The international media have devoted a lot of space to Japan’s new national defence programme. This is qualifies itself with the formula “dynamic defence capability” and, far from involving contingency modifications, implies a basic doctrinal shift. Previously the lynchpin of military strategy has been the defence of the country’s northern territories, centred on Hokkaido, but now the focus has moved to defending the southern part of the archipelago and the Nansei Islands.
These innumerable islands reach almost to Taiwan, and include the Senkaku archipelago, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Okinawa prefecture and which has recently been at the centre of a dispute with China, for whom its name is the Diaoyo archipelago. Here, last August, a Chinese fishing vessel rammed two Japanese patrol boats that were contesting its presence. In the ensuing crisis, fuelled by nationalist agitation from both sides of the sea, a new scenario became clearly visible.
China, to put it simply, is being perceived as Japan’s new principal antagonist. The national defence programme – recently approved by the Tokyo government along with funding for the five year period 2011-15 – is perfectly explicit about the fact that the Chinese Dragon has now replaced the Russian Bear as the biggest threat to Japan’s territorial integrity. Cold War scenarios are put on ice, and a new strategic era opens.
Without forgetting that the Korean peninsula has also to be carefully watched, especially in the light of recent twists in a conflict begun in 1953 and never formally concluded.
This transformation also has a “doctrinal” dimension to it, in the sense that the new defensive model is officially described as “dynamic”. In practice this means that increasing emphasis will be put on the flexibility of the armed forces and their ability to monitor in real time all its hypothetical antagonist’s manoeuvres.
This is a matter of geographical necessity: to the north Japan stops at Hokkaido (further north, the Kuril Islands are occupied by Russia), but to the south it extends through thousands of scattered islands practically as far as Taiwan and deep inside the Eastern Chinese Sea. This calls for countless outposts with small garrisons, and the ability to rapidly transport troops and equipment in all directions.
This in turn calls for an integrated army-aviation-transport command, as well as a new set of missiles installed on islands and aimed towards North Korea.
But this raises a question: why all the fanfare surrounding the announcement?
“Nansei, Senkaku, Okinawa”… this is one plausible explanation. The new defence programme, trumpeted proudly despite its predictability, would appear to be an excellent tool for exerting pressure on the inhabitants of Okinawa who are furiously opposed to the US military base in Futenma being transferred to Henoko, also on the island of Okinawa.
Last weekend Prime Minister Naoto Kan visited the US military base for the first time since his appointment in June, and sounded out the terrain with various statements.
For example, he argued that moving the base without actually leaving the island is a “better option” (compared to leaving the island) even though “not the ideal option”.
This met with the uncompromising opposition of the elderly but newly elected governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who declared roundly that the base’s transfer, even if within the island of Okinawa, “could not in any way be ‘better’, being nothing but downright bad”.
The result of this contest has yet to be decided.
Meanwhile, the insistent propaganda campaign to influence public opinion by evoking the Chinese ogre is beginning to bear fruit: a recent opinion poll commissioned by the government found that 78 percent of Japanese now declare that they “don’t feel close to China”, 19 percent more than last year, making it the worst result since 1978.