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EDITORIAL | The New Defense White Paper is Out; Now Get the Public On Board 

The White Paper recognizes that "Japan has entered a new era of crisis, facing its most severe and complex security environment since WWII."



Defense Minister Hamada holds up the Defense White Paper on the morning of July 28, Ministry of Defense. (© Kyodo)

The 2023 Defense of Japan White Paper has just been released. 

This year's edition is unique in that it is the first white paper issued since the adoption of the three basic security documents. These include the National Security Strategy. Along with the National Defense Strategy and Defense Buildup Program, they provide a detailed explanation of measures to fundamentally strengthen Japan's defense capabilities.

Members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) and the Royal Australian Navy inspect a JGSDF Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile at Beecroft Weapons Range, NSW in the lead up to Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023.(©Royal Australian Navy/Sgt Andrew Sleeman)

Key Points

Concerning a counterstrike capability, the White Paper declares that this would be the "key to deterring invasion against Japan." The report makes a very reasonable point. It argues, in addition to employing missile defense, it is necessary for our nation to possess a counterstrike capability. That is crucial to prevent further use of force by another party.

In the section on defense challenges, the report addresses Russia's invasion of Ukraine: "Worth paying attention to in this event is that a country with strong military capability has one day come to possess the intention to launch an aggression." It also cites the need "to develop defense capability that are (sic) focused on opponent capabilities."

The report calls for a shift to a threat-response defense force structure. It also breaks down total defense expenditures of approximately ¥43 trillion JPY (> $300 billion USD) over the five years from FY2023. This shows ¥2trillion JPYn ($14 billion USD) is slated to go for ammunition and guided missiles. Another ¥1 trillion JPY ($7 billion USD) is marked for an unmanned assets defense capability.

China National Security Strategy
China televises the firing of ballistic missiles into "training" areas around Taiwan and in Japan's EEZ in Okinawa Prefecture. August 4, 2022. Photo from Weibo.

Falling Short on China and Nuclear Deterrence

It is commendable that the report contains many descriptions that help people understand the kind of defense capability that Japan is aiming for. However, the report falls short in some respects. 

First and foremost, it is inadequate with respect to its assessment of China. It declares that China's "military activities and other activities" are a matter of serious concern and constitute Japan's "greatest strategic challenge." 

But is that assessment alone sufficient?

During the Cold War, Japan regarded the Soviet Union as a "potential threat." Today's China does not seem any less dangerous. 

Indeed, the White Paper states, "Japan has entered a new era of crisis, facing its most severe and complex security environment since WWII." It also admits the military balance between China and Taiwan is rapidly shifting in Beijing's favor. Considering the situation, shouldn't the White Paper have characterized China more in line with the current situation.

We would have also liked to see more attention given to the nuclear arms issue. The report does refer separately to the buildup of nuclear forces by North Korea and China. It also mentions Russia's repeated threats to use nuclear weapons


But we also would like to see a separate chapter on nuclear weapons. It should cover the nuclear threat to the Japanese people and the nuclear deterrence needed to deal with that threat. 

We also need to make many more Japanese aware of the importance of nuclear deterrence.

Defense Minister Hamada introduces the new Defense White Paper on July 28, Ministry of Defense. (© Kyodo)

What It Takes to Defend the Nation

The National Security Strategy presents the concept of a comprehensive defense system. It includes infrastructure development that contributes to the protection of the people and defense of Japan. Furthermore, it includes research and development. 

This is an important issue that should be tackled on a government-wide basis. Moreover, ministries other than the Ministry of Defense should take the lead. The Defense White Paper makes few references to such communications and coordination outside the purview of the defense ministry itself.

It does not really matter whether the Kishida Cabinet creates its own white paper or uses the Defense White Paper. But we need to see the government fulfill its obligation to provide the public with an exhaustive explanation of the significance and progress of the comprehensive defense agenda. That should boost the construction of shelters and other measures to prepare for any eventuality.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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