Japan outlines new defense program

by Noritaka Egusa, Editor and Senior Staff Writer

Reliance on nuclear umbrella, inconsistency with call for abolition

As a step toward the government's formulation of a new defense program outline by the end of this year, the Council on Security and Defense Capabilities in the New Era, an advisory body to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, issued a report last month. Its bold proposals, which include considering changes to the nation's three non-nuclear principles, have raised questions and stirred anger in Hiroshima. Using threats facing Japan as a pretext, the report advocates boosting Japan's reliance on the nuclear umbrella of the United States and strengthening Japan's own defense capabilities, but is this the right choice for Japan's security?

Three non-nuclear principles: Reference to consideration of changes included

Japan's three non-nuclear principles, which are national policy, state that Japan shall neither possess nor manufacture nuclear weapons nor permit their introduction into Japanese territory. While noting that the situation does not require revision of the principles in the immediate future, the council states in the report, "It is not necessarily wise to establish principles in advance that merely unilaterally tie the hands of the U.S."

That is to say, it raises the issue of revising the principle that prohibits the U.S. from introducing nuclear weapons into Japan in order to guarantee Japan's security. The report also seemingly leaves the final decision on whether or not this principle is strictly adhered to or revised to the Kan administration.

In the paragraph preceding this, the report states that the U.S. nuclear umbrella over Japan ("extended deterrence") is important for the maintenance of stability in Japan and the entire region and further states that this is not necessarily inconsistent with the ideal of the abolition of nuclear weapons, which is the ultimate goal.

Previous National Defense Program Guidelines, including the current one, which was formulated in 2004, have all stated that Japan will rely on the nuclear deterrence of the United States to address the threat of nuclear weapons.

But Japan, which has vowed that nuclear weapons must never be used again, relies on the nuclear umbrella while at the same time advocating nuclear abolition, and active approval of the introduction of nuclear weapons to Japanese territory cannot be justified. The U.S. nuclear capability, which has expanded into the Asia-Pacific region, consists primarily of strategic nuclear missiles deployed on submarines. The missiles have an very long range, and there is no need for the submarines to call at Japanese ports or to bring the missiles into Japanese territory as the result of attacks or threats. The report makes no reference to this, however.

Defense capabilities: Advocating shift from "static" to "dynamic"

With regard to defense capabilities, another feature of the report is its promotion of the abandonment of the "Basic Defense Force" (BDF) concept, which has always been included in defense program outlines in the past.

The BDF concept limits Japan's defense capabilities to the minimum required for the purpose of rejection of external invasion. The report, however, disavows the traditional "static deterrence," which focused on the quantities and size of weapons and troops, and touts the effectiveness of "dynamic deterrence" to respond to various and complex contingencies, including ballistic or cruise missile strikes, attacks by terrorists or cyber-attacks, and emergency evacuation operations of Japanese nationals in normal circumstances, by conducting operations such as surveillance and by the flexible use of troops.

At the same time, the report describes the image that Japan should strive for as "a peace-creating nation" and states that Japan must actively engage in and promote cooperation with multilateral security frameworks. Nevertheless the report offers no specific proposals for realizing the goal of "a world without nuclear weapons." Specifically, there is no reference to a nuclear weapon-free zone in northeast Asia, a concept advocated by some of the Diet members who belong to the ruling Democratic Party of Japan as well as many citizens' groups.

Right of collective self-defense: Reinterpretation of Constitution urged

The report makes reference also to revising the "Three Principles on Arms Export" and promotes the participation of Japan’s defense enterprises in the international joint development of weapons and arms in order to enhance their technological capability.

The report also suggests that the government consider changing its interpretation of the Constitution, which has thus far not permitted the exercise of the right of collective self-defense. The report notes, for example, that the current interpretation of the Constitution may not allow Japanese defense forces to intercept ballistic missiles aimed at U.S. territory and states, "To prevent damage to the Japan-U.S. alliance arising from this situation, the Japanese Government must squarely tackle this issue responsibly."

Hiroshima's atomic bomb survivors and citizens' groups have expressed anger about the content of the report. Among their concerns is that it attaches primary importance to the views of the defense industry, and they strongly object to its expressed intent to pursue a change in the non-nuclear principles approving the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japanese territory. During his remarks in Hiroshima on August 6, however, Kan proclaimed his intention to firmly maintain the non-nuclear principles, so it is unclear to what extent the content of the report will be reflected in the nation's next National Defense Program Guidelines.

No new ideas, no long-term perspective

How should we interpret the report compiled by the Council on Security and Defense Capabilities in the New Era, the prime minister's advisory council on security and defense capabilities? The Chugoku Shimbun asked Takao Takahara, a professor at Meiji Gakuin University and an expert on international politics and disarmament issues involving Japan after World War II, for his impressions of the report.

The report is entitled "Japan's Vision for Future Security and Defense Capabilities in the New Era" and subtitled "Toward a Peace-Creating Nation." However, I've read the report over a number of times and it does not seem to include this future vision nor can I find a long-term perspective for Japan's national security. The report holds to passive ideas involving current conditions and the enthusiasm and ideas for, say, setting goals for 15 years into the future to create a world with a particular vision are absent.

With regard to the three non-nuclear principles, I find it sad that the members of the council only view the principles in terms of their constraint on the United States. The significance of these three principles lies in the constraint that the Japanese people place on the nation by not permitting the country to possess, produce, or permit the introduction of nuclear weapons onto its territory. This is why the principles have gained the trust of other nations, helped build order in the region, and contributed to peace in the world.

Would a "peace-creating nation" do away with principles that are considered the bedrock of Japanese policy in the post-World War II era?

It's hard to understand why nuclear weapons would be introduced onto Japanese territory. The very idea that having tactical nuclear weapons close at hand constitutes an effective deterrence is outdated. The United States no longer thinks that deterrence is effective unless there is forward deployment of its nuclear weapons.

Some say that Japan is fond of nuclear weapons, pointing to efforts by certain people in the A-bombed nation to modify the three principles. I'm afraid their view may be correct.

The more seriously people contemplate what would occur if nuclear arms were actually used, the closer they could come to the conclusion that war is a dreadful thing and nuclear weapons should be eliminated.

Another global challenge is the disarmament of conventional weapons. In this sense, Japan's restraint on arms exports, in line with the three principles, has been praised by the world's nations. There is no sense in abandoning this restraint now. Rather, it is much better to consider the impact the production of weapons by Japan would have on its neighbors.

With U.S. standing in the world diminishing somewhat, Japan's diplomatic stance in Asia is being called into question. How can Japan normalize diplomatic ties with North Korea? How should Japan strengthen its relations with China? What steps can Japan take, as a "peace-creating nation," to promote genuine human security? Such basic stances by Japan should be discussed rather than holding to the conventional ideas of arms control and the arms race.


Takao Takahara
Takao Takahara was born in the city of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture in 1954. He is a graduate of the Faculty of Law of Tokyo University. After serving as a research assistant at Tokyo University and other universities, he assumed his current post in 1997. He specializes in international politics and peace studies.

Key words

The National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG)
This is Japan's basic security policy that sets guidelines with regard to long-term defense development, maintenance, and operation. Based on these guidelines, the Mid-term Defense Buildup Program is produced, whereby the scale of the Self Defense Forces and costs and other particulars are concretely shown. The NDPG was formulated for the first time in 1976. The NDPG was revised in 1995 and 2004, respectively. The currently-used 2004 NDPG, in response to the change in the international security environment after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States stated clearly that it will be revised in 2009. However, the target year has been extended by one year due to the change in government. The government is planning to revise the NDPG by the end of 2010.

Three Principles of Arms Export
In 1967, the administration of Eisaku Sato expressed clearly that Japan will not permit the export of weapons to: communist countries, states banned by U.N. resolution, and parties in dispute. In 1976, the administration of Takeo Miki extended the application of the provision to other countries, making the policy a de facto complete arms embargo. However, exceptions occurred in 1983 when the Japanese government permitted the export of arms technology to the United States, and in 2004 when Japan joined the United States in developing and producing the missile defense system.

Transition of the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG)

Historical background

The 1976 NDPG
The Cold War (Détente)

The 1995 NDPG
The end of the Cold War
Increase in dispatching the Self Defense Forces to disaster-stricken areas
International contribution including the Peace Keeping Operation (PKO)

The 2004 NDPG
The terrorist attacks of September 11 (2001)
Worsening of Japan's fiscal conditions
Introduction of the Missile Defense System

The Council on Security and Defense Capabilities Report
Continued military expansion in China
Continued nuclear and missile development in North Korea
Change of government in Japan

Role of Defense

The 1976 NDPG
The Basic Defense Force (BDF) Concept (maintaining a minimum and necessary level of defense capabilities as an independent country)

The 1995 NDPG
Adherence to the BDF Concept
Streamlining of defense capabilities
Addressing such things as a large scale disaster

The 2004 NDPG
Adherence to the effective parts of the BDF Concept
Multi-functional, flexible and viable defense force (placing an emphasis on defense capabilities)

The Council on Security and Defense Capabilities Report
Discarding the Basis Defense Force Concept
Dynamic deterrence is necessary

Remarks regarding "nuclear deterrence"

The 1976 NDPG
Relying on U.S. nuclear deterrence in the event of a nuclear threat

The 1995 NDPG
Relying on U.S. nuclear deterrence in the event of a nuclear threat while playing an active role in international efforts for nuclear disarmament

2004 NDPG
Relying on U.S. nuclear deterrence in the event of a nuclear threat while playing an active role in international efforts for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation

The Council on Security and Defense Capabilities Report
The U.S. extended deterrence, the so-called nuclear umbrella, is necessary, the idea of which does not run counter to the ideal of nuclear abolition
Not in the conditions of requiring revision of the three non-nuclear principles
Not necessarily wise to unilaterally decide principles in advance that would tie the hands of the U.S.

(Originally published Sept. 20, 2010)