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Japanese Defence Strategy: Adjusting to the Global Equilibrium in the Asia-Pasific?

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On December 16, 2022, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the National Security Strategy created by the Japanese National Security Council was approved by the Council of Ministers.

In the document, where descriptions and determinations are made about the basic pillars of the international structure and order and the current position of Japan, it is stated that the international system has been shaken from its foundations and a new crossroads has been entered; on the other hand, Japan is emphasized to be in the most violent and complex security environment in the post-World War II period. In the light of these current findings, the document, which states that it is of great importance to maintain and develop a free and open international order based on the rule of law, sheds light on Japan’s preferences for the next period.

Looking at the document in general outline, the Tokyo administration, which considers further strengthening its alliance relations with the United States of America (USA) as a strategic step, looks at China, Russia and North Korea, which the US also considers in the category of the other and (or) enemy, from the same perspective. In this context, China is categorized as the biggest strategic threat, Russia and Russia-China rapprochement as a strong cause of concern, and North Korea as an imminent and serious threat, the document underlined that strategic diplomatic capabilities will be brought to the forefront.

The necessity of a strengthened defense architecture was also pointed out as the main condition for advancing or effectively using diplomatic capabilities. Therefore, it can be stated that Japan, which acted only with a defense approach after the Second World War, moved away from its traditional concept and evolved its defense understanding into the preventive / interventionist security understanding, which is the general acceptance of the period after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Thus, the signal was given that Japan would begin to take up arms.

This is the spirit of the official declaration and the text; Japan’s determination of its strategy with a new vision by moving away from its traditional concept for the post-World War II period opens up the questions of “What does it mean for the global system, especially Asia-Pacific?” and “What kind of future awaits us?” In this analysis, evaluations are made on the questions in question.

Japan, which consists of about 7,000 islands, four of which are the main islands, and is therefore a maritime state by necessity, is a country deprived of underground riches despite its developed industry and technology. Another serious issue for Japan, which is forced to import hydrocarbon resources and minerals to make its industry sustainable, is demography. According to 2022 data, the ratio of the 0-14 age group to the general population in Japan, which has a population of 124 million, is 12.49%; 29.18% of the total population consists of the group over 65 years of age. In fact, the over-50 age group accounts for almost half of the general population. These indicators are flares of the aging problem.

When  looking at the above data, on the one hand, it consists of islets, that is with geographical limitations; On the other hand, Japan, which is deprived of the underground riches it needs most in a limited geography, will also be deprived of labor in the short-term future. Therefore, the  recently announced national security strategy for Japan, whose imperialist or expansionist initiatives in the Asia-Pacific and revisionist moves at the global level have been fixed by experience in the past, seems to be a necessity beyond being a situation that can be explained only by the movements in the global system and the positions of the actors.

Especially when moving on the basis of demographic data, it is observed that there is a tendency to experience serious tensions both in the world and in Japan. For example, by 2050, the populations of the countries that rank in the top 60 in the world’s development scale and constitute 44% of the world’s population are expected to decrease significantly. The same is also true of Japan. According to the World Bank and various international specialized organizations, Japan’s population will experience a 25% decline in the 2040s. Compared to others, it is estimated that Japan will be the country that will experience the demographic crisis the most among the developed countries.

The expected demographic collapse on the one hand, and geographical fear on the other, are the two most important factors that will determine Japan’s security doctrine and practices. At this point, considering that the Japanese islands, which are claimed to have a historical adventure of 30,000 years, face continuous occupations and that the official exit of the last invading USA, from this country was in 1952, it is not possible to claim that this fear is unfounded.

Considering the above data, as agreed by the overwhelming majority of experts in political and social sciences, that geographical and demographic problems will bring economic and political crises, Japanese decision-makers cannot intervene in fixed elements such as geography; however, it is not a prophecy to predict that it will take steps towards variable elements. This makes a revisionist and expansionist foreign policy option a rational choice for Japan, where it is not possible to achieve a natural increase in the population through the birth process and where the state will not tolerate immigration due to the limited area of its country.

Consequently, contrary to the experts who claim that the challenge to US hegemony in Asia-Pacific in the recent period is taking place from China; It is not too contrary to reality to claim that China cannot be a global leader due to its internal structural problems and basic dynamics, and to suggest that if a state is sought in the Asia Pacific that will influence the global trend, it will be Japan. The real question at this point is whether Japan will make this strategic breakthrough “with the United States or in spite of the United States.” When analyzed through both its national security strategy and the current international conditions, it is seen that Japan will try to reach out to global trends in accordance with the spirit of alliance with the United States. However, the point that should not be forgotten is that political history does not note any permanent and eternal alliance, and that the actors strengthened by the hegemon began to reject hegemony after a while.

Dr. Kadir Ertaç ÇELİK
ANKASAM Uluslararası İlişkiler Danışmanı Dr. Kadir Ertaç ÇELİK, lisans eğitimini Uludağ Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde, yüksek lisans ve doktora eğitimini ise Gazi Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda tamamlamıştır. Günümüzde Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü öğretim üyesi olan Çelik’in başlıca çalışma alanları Uluslararası ilişkiler kuramları, Amerikan dış politikası, Türk Dünyası, güvenlik ve stratejidir.