“Japanese Security Policy” at RUSI: Event Review

JMSDF
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Kongō class destroyer | Image: Wikipedia

Event details

“Japanese Security Policy”
The Royal United Services Institute
2014.06.19
Vice Admiral Ito, Japanese Self Defense Force Joint College
Chaired by Peter Roberts
Open to the public; lecture on the record, Q&A off the record

Review

The event began with a food and drinks reception at RUSI’s stately 51 Whitehall. Present were the usual suspects from the big think tanks, students accompanying Admiral Ito from the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) Joint College, members of the press, the generally aged and very white RUSI members, and a few plebs from the public. I talked to a JSDF student who told me—in fairly good English—the he thinks Shinzo Abe is not especially nationalistic and that he worries China might “eat” Taiwan, especially if US commitments in the region falter.

The lecture took place in one of the reading rooms. Admiral Ito spent the majority of his time detailing the history of the JSDF and its evolution from a force only used in war time to one which assists with humanitarian crises, ensures regional stability and prevents power vacuums, and asserts itself against non-state threats (terrorists) in a post- 9/11 environment. He described the JDSF is a tool of “military diplomacy”, engaging in bi and multilateral training exercises and UN peacekeeping operations. It also serves as a deterrent, ready to protect Japan from North Korean missile launches or Chinese attempts to shift regional “balance of power”.

JGSDF
Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) during a bilateral training exercise with the US, 2008 | Image: Wikipedia

The Q&A was—unfortunately—off the record. Suffice it to say that Ito’s JSDF was brought abruptly into the present with difficult questions on complex issues.

The whole event was a bait for RUSI’s upcoming International Sea Power Conference, which unfortunately has a large financial barrier to entry (£195–£1,079).

“Japan’s Maritime Disputes”: Review of the Chatham House Event

Event details

“Japan’s Maritime Disputes”
Chatham House
2014.06.12
Talk by Professor Tom Berger, International Relations at the University of Boston
Open to the public, on the record (Chatham House rule not in effect)

Overview

Prof. Berger opened by stating the US-Japanese relations are having a “schizophrenic moment”—that the American pivot is sincere and it’s a productive time for trade and security, but there is a harsh ideological clash, and Abe and Obama “are not natural soul mates”. He goes on to say that a combination of geostrategical changes and geocultural changes are lend themselves to this, the ideal environment to develop the US-Japanese alliance wherein the tension commands attention but remains a manageable problem (for now).

The geostrategic situation has shifted from hegemonic American air/maritime power and Japanese isolation but potential for great power status to a new regional balance where China is rising as America declines, and where Japan no longer fears an American-led war by entrapment but where America fears being pulled into territorial squabbles.

The principle geocultural change is a “rising tide of nationalism”, though Prof. Berger was keen to point out that the “hydraulic model” employed by journalists is reductive. Abe is not an old-style (imperial) militarist, and Japan’s not too nationalistic; rather it’s not nationalistic enough. Nationalism and unity allowed Japan to rise until World War II, and its 20th century defeat was institutionalized, militarily and morally, and reinforced by the Japanese left. Since the 1950s Japan has sought to rediscover its unity: constitutional changes were made imbuing the education system with nationalism, and military policy was altered to allow Japan to become more independent (and by extension less dependent on the US). Abe’s support then comes from: perceived Chinese aggression on the Senkakus and the resulting sense of threat; and “Abenomics” (economic reform). That is, the conservatives supporting Abe are not ideological nationalists but pragmatists.

This geocultural shift toward nationalism is also present in South Korea and China, as these countries come into their increased strength. Both states have anti-Japanese sentiments and South Korea in particular can’t politically continue to ignore Japan’s imperial war crimes, but likewise both China and the ROK have set aside political concerns in favor of pragmatism, especially in trading.

During the Q&A Prof. Berger was asked about the nuclear issue, Japanese domestic politics, and the motivations behind the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. He finished by remarking that nationalism in Japan is taboo and therefore seductive, and it’s more likely to fuel anti-Korean sentiment via kimchi boycotts than militarization.

Prof. Tom Berger speaking at Chatham House, June 12, 2014 | Image: Morgan Potts
Prof. Tom Berger speaking at Chatham House, June 12, 2014 | Image: Morgan Potts

Review

Pardoning Prof. Berger’s casual ableism (“schizophrenic moment”), the talk was compelling. Berger acknowledged the plurality of Japanese perspectives and implicitly noted that it is from plurality and competing voices that states arrive at their “national interest” which directs policy.

However it also seemed fundamentally contradictory: is Japan experiencing a “rising tide of nationalism” under Abe, reflected in the Senkaku dispute and desire to lessen security dependence on America? Or rather is Japan not nationalistic, putting aside ideology and nationalism for pragmatism?

I would suggest that Japan is in fact nationalistic in its foreign policy, especially regarding the island dispute: if Japan (and China, it takes two after all) were pragmatic instead of nationalistic, the two states would table the issue of sovereignty and agree to jointly develop the resources within the EEZ of the Senkaku/Diaoyus, much as China and Vietnam have come to a fishing agreement in the Tonkin Gulf. Instead, the two nations exploit the dispute over otherwise meaningless barren rocks for their nationalistic effect on domestic populations—if this continues, Abe might rediscover Japanese unity after all.

Aegis Destroyers and Ballistic Missile Defense in Japan and South Korea

The Aegis combat system is quickly becoming the hallmark of sophisticated navies. Specifically, it is an advanced command and control, and an integrated weapons system, which features anti-submarine warfare systems, anti-aircraft warfare systems, the Phalanx CIWS to defend against anti-ship missiles, and Mark 41 Vertical Launch system. Simply put, Aegis uses high-powered computers and radar to track and guide weapons to enemy targets. It was developed by RCA, which was sold to various other American electronics corporations before being absorbed by Lockheed Martin which currently produces the systems. The US Navy has employed the Aegis system on its ships since the 1980s; it is also deployed by the navies of Spain, Norway, Japan, and South Korea. Australia and NATO forces intend to employ the system in the next few years to bolster their missile defense capabilities.

South Korea

ROK bought Standard Missile (SM)-2s in 2009 which would ultimately be used on Aegis destroyers. Aegis ships also have SPY-1D radar designed for early warning. In 2012 ROK also purchased Green Pine  land-based radar from Israel. South Korea’s Aegis ship is the Sejong Daewang (“Sejong The Great”) Class destroyer, aka KDX-III (Korean Destroyer III): a guided missile destroyer, jointly produced by Lockheed Martin and Hyundai Heavy Industries. The KDX-III is nearly identical to the American Arleigh Burke Class destroyer, except for its longer hull which makes it the largest surface ship in the world to carry the Aegis system. Though the ROK’s destroyers carry the Aegis radar tracking software they do not currently have interceptors. The ROK announced this past summer that it would upgrade from SM-2s to SM-6s by 2016, and a budget proposal accepted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff shows plans to procure three additional Aegis destroyers by 2020.

Japan

Japan’s BMD is comprised of six SM-3 missiles on their four Aegis destroyers, and the PAC-3 Patriot system. Tokyo is increasing the number of SM-3s from six to eight over the next ten years.

Last year PAC-3 was deployed in Okinawa and Tokyo’s Ministry of Defense HQ in a symbolic demonstration of capability, obviously not practical as using the missiles would, for instance, shatter every window in Shinjuku. Similar demonstrations of defense capability were made in 2009 and 2012 during North Korean missile threats.

Such demonstrations are more show than substance. Japan has other concerns aside from North Korean aggression: stagnant economy, territorial disputes with China, the Fukishima fallout, and the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea which is seen as far more pressing than the DPRK nuclear/missile threat, and the assurance of US alliance makes BMD even less of a priority—yet, the Japanese have still chosen to keep those four very expensive Aegis-equipped boats.

Regional dynamics

Japan has a high level of cooperation with the US, not least of which involved the US-Japan Defense Pact and the high assurance value of American military exercises in the region. This starkly contrasts to the minimal cooperation in missile defense between South Korea and Japan, and between South Korea and the US. While the Japanese are content with relying on the Americans for missile defense, South Korea is moving toward an increasingly independent missile defense system.

Ballistic Missile Defense and Satellite Launches

North Korea’s missile programme and China’s accelerating space programme have increased interest in Japan and South Korea’s space activities. Japan successfully launched its first satellite carried on an indigenous rocket in February 2005 after several failures throughout the 1990s, and South Korea successfully launched a satellite into orbit in January 2013.

Satellite launches are extremely similar to ballistic missile launches and employ much of the same technology. Japan’s and South Korea’s abilities to successfully launch a satellite indicate the probable ability of each state to launch long-range ballistic missiles with WMD payloads. While both Japan and South Korea are politically prohibited from launching long-range ballistic missiles (Japan by its self-defense constitution and ROK by its agreements with the Americans), each state could probably develop long-range missiles using existing satellite technology should their political inclinations shift in that direction.

North-East Asian ADIZs

South Korea declared yesterday that it is expanding its Air Defense Identification Zone to include the submerged Ieodo rock, overlapping China’s ADIZ, to take effect on 2013-12-15. The South Korean announcement comes as a reaction and condemnation of China’s ADIZ, announced last month. Beijing has expressed regret.

The Chinese ADIZ is remarkable not because there is no precedent for zones of this nature, but because it effectively claims the need to be informed of any aircraft flying within the zone, which includes international airspace (as do other ADIZs) and, more controversially, it overlaps neighboring ADIZs. The entire purpose of an ADIZ is to eliminate confusion about nearby aircraft and to intercept enemy aircraft before it gets too close to sovereign airspace; but because China’s and South Korea’s ADIZs overlap with each other (and Japan’s), they are likely to cause rather than reduce confusion. Aircraft flying near Ieodo or the disputed island territories may face conflicting communications orders from multiple states, and potentially multiple attempts at interception. ADIZs are not explicitly included in international law and states are not obligated to abide by them, though they generally do in the spirit of collective security and in the interest of avoiding accidents.

Needless to say, Japan, South Korea and the US are not on board with China’s ADIZ declaration, rightly worrying that it lends to instability in the region.

In defiance of China’s announcement, South Korea conducted an air and sea exercises near South Korea’s Ieodo rock, which sits squarely within China’s ADIZ. The exercise included 2 P-3C patrol boats and 1 of South Korea’s 3 Aegis destroyers.

Japan also demonstrated noncompliance, scrambling 2 fighter jets against Chinese reconnaissance aircraft on the day of the announcement. South Korean and Japanese ADIZs immediately border each other but do not overlap.

Last week 2 American B-52 bombers entered China’s recently announced Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) without notifying Beijing beforehand. The mission, an allegedly routine exercise called “Coral Lightning”, flew over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands on 2013-11-25. Secretary Hagel called China’s ADIZ “destabilizing”, further noting that “This announcement by the People’s Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.” The Chinese Defense Ministry claimed, “China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions,” yet the Pentagon said the exercise occurred “without incident“.

Military confrontation appears unlikely. Beijing is facing embarrassment, but beyond that consequences will be benign. It is probably too much to hope for a cooperative international effort to regulate ADIZs so as to avoid similar political disputes in the future.

US-ROK-Japan Trilateral Naval Exercises

The USS George Washington is an American nuclear-powered supercarrier with the capacity to accommodate up to 80 aircraft. Its flight deck is 4.5 acres, its anchors weigh 3 tonnes each, and it’s generally considered to be a floating military base.

The ship moored at South Korea’s largest port, Liberty Port in Busan, on 2013-10-04 to participate in naval exercises with the ROK and Japan between 10-8 and 10-10. Accompanying it were guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and guided-missile destroyer USS Preble.

The KNCA denounced the arrival of the warship: “This clearly indicates that they are the very criminals escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and wrecking peace there.”

US naval presence in Busan is expected to grow, as the USFK broke ground for a new HQ on South Korean naval base last August. The current HQ is in Seoul, while ROK naval HQ is in Busan.

In a separate exercise, the South Korean Navy and Marines and US Marine Corps are engaging in a 10-day training exercise to practice sea-to-land manoeuvres on the Eastern coast. They will mobilize some 10 warships, 3000 marines, 30 armored vehicles, and 20 aircraft.