2022: A Year of Major Political Advancement in Japan’s National Security

Dr. Satohiro Akimoto
Chairman and President of Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA

Publications 2022: A Year of Major Political Advancement in Japan’s National Security

Prime Minister Kishida at a press conference regarding Japan’s new national security strategy on December 16, 2022. (Official Website of the Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet)

Looking back on 2022, Japan made a tremendous step forward boosting its national defense capacity. Although Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been suffering political setbacks, such as problematic relationships between LDP lawmakers and the Unification Church, and low approval ratings, Japan has continued efforts set in motion by former Prime Minister Abe to strengthen its national security apparatus. Prime Minister Kishida’s accomplishments in 2022 were beyond imagination even a few years ago, and there is now much to expect regarding his possible visit to the White House in early 2023. Here is a look back on the major political advancements made in Japan’s national security in 2022.

Joining the U.S. Led Efforts against Russia

In March, Japan made a decisive policy change against Russia. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, without any provocation by Ukraine. It was preceded by an overt massive military buildup on the Ukrainian border by Russia, which utterly disregarded deep concerns held by the international community, which were led by Western democracies. Japan, which had been criticized for being slow to join the U.S.-led sanctions against Russia in 2014 after its invasion of Crimea, quickly took decisive action this time. Days after Russia’s invasion began, Prime Minister Kishida agreed to wholesomely join a powerful economic sanctions regime against Russian leaders and financial institutions to degrade its military resources by isolating its resource-based economy from the international economy.

In addition to joining economic sanctions led by the U.S., as part of the Western democracies’ efforts against Russia, Japan began accepting Ukrainian evacuees in relatively large numbers compared to its past practice. In reality, this was a reflection of long-time policy debates on the country’s immigration and refugee policies, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine turned out to be a catalyst for change. In 2022, Japan welcomed over 2,000 Ukrainian evacuees. Japan has made a clear departure from Russian policy of former Prime Minister Abe, who met President Putin more than 30 times while he was in office.

Strengthening Economic Security

Former Prime Minister Abe established an economic security division within the National Security Secretariat in April 2020. In addition to minimizing negative economic effects of the global COVID-19 crisis, the new economic security division was tasked to prevent cutting-edge dual-use technologies, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, from leaking to potential adversaries. This was to be done by better supervising the activities of corporations, which own such strategic technological assets and data. The division was also tasked to protect Japan from Chinese economic coercion such as China’s tactics to link China’s export of rare-earth minerals to Japan to a territorial dispute over Japan’s Senkaku Islands. The division also tries to work with the U.S. to counter China’s economic state craft to influence the foreign policies of its economic partners, which often have no means to protect themselves from economic pressure posed by China.

Prime Minister Kishida, who took office in October 2021, continued on this path laid by former Prime Minister Abe. He made strengthening economic security a central policy of his administration. His first concrete action in this direction was creation of a new ministerial position in his first cabinet focusing on the economic security agenda. Takayuki Kobayashi, the first Minister of Economic Security, said he would focus on the combination of economy and national security supported by innovation to increase Japan’s “national power.”

Prime Minister Kishida also advanced the economic security agenda by pushing a framework of new legislation. In May, Japan enacted the “Act on Promotion of Economic Security by Integrated Implementation of Economic Measures.” The Act is truly groundbreaking as it officially considered the economy as an integral part of national security to defend Japan for the first time in the post-war era.  The Act identified the following four pillars of economic security as priority areas to be enhanced.

Supply chain for strategic resources

The government will ensure a resilient supply of designated strategic resources that are critical for national security but mostly dependent on foreign sources, such as rare earth metals, semiconductors, lithium batteries, and medical supplies.

Fundamental infrastructure

The government will protect fundamental infrastructure, such as energy supply, transportation, telecommunication and broadcasting, mail, and financing, by requiring designated critical operators to ensure high-level security in maintenance of infrastructure and protection of critical infrastructure against attacks from overseas.

R&D funding for advanced technologies

The government will enhance R&D of cutting-edge technologies, which is critically important for national security, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, aerospace and maritime technologies, by introducing public-private partnerships and funding.

Nondisclosure of sensitive patents

The government will keep designated nuclear and high-tech weapons technologies secret by subjecting patent applications for such inventions to a national security test and possibly subjecting them to nondisclosure measures. The government requires patent applications for such inventions developed in Japan to be filed in Japan and may restrict licensing and applications to overseas entities.

This far-reaching economic security legislation, which is designed to have a substantial impact on how Japanese companies do business, will come into effect in several phases beginning in the new year. The law has a two-year phased implementation schedule, while designation of regulated areas and detailed requirements will be worked out by respective supervising authorities, to allow Japanese companies to make necessary adjustments to meet requirements of the new act. It may force Japanese companies, particularly in technology and innovation, to fundamentally review their business plans, particularly with regard to China.

New National Security Strategy

Former Prime Minister Abe made significant contributions in advancing Japan’s national security agenda. On December 4, 2013, a national security council was created to establish effective political leadership for Japan’s foreign and security affairs with the prime minister at the top. On January 7, 2014, a national security secretariat was created at the national security council to facilitate interagency coordination and ensure smooth operation of the national security council. Additionally, in 2014, former Prime Minister Abe introduced a reinterpretation of Japan’s constitution to allow the Self Defense Forces to use force in collective self-defense with its allies. The reinterpretation has led to a higher level of interoperability between Japan and the U.S. militaries. Furthermore, on December 6, 2013, the Abe government passed a state-secrets law, which toughened penalties for leaks on sensitive national security information and strengthened the security clearance system. The state-secrets law has made it possible for Japan to more robustly exchange national security information with the U.S. and its allies.

Prime Minister Kishida continues to bolster Japan’s national security agenda by maintaining the political momentum started by former Prime Minister Abe and made more intense by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On December 16, 2022, Prime Minister Kishida adopted a new national security strategy together with a new national defense strategy and a defense buildup program. The new national security strategy marked a historic departure from Japan’s traditional “exclusively defense-oriented defense policy” that has been in place since its defeat in World War II. The new strategy introduces the following significant new national security views and measures:

Defense Budget Increase

The national security strategy aims to double Japan’s core defense spending and other national security-related investment to close to 2 percent of its GDP, blowing past a self-imposed 1% spending limit that had been in place since 1976. The core defense budget could reach a total of nearly 43 trillion yen in the next five years, an increase of more than 50 % over recent spending.

China

The national security strategy clearly identifies China as “unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge.” While some LDP lawmakers wanted to use the word “threat” to refer to China, others within the LDP who look for stability in relations with China, and its coalition partner Komeito, preferred “challenge.” Nevertheless, it is a significant change from “concern,” which has been in use.

Counterstrike Capability

The national security strategy states that possession of counterstrike capabilities is now indispensable and aims to achieve capabilities “to disrupt and defeat invasions against Japan much earlier and at a further distance” within roughly ten years. While the government maintains a position that “exclusively defense-oriented defense” is still in place, capability by long-range missiles to hit targets deep within a border of an adversary represents a fundamental shift in Japan’s defense posture. As acquiring counterstrike capability requires U.S. intelligence and targeting information, it will be inevitable for the U.S. and Japan to further deepen command and control coordination and integration.

Cybersecurity

The national security strategy aims to strengthen cybersecurity, which has been a major national security vulnerability for Japan. Lax cybersecurity practices within the Japanese government and private companies, particularly in critical infrastructure and national defense, has been a major obstacle in deepening bilateral security cooperation. The national security strategy introduces “active cyber defense” to take countermeasure before damages are caused and invests in more central government capacity to respond.

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