanese policy which were loosened over time. The Abe guidance to Japan on this is being carried out by Kishida faithfully.

The Japanese press has been weighing in. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper which is critical about the radical shift in policy and terms it as dangerous, admits that the security environment around Japan is more threatening and supports a steady enhancement of Japan’s defence capacities. The criticism is mostly about crafting a national consensus and the process of decision-making. The Yomiuri Shimbun is more supportive of the overall direction of the policy.

The high taxes are not popular, so Tokyo is looking at using construction bonds to at least partially fund defence expenditure.[10]

In this backdrop, Japan’s integration into the US strategy in the region is now more lethal. Under the US-Japan treaty, the US is to defend Japan, as spearhead and shield respectively. Now that Japan is acquiring larger capabilities to defend itself, it can also defend US core interests in Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific. Tokyo is prepared  to work more closely with Washington as also with AUKUS and Canberra in particular. A considerable amount of the new funding will be used for chasing Tomahawk missiles to augment Japan’s counterstrike capabilities. These may blur the role that the two allies have under their treaty.

There seems to be a pattern with American allies falling in line, their militaries spending considerable sums to import modern weaponry from the U.S. Germany will import F 35 fighters and Japan will too, but also Tomahawk missiles.

For India, Japan’s sterner position with China is a matter of solace, though the NSS has enough indications that Japan would keep up communications and possible cooperation with China. It is the rigour of the NSS approach to Russia, which is divergent from India, that is worrisome.

Nevertheless, Japan will play a larger role in the Indo-Pacific, working closely with the Quad countries including India and supporting their objectives within the region.[11] Based on this, the continuing close cooperation between India and Japan, at the bilateral and plurilateral level is expected to continue and is promising.

Japan’s focus on defence production at least opens possibilities that Japan could become another reliable supplier of defence equipment for when it attains a required level of manufacturing. It will certainly help India’s diversification from the U.S., Russia, and Israel.  Japan-India cooperation particularly in defence-related electronics could see larger investments by Japanese companies and joint ventures. This is reflective of Japan’s willingness to invest more into its defence preparedness.

Gurjit Singh was India’s ambassador to Germany, Indonesia, Ethiopia, ASEAN and the African Union.

This article was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here

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[1] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Japan, National Security Strategy (NSS),  16 December 2022, <>

[2] Ministry of Defence, Government of Japan, National Defense Strategy provisional translation, 28 December 2022, <>

[3] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Japan, Defence Capability Enhancement Plan, <>

[4] Asahi Shimbun, ‘Kishida’s radical shift in security policy represents a dangerous turn’, 17 December 2022, <>

[5] Kojiro, Tanikawa, ‘Defense Perspective: Forward Reconnaissance / Include industry, academia and Coast Guard in all-hands approach’, Yomiuri Shimbun, 25 December 2022, <>

[6] Asahi Shimbun, ‘Survey: Record 64% of Japanese want national defines bolstered’, 2 may 2022, <>

[7] The Japan Times,  ‘Poll shows nearly 65% disapprove of tax hikes to cover Japan’s increased defense budget’, 19 December 2022, <>

[8] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Japan, National Security Strategy (NSS),  16 December 2022, <>

[9] Ibid, p.10.

[10], ‘Japan Mulling Using Construction Bonds for Defense Funds’, 13 December 2022, <>

[11] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Japan, National Security Strategy (NSS),  16 December 2022, <>