Speaking to charged political issues related to self-defense, such as the management of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the court declared it would respect a high degree of political discretionary judgment on the part of the Cabinet and the Diet to flesh out defense security policy. As a consequence, the Cabinet and the Diet have shaped Japan’s security policy from that day forward.
Executive Action Counters the Court
In 1972, Okinawa reverted back to Japanese sovereignty. That same year, the government outlined a constitutional interpretation based on the legal reasoning of the Sunakawa Case.
Self-Defense was validated as an inherent right for Japan. But the government,
—that is, the administration—then said something the Supreme Court did not say: that Collective Self-Defense was unconstitutional. Individual Self-Defense, not Collective Self-Defense, was to be Japan’s course.
The statement went beyond the Supreme Court decision and ran counter to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The Charter states, in part:
Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.
Collective Self-Defense was endorsed by the UN as a right of all sovereign nations, including Japan, but Japan chose not to take advantage of that.
Executive Action Reversing the 1972 Action, and the Alliance Defense Guidelines
Last year, Japan’s administration reversed the 1972 executive decision to make clear that the Constitution does allow Collective Self-Defense, stating the obvious seventy years after WWII. This year, Japan and the United States created new Guidelines for Japan—U.S. Defense Cooperation. This is far more than a revision of the 1997 guidelines. This is an epochal change.
These new Alliance Defense Guidelines, only the third in the history of the U.S.-Japan alliance, take a major step toward the effective implementation of Collective Self-Defense. It’s entirely fitting that this major achievement was announced during Prime Minister Abe’s historic visit to the United States. But this is not the end of the story.
In many ways, it marks the beginning of hard legislative work needed to provide clarity and detail and to strengthen alliance deterrence. It is also the beginning of hard work in the United States and Japan to create the necessary strategic coordination, as well as needed technical and operational capabilities. A continuous line of coordination at all levels, from the NSC level all the way through operational and tactical execution of the forces, will allow us to integrate all of our collective national capabilities and our forces’ military capabilities—maneuver, fires and effects—across air, land, sea, undersea, space and cyberspace.
Diet legislators, as well as U.S. and Japanese alliance managers, must deal in the real world of national-security policy and strategy across the spectrum from peacetime activities to more-stressful scenarios. Legislation must be crafted that assists in the development of policies and strategic concepts that are capable of winning the public’s support. The laws developed must allow the creation of needed capabilities at operational and tactical levels for our forces operating together. The legislative effort must be informed by the both the history of this issue and the reality of contemporary security threats. Once legislation is in place, Japan will be in a position to contribute more proactively to security in the region and, should it so choose, beyond. As the needed work goes forward on force capabilities, our “collective” forces will be much more efficient and much stronger operating together than ever before. The product of this collective capability will be far more effective than just the sum of our separate parts. Deterrence will be similarly strengthened. The new laws will be passed this summer.
Circumstances where this may be invoked include protection of peace and security. The logistical support that Japan can provide U.S. and other forces will be greatly expanded. Japan intends to adopt a system compatible with modern peacekeeping operations, expanding allowable activities to include nation-building support and demilitarization.
Security Challenges, a Strategy for Enhancing Deterrence, and Public Support
Defense strategies and strategic concepts offer value far beyond merely sorting out how military and naval forces should organize their share of public resources in support of the nation’s security. Their greatest contribution for democratic countries lies in building and maintaining public support for the nation’s defense plans and the needed resources. Public understanding and support are very important now as the nation absorbs Japan’s new security architecture and Collective Self-Defense. Diet deliberations reflect the vigor of the public debate. A publically declared alliance strategy for the Collective Self-Defense of Japan will illustrate what Collective Self-Defense means in practice, and help to dispel rumors, myths and anxieties. Japan and the United States should develop this strategy “collectively” and quickly.
Within this strategy, the facts of geography, technology, weapons capabilities, surveillance means, communications and cyber threats are contextual and must be considered anew as laws, regulations and capabilities develop. Geography and nuclear weapons dominate all other security considerations. Closely related are the matters of possible numerical odds and technology’s effect on warfighting.
Japan is an archipelago of roughly 6,852 islands from northeast to southwest. It is naturally a maritime nation, with an extensive Exclusive Economic Zone. It faces continental powers on the Asian mainland. In Japan’s immediate neighborhood, three nations—all with nuclear weapons, missile capabilities and large military forces—must be considered as existing or potential threats to Japan. North Korea’s missile and nuclear program is a direct threat to both Japan and the United States. It has the capability to reach Japan and beyond, as demonstrated in August 1998. China’s territorial expansion and rapidly expanding military power pose a threat to established boundaries and stability. Russia, with demonstrated expansionist ambitions elsewhere and territorial issues in Asia, must be considered a potential threat.
We may begin building an allied Collective Self-Defense strategy with a relatively unobjectionable strategic goal, that of protecting the interests, territory and lives of the citizens of our two nations. That can best be done by strengthening deterrence through the maintenance of an unquestioned ability to prevail. That invites a declared strategy that is strategically defensive, that explicitly rejects any territorial expansion while still demanding the full range of military capabilities, including offensive action, at operational and tactical levels. Such a declared strategy recognizes the existence of nuclear weapons in the three states of concern. It would be thoroughly compatible with the ethos of the Self-Defense Force and Japan’s constitution. It is also best suited to a situation where, singularly or in combination, we are not very likely to match the force structure of China.
This is compatible with the reality of nuclear weapons. Three times in the nuclear age, two nuclear armed states came to conflict, or nearly so. In each incident, the antagonists worked to limit the conflict to conventional arms and a confined area. Precedent is not always predictive, but in this case it’s hard to imagine the national leadership of the United States and Japan agreeing to a conventional attack on the mainland of a nuclear-armed power. At the very least, “regime change,” as recently practiced elsewhere, looks to be impractical, especially in North Korea. Therefore, the logical response is a strategy of robust defense.
Advancements in technology are quickly changing the face of conflict. In the past, nations came to disaster by failing to consider how new technology affected combat. As just one example, the French, Germans and British drew lessons from the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 that argued for aggressive movement and attack. Victory was to be had, it was believed, through spirited troops, mobility, maneuver and relentless attack. Apparently, the history of frontal assaults in the U.S. Civil War was disregarded.
Then the battlefield changed. From 1870 to 1914, and the beginning of the World War, steel improved in quality, poisonous gas emerged as a weapon and black powder—which was smoky when used, giving locations away—was replaced by cordite and smokeless powder. The improved steel led to standardized industrial production, vast railway expansion supporting massive logistics, massive artillery forces, barbed-wire barriers and automatic weapons—not least, the machine gun that became one of the deadliest icons of trench warfare.
The end result, entirely predictable in hindsight, was a battlefield of exceptional lethality for maneuvering, exposed troops. Despite that, commanders persisted in massed, frontal-assault tactics for years, dooming a high percentage of the youth of their nations to an early grave for no gain.
Between that “World War” and its successor, the advent of “wireless” communication—the radio—the emergence of efficient, reliable internal combustion engines, very effective submarines and advances in aviation returned maneuver to the battlefield with a vengeance. France’s exquisitely constructed Maginot Line, a defensive measure and a strategy perfect for the previous war, proved disastrous to Great Britain, as well as France. A failure to anticipate technology’s effect on combat can be fatal.
Today’s technology adds two more warfighting domains to the familiar terrestrial domains of air, sea, undersea and land: space and cyberspace. Surveillance means are proliferating and improving at an accelerating pace. Automation and expanding computerization yield small, robotic air, land and sea platforms that are remotely controlled or fully autonomous. Three-dimensional printing, or 3D printing, is rapidly advancing, promising major advancements in manufacturing and a logistical revolution. Directed Energy Weapons may reverse the current cost paradigm of sophisticated “bullets” costing more than the targets. Major weapons are increasingly accurate at increasing distance. One net effect of all this is that finding targets and hitting them at distance is ever more practical. The days of massed forces—even more massed logistics—may be over, as they become a lucrative target to be destroyed from a distance. In response, our forces must be widely distributed, agile and integrated across air, land, sea, undersea, space and cyberspace. Intelligence, command, control, communications and coordination, as well as fires, must move at digital speed, not that of analog systems or voice.