Japan´s Defence and Security Policy - a Primer


  • Samuel Neuman Bergenwall
  • Kaan Korkmaz
  • John Rydqvist

Publish date: 2016-04-29

Report number: FOI-R--4249--SE

Pages: 45

Written in: English


In the past decade Japan has seen significant changes in the security situation in East Asia. North Koreas belligerence and the rise of China are key drivers of the deteriorating security environment that Japan finds itself in.  Japan has since the 1970's imposed strict pacifist interpretations of its already strict laws concerning defence. These have meant a ban on collective self defence and near total prohibition on arms exports. Japan has relied on, even band-wagoned on its alliance partner, the US, in all that has had to do with the defence of Japan.  The Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and the defence industry have developed in an insular way. Restrictions on collaboration with other states has meant an inefficient defence industry and led to expensive defence materiel production.  The Abe-administration that came to power in 2012 has pursued a dual track of economic and security policy reform. The government first launched "Abenomics", the strategy to reinvigorate the Japanese economy. From 2013 the administration also focused on pushing through changes in the way Japan could pursue its security and defence policy. A National Security Strategy (NSS), the first of its kind, was published in late 2013. It stakes out long term goals and needs for Japan in the security and defence field that Japan will pursue over the next ten years. The focus is on achieving better inter-agency coordination, more efficient policy implementation and closer alliance cooperation with the U.S. and other countries. The NSS was accompanied by new National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) and The Mid-term Defense Program (MTDP). These specify how the SDF will reform to align with the needs and ambitions stated in the NSS.  A National Security Council was founded to centralize decision making in the defence and security field and improve the information flow and coordination between government bodies.  The NSS paved the way for a new and revised set of Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation which was published in 2015. It constitutes the foundation for enhancing the defence ties and giving the two allies greater freedom of action and at the same time the ability to better coordinate. This will in turn mean better interoperability of forces and more effective defence capabilities. To implement the policy directions of the NSS and Alliance Guidelines Japan needed to take steps in order to remove political obstacles pertaining to defence policy. Japan adopted the right of collective self defence, through a reinterpretation of the constitution, not a change of the constitution per se. This in order to strengthen defence cooperation with allies and make possible the participation in UN mandated peace keeping missions abroad.  In a decisive shift from earlier policies the Japanese government has acknowledged that export of defense-related materiel is a legitimate activity in pursuit of foreign policy and national security interests. The new policies guide how to and under what criteria exports from Japan will be possible. The key issue in implementing the new policy is to find an acceptable balance between export promotion and export control. Public opinion will be wary of exports and parts of the traditional export control bureaucracy is likely to take a careful and conservative view of implementation. The view of what are legitimate exports will for these and other reasons remain narrowly defined for the foreseeable future.  The Ministry of Trade, Economy, and Industry's (METI) Security Export Control Division will continue to handle licensing of defence related exports. They have a solid record in export control aimed at non-proliferation of arms and WMD. They have little experience in issuing licenses and continue to take a case by case approach to transfers. It will take time for METI to establish precedents and define an export control regime that implements the new Defense Export Policy. This is why all licensing decisions continue to be referred to the National Security Council for final approval. The goal is that METI will eventually take responsibility for approval of 'routine transfers' -when this will happen is unclear.  Japan published in 2014 a new "Strategy on Defence Production and Technological Bases", in an effort to ensure the development of its domestic defence industry in light of limited funds and resources. Chief among the ambitions is to facilitate the development of an increasingly competitive defence industry that is able to participate in international defence programmes, thus providing additional cash flows to the domestic industry. In an effort to enhance domestic production and R&D, the strategy also emphasizes domestic partnerships between military and civilian industrial actors.  The Japanese government, in line with the new policy directions, created the Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) in October 2015 to centralize and increase the efficiency of the defence production and acquisition system. ATLA will play an important role in enhancing the domestic defence industry's capabilities. As a part of this effort to strengthen the domestic industrial base, ATLA will play a critical part in enabling the defence industry's engagement with the international market, thus facilitating both defence-related exports and Japanese participation in international acquisition programmes.

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