Kishida’s predecessor, Abe Shinz, who was assassinated in July of last year, laid the groundwork for Japan’s new strategic vision. During Abe’s time in office, which began in December 2012 after he was returned to power and will end in September 2020, Japan’s military doctrine was revised and defence spending was significantly increased. Abe tried, unsuccessfully, to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution; he also established a cabinet-level National Security Council and the National Security Secretariat to support it; he streamlined military procurement by forming the Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA); and he reorganised the military’s procurement agency.
Abe’s policies, taken as a whole, represented a sea change in Japan’s defence posture and regional standing. Japanese safety would no longer be reliant on wishful thinking, selective amnesia, or the United States. Before Abe, Japan’s armed forces would not have intervened if China had attacked a US warship in waters close to Japanese territory. Abe dismissed this ridiculous idea and pushed for Japan to play a leadership role in the Indo-Pacific. Japan could now aid the United States in a military conflict with China over Taiwan. The United States’ naval and air forces in the region are now protected by the Japanese armed forces, marking a shift in roles.
Many of Abe’s ideas are being put into practise by Kishida’s ambitious defence policies, such as increasing military spending to 43 trillion ($330 billion) by 2027 and revising Japan’s national security strategy to allow for counterstrike capabilities. Additionally, they develop them in four significant ways.
For starters, the new security doctrine doesn’t beat around the bush. China’s intrusions into Japanese waters and airspace near the Senkaku Islands were labelled “an issue of concern to the international community, including Japan,” when the country released its first-ever national security strategy in 2013. However, in line with US rhetoric, the new strategy describes China as “an unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge” to Japan. This adjustment makes it abundantly clear that deterring Chinese expansionism is the primary goal of Japan’s military buildup.
Second, Abe’s concerns about fuel and ammunition shortages are being addressed by the new strategy. Japan has been building up its military might over the past decade by purchasing numerous fighter planes, ships, and combat vehicles; however, it lacks the strategic stockpiles and safe storage facilities necessary to fight a protracted conflict.
Buying ammunition and gas is certainly not as exciting as buying F-35 fighter jets or long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States. However, despite the fact that massive arms purchases will undoubtedly help Japan face the triple threat of Russia, China, and North Korea, the truth is that Japan’s strategic position is far more precarious than that of any other G7 member. Without sufficient strategic reserves, Japan will be defenceless.
Third, there was an unspoken rule in the US-Japanese defence pact that said any and all new military assets had to be under American control. However, Japan, the UK, and Italy have recently announced that they will be working together to create a new generation of fighter jet. The US Department of Defense issued a statement of support for the new alliance right away, which reflects the increasing military cooperation between the US, Japan, European countries, Australia, and India.
Last but not least, “Japan will actively accept displaced people due to war,” according to the updated national security strategy. The significance of this unprecedented statement, which implies a willingness to accept the many Taiwanese citizens who would surely flee if China invaded Taiwan, and which has received little attention, is not lost on me.
Kishida’s government is working toward many of the same goals that Abe advocated for if he were still alive. The new national security agenda does not propose changing the current restrictions on the deployment of offensive weapons, but it does stress the importance of building counterstrike capabilities that would allow Japan to strike foreign targets in the event of an attack.
While polls show widespread support for the proposed increase in military spending, the question of how to pay for it is sure to spark heated debate in the legislature. Kishida’s plan to raise taxes to pay for the extra spending has met with strong opposition, even from members of his own party. In the coming months, Kishida’s abilities, along with Japan’s renewed strategic resolve, will be tested.