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Rahul K Bhonsle

Dec 22, 2011

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Understanding Application of Japan’s New Defense Program Guidelines


            Japan’s, “National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2011 and Beyond,” (NDPG 2011) approved in December 2010 denotes a subtle shift in Japanese defense policy from reactive to active, or as the Guidelines denote dynamic defense paradigm. Noboru Yamaguchi, a retired Lieutenant General of the Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF) and currently Professor at the National Defense Academy, Yokosuka an hour and a half away from Tokyo has explained some of the key terms outlined in the NDPG 2011in a Policy Research Brief, “Deciphering the New National Defense Guidelines of Japan”. This essay is a review of these documents.

Transformation is as much a truism in defense as in other fields of national activity. Defense transformations are particularly significant as these are directly related to existential security of a nation; are expensive to implement; take time to be effective and vastly challenge the human and psychological dimension. Yet these become inevitable when shifts take place in regional and global political architecture and new security threats and paradigms emerge. In the realist domain, the rise of China and India, reemergence of Russia and relative decline of American influence has led to reset in the global power equations.

Threats arising from terrorism and piracy and control of access to space, cyber and natural resources are challenges in the global commons needing a collaborative approach. Japan’s vast territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) add another dimension to its security. Above all, it seems that the color of security today is, “grey,” rather than black or white as portends of state on state wars have declined while conflicts short of war seem to be increasing.

Significantly Japan is impacted by all these factors, China and Russia are neighbors with past legacy of conflict. There is   a contest over maritime territory with increasingly aggressive claims manifesting in varied dimensions, many of which are difficult to interpret as belligerence yet can challenge maritime sovereignty.  The NDPG 2011 thus calls such issues most aptly as, “gray-zone,” disputes.

While the United States is a resident power in East Asia, the new wider Asia Pacific policy, declining defense budget and global interests highlights the necessity of US treaty allies as Japan to review their existing defense policies. The NDPG is, therefore, timely.

The NDPG 2011, however, does not alter fundamentals of Japanese defense policy which will continue to be, “exclusively defense oriented,” as defined by the Constitution. The NDPG 2011 outlines a subtle shift in defense preparedness from static to multi dimensional flexible response. This is done keeping in view the diverse form of threats faced by Japan today which are elaborated. Yamaguchi’s policy brief culls three key terms from the NDPG 2011, “Dynamic Defense Force,” active contributions, “to creating global peace and stability,” and, “seamless response,” to provide greater clarity or underline the basic thought process and likely actualization.  An examination of both these documents is therefore relevant.

The NDPG 2011 is a concise yet complete document outlining guidelines for Japanese security and defense policy. It covers basic principles of Japan’s security and examines the security environment as relevant to the country. It includes basic policies, portrays the role and structure of future defense forces and lays down foundations for maximizing defense capability.

The objectives of Japanese security policy are no different from that of any nation state with global interests as well as proximate security challenges.  First and foremost goal is to prevent threats that directly affect Japan and eliminate these in case they manifest minimizing damage. Stabilizing Asia Pacific regional and improving global security environment are natural addendums for Japan the third largest economy in the World.

Distillation of the security environment around Japan leads to the derivation of need for preparing for, “various contingencies,” in concert with allies and partners particularly so as a full scale invasion is considered unlikely. The requirement for contingency planning is underlined in the context of likely instability on the Korean Peninsula following the sudden demise of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il on 17 December 2011 with a possible power vacuum the consequences of which may spill over in the region.

The basic policies to meet these challenges are divided in three spheres, Japan’s own efforts, co-operation with ally the United States and multi layered international cooperation globally as well as in the Asia Pacific region. The two key factors outlined in indigenous efforts are integrated response and dynamic defense force. The importance of a, “seamless response,” is also highlighted in this context. Yamaguchi explains the three dimensions of, seamless, that is applied to all stages of a situation from normal to emergency, in multiple contingencies simultaneously and coordinated across the entire government system. The challenge posed by Tsunami 2011 and Fukushima underlines the need for seamless response and bears out the principles outlined by Yamaguchi.

The Dynamic Defense Force is designed to provide, “dynamic deterrence,” as opposed to, “existential deterrence,” in the past. As Yamaguchi explains this would envisage displaying Japanese defense capabilities in action with the example provided of conduct of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities to deter incursions into Japanese air or maritime space. For this purpose, Dynamic Defense Force will act with enhanced tempo in a versatile manner.  Redeployment of the force is also proposed based on a review of priorities sending a clear signal to any intender wanting to cause harm to Japanese interests.

Proactive engagement for further stabilization of the regional and global security environment is another task outlined for the Dynamic Defense Force, though what is implied by, “proactive,” is not clear. Cooperation with the United States and multilaterally in the region as well as around the globe is another facet. While it seeks to promote confidence with China and Russia, India has been clearly singled out for greater engagement based on common interests in maritime security, in the Indian Ocean region. The India-Japan-US trilateral held in Washington on 20 December 2011 is perhaps an outcome of this policy.

Interestingly active participation in international peace cooperation is sought to achieve the goals of human security rather than merely increasing Japan’s own defense. Yamaguchi rightly comments that this is the most appropriate role for Japan as a leading economic power and something that it has been possibly shying away from publicizing. Nevertheless, he also cautions that, with limitations of funding, it would be necessary to prioritize between security of Japan and regionally, to global peacekeeping and suggests that acquisition of defense assets, which may be useful for both the tasks may be a via media.

The roles of defense forces in terms of effective deterrence and response in the NDPG 2011 further amplify the concept and rationale of Dynamic Defense Force. These include a wide range of activities from active efforts for information superiority to ensuring security of the sea and air space, responding to attacks on offshore islands, cyber attacks, assaults by guerrillas and special operations forces, ballistic missiles and multiple contingencies occurring simultaneously as well as responding to CBRN disasters.

Readiness, jointness and international peace cooperation activities are the three tenets outlined for maintaining adequate force posture the same being the priority for strengthening the organization, equipment and disposition of SDF with the basic tasks outlined for Ground, Maritime and Air SDFs. Given the challenges arising from an aging population emphasis on effective utilization of human resources has been placed, apart from management of equipment and procurement procedures.

In the context of nuclear weapons, a mention must also be made of Japan’s adoption of concept of, “extended deterrence provided by the United States with a nuclear deterrent as a vital element.” This is a realistic presumption within the overall long term goal of creating a world without nuclear weapons given proximity of Japan to three nuclear armed states, Russia, China and North Korea. While the nuclear rationale of both Russia and China are well established, North Korea remains an enigma which may increase in uncertainty after the demise of Kim Jong-Il. Yet reliance on extended deterrence implying a combination of missile defense, anti WMD, C4 I2 and civil protection broadens measures undertaken to meet the challenge. While the phrase, “implement its own efforts,” for this purpose has been clarified this could be open for varied interpretation.

On the whole, NDPG 2011 is a concise document yet comprehensively covers the new defense policy being adopted by Tokyo. While some may see a more muscular Japanese approach, others could identify realignment in keeping with the changing security environment. Professor Yamaguchi’s amplification of some of the key facets has added value to understanding Japanese defense policy for the future. Coming from someone close to the Japanese defense policy establishment, this enhances transparency as well as highlights the red lines to those who need to perceive these as such.


Policy Research Brief, “Deciphering the New National Defense Guidelines of Japan” by Lt Gen (Retd) and Professor Noboru Yamaguchi is published by Tokyo Foundation [(]  and is available at their web site

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