Japan is considering modifying its constitution to enable “enemy base strike capabilities,” new language which would expand the country’s ability to conduct military attacks into a wider range of contingencies. The change would represent a significant departure from Japan’s post-World War II constitution which renounced war and allowed for only a limited measure of “defensive” capabilities.
Japanese society and security alike have significantly changed since then. For example, in light of the growing threat of Chinese military expansion, Japan’s military, which has called itself the Japan Self-Defense Forces since 1954, is now adapting to a new international security environment. Indeed, after Germany announced that it would increase its defense spending in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told the country’s Kyodo News service “our country must think about a similar move as well.” Kishi reportedly spoke at length about the need to increase Japan’s defense capabilities “swiftly” due to the threat environment and ensure that potential adversaries “pay a price” for aggression.
This has been reflected in Japan’s proposed 2023 budget, which is slated at the equivalent of roughly $44 billion, a record high for the eighth consecutive year, according to Kyodo News.
The potential rewording of the Japanese Constitution and the sustained increase in defense spending align with a handful of major Japanese defense initiatives in recent years. These include a huge multi-billion-dollar F-35 buy as well as continued partnership with the United States on key programs such as ship-based Aegis Combat Systems for maritime ballistic missile defense and continued collaboration on several key weapons programs including the SM-3 ship-fired missile.
A well-armed Japan greatly impacts the balance of power and could add considerably to a U.S. deterrence posture regarding China. Given its proximity to China and Taiwan, Japan would be well-positioned to respond quickly in the event of an attempted Chinese assault on the island nation. Japanese F-35 stealth fighters, in particular, could prove quite impactful given that the southern parts of Japan are within clear striking distance of Taiwan with aerial refueling. Japan also has military forces as strong as one million soldiers who could deploy in the region.
Japanese fifth-generation airpower could help intercept any kind of Chinese amphibious assault from the air, given that China does not appear to operate many land-launched J-20 fighter jets and, at least as of yet, does not have any kind of vertical take-off-and-landing F-35B equivalent able to project fifth-generation airpower from the ocean. China is building a carrier-launched variant of its J-31 fighter, however, it does not appear capable of an F-35B-like vertical takeoff and, therefore, could only operate from one of China’s few aircraft carriers.
There is a philosophical and strategic element to this as well. Should Japan more formally adjust its security posture, the knowledge that Japan would become far less restricted when it comes to the use of military force could dramatically change China’s threat environment and freedom of action in the Pacific Ocean.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.