Japan's Defense Priorities

Japan's Defense Priorities

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Sheila A. Smith, senior fellow for Japan Studies at CFR, discusses Japan's defense priorities and its reliance on U.S. security.

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Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York and welcome to the CFR Academic Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.

Today’s call is on the record, and the audio file and transcript will be available on our website at CFR.org.

We’re delighted to have Sheila Smith with us to talk about Japan’s defense priorities and its reliance on U.S. security. Dr. Smith is author of the book Japan Rearmed: The Politics of Military Power which was just published by Harvard University Press on April 1, so Monday of this week. She’s also authored Intimate Rivals: Japanese Politics and a Rising China as well as Japan’s New Politics and the U.S.-Japan Alliance. Her current research focuses on how geostrategic change in Asia is shaping Japan’s strategic choices. In the fall of 2014, she began a project on nationalism in Japan and a changing China. She is a regular contributor to the CFR blog Asia Unbound, which you can find on our website, CFR.org, and frequent contributor to major media outlets in the United States and Asia.

Dr. Smith joined CFR from the East-West Center in 2007 where she directed a multinational research team and cross-national studies of domestic politics of the U.S. military presence in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.

She also tweets at, on Twitter, @SheilaSmithCFR, so if you want to go there and follow her you should.

So, Sheila, thanks very much for being with us today. We appreciate it.

SMITH: Thank you, Irina. It’s a pleasure.

And thank all of you who are listening at the other end. I get to hear your voices and your questions later on, but I’m so delighted that you had time to spend with me today.

So I’m delighted also to talk about the new book. It is just out. And I thought I’d just give you a sense of not only why I wrote it, bit why I titled it the way I did. It’s called Japan Rearmed. By some observers, it seems to be a provocative title and a provocative cover. It has the Japanese military on the front.

But the title was not meant to provoke, it was simply meant to bring attention to the fact that Japan has been rearmed now for decades. And so it’s in the past tense. It’s not “Japan is rearming,” it is Japan has been rearmed. And it is a major military power.

I think we often talk an awful lot about Japan. It has a particular article in its constitution, article nine, that says Japan will not use force to settle international disputes. And, of course, that was adopted under U.S. occupation in 1947.

The Japanese people, though, have never changed that document and have never wanted—(inaudible). So we look at Japan as a particular case. It’s an unusual case. It’s not what most states do. They don’t embed limitations on their military power in their constitution.

But I think it also, because we are so interested in that experiment by the Japanese, we often overlook the fact that Japan has invested considerably in military power. It has been among the top ten countries if you look at defense spending for decades, not just as it became rich in the 1980s, but even before that. So it’s not that the Japanese government or the Japanese people don’t think they need a military, it’s rather that they want to limit the way that military power is used. And I think that’s what the focal point of the book is.

My position is largely that since the end of the Cold War, for a variety of reasons, most of them external to Japan, the Japanese have had to rethink this proposition, and they’ve done it gradually and slowly and very, very carefully. There’s a deep debate inside Japan among the Japanese people that their government shouldn’t have free ability to send their military abroad or to even deploy them to defend the country. So there’s deep caution on the part of the Japanese people about how their government uses military force.

That being said, Japan now lives in an environment in which more and more Japanese feel that their security is threatened, that there are countries around them, many of them with nuclear weapons, right, who are maybe not hostile to Japan, but who are using their own militaries far more freely to demonstrate their power in ways that the Japanese don’t. So you’ve got North Korea, of course, that’s the most recent example. I think especially in 2017 there were numerous missiles flying over Japan. Kim Jong-un has had no hesitation in his—in the KCNA broadcasts of saying the Japanese deserve it, right, that he wants to intimidate the Japanese because of their history.

But also, you’ve got a broader phenomenon which is changing the regional balance of power and that’s the rise of China. China has increasingly been willing to use its military to demonstrate its growing wealth and its assertion of its interests in the region and in fact globally.

So the Japanese are surrounded by countries who don’t feel limited in the way they use their military power. They don’t necessarily feel these countries are about to attack them or they’re pugilistic in any way, but they do feel that they may not be adequately prepared to defend themselves.

And that’s where the alliance with the United States comes in. Again, the limitations on Japanese military power have been—have gone hand-in-hand with the idea that the U.S. and Japan alliance will extend nuclear deterrence to Japan because the Japanese don’t want a nuclear arsenal, but will also deter aggression should somebody want to, you know, attack Japan or use force against Japan. They will think twice because the United States not only has a treaty with Japan, but it also has today fifty thousand men and women in uniform serving on Japanese territory.

So I think, you know, the Japanese rely on that deterrent and the sort of unquestioned reassurance that the United States government has given to the Japanese about the utility of that alliance to help the Japanese feel secure.

As the threat perception is growing—North Korea and China—so, too, however, in the last couple of years has been Japanese concerns about whether the United States is as committed to that security guarantee as it was in the past. Now, for those of you who follow Japan and follow the U.S.-Japan relationship, you’ll know that Prime Minister Abe and President Trump have had a very close personal relationship. I think the Japanese have found that that guarantee and the personal contact between the prime minister and the president to be reassuring. There have been statements by the Trump administration that the United States continues to be behind Japan and to support Japan a hundred percent—for example, when the North Korean missiles were flying—but the Trump administration speaks about its alliance, the post-war American alliances with NATO, with South Korea, and even with Japan in a rather different way than previous administrations have. So there’s a worry that our politics here in the United States may be changing some of the unquestioned assumptions about that security guarantee by the United States.

The period of the book that I cover is the period from the end of the Cold War to today. So a lot of the—especially for the students listening, you’ll see there’s a little bit of history because it’s not just about politics today or it’s not just about the Trump administration. So don’t misunderstand me in that sense.

It begins with the way in which, after the Cold War, some of the conditions in which, you know, the United States and its allies began to think about coalition military action, those changed. So the Japanese were, in the first Gulf War in 1990-91, they were asked to send their military to the Middle East. They were taken very much by surprise at this request because, of course, they hadn’t sent their military abroad in that capacity in the past and they didn’t—the Diet, the Japanese parliament, refused to do that.

A decade or so later when the United States was attacked in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Japanese tried to compensate for that difference. They had understood that they did not step up in a way in the coalition that was required, especially by the United States, to help solve some of these global challenges.

There’s a lot of controversy about the self-defense force abroad. The Diet has been very hesitant to allow the Japanese military abroad to use its weapons, for example. So even though the self-defense forces was sent into U.N. peacekeeping operations in 1992, even though it sent—it was sent to help the United States in the Gulf War by refueling tankers and other things like that, there’s been a real tight sense that the legislature has to control what the prime minister does or the executive branch of the Japanese government was doing. So there’s a high degree of accountability required by the government to explain to the Diet, to the parliament, and to the Japanese people what their military is doing and how limited their ability to use their weapons are.

So that’s one of the trajectories that I see that has, in some ways, been confounding a little bit for the Japanese military, because they’ve been sent to these coalition activities, but they have not been able to act in the way that other militaries have, be it the Dutch or the Australians or whoever else they’re deployed side-by-side with. And that’s been a frustration, but it’s also been technically a problem for them in fulfilling their mission.

The other thing that’s happened since the end of the Cold War, though, is that there’s been this new pressure in and around Japan. And this will be surprising to some of you, but until 2004-2005 the Japanese government had no legislation in place that would allow for an emergency situation. In other words, if the country was attacked or if the military had to be mobilized, how would civil and military leaders share control during that time?

Those of you who know Japanese history, of course, know that that’s a very tender topic, right, because the pre-war period in Japan, there was an awful lot of control by the military over civil society. And there’s a deep resistance to that today.

So it took until 2004 for that emergency legislation to pass the Japanese Diet, but it did so largely because there was increasing pressure in the form of North Korean activities in the seas around Japan, but also increasingly by Chinese activities as well. So that emergency legislation passed, the Japanese military was given more permission and in fact more assignments to deploy, to defend, to show that they were ready to dispel any kind of foreign aggression. So that was a new thing for the Japanese. And again, it comes very, very late in the post-war period, again in the 2000s into this decade as well.

And then finally, there is this question about the Japanese constitution. And I think a lot of people conflate article nine with military policymaking and they think, OK, because they have article nine, there is no real military capability in Japan or because of article nine the Japanese can’t even shoot at all. And none of that’s true.

But what’s had to happen is a larger conversation within the Japanese, you know, polity about, are we really ready to change the constitution? And if so, is article nine the place to start, right? And if we change article nine, there are some people who want to be—especially some of the defense policymakers or security experts, they say, OK, article nine should be rewritten. The first paragraph is fine, that’s the paragraph that says we will not use force to settle international disputes. There’s no question about that first paragraph. What they want to do is call the self-defense forces a regular military. What they want to do is say you’re allowed to shoot, you need to shoot. So they want to get rid of the ambiguity. But that’s not—that’s not an opinion that’s shared by a lot of Japanese.

There is a broader sense, however, in Japan that the constitution as a whole could be debated, could be deliberated upon, and the Japanese people themselves can decide if they want to change it, revise it. But it doesn’t always mean that the Japanese people want to change article nine itself, right?

So military policy is something that’s debated within government, as it is in every country, right? It’s debated nationally in terms of what the Japanese people feel comfortable with for their military. And I think one of the pieces of the puzzle that we don’t see outside the country, that I think it’s pretty valuable, is Japanese public opinion regarding the self-defense forces, regarding this post-war military has actually become much more supportive. They see their military not as an aggressive force that’s going to go abroad and do bad things, but they see their military as an arm of the government that’s going to help them in crises.

And as you know, there was a huge earthquake in 2011. The self-defense forces were the first responders. Their military capability and training were seen as the best arm of the government in responding to that national crisis. So there’s a great deal of good will among the Japanese people for this military.

But they also see a self-defense force abroad working alongside others in U.N. peacekeeping, working with the United States and others in Asia, with India, with the Philippines, with Australia, and they see that with some degree of pride. And that doesn’t mean that they are ready to go to war, but they are accepting of a military force in a way that they hadn’t been in the early decades of the post war. So there’s a great deal of sort of public trust that’s growing inside Japan with regard to the self-defense forces.

Let me just say one thing in conclusion and then open it up to the discussion. I don’t want to be the only one talking here. But the book is basically—the empirical sections of the book, I introduce what happened in the Cold War just so people have a sense of where this process of rebuilding Japanese capability came from. But I wanted to untangle the policy from the politics largely because, again, a lot of these different aspects of Japanese debate over their military and over their foreign policy often get conflated.

So I separated it into several aspects of military planning and military thinking in Japan to show leaders what’s changing and what really has not. So the four empirical chapters, the first one deals with the self-defense forces abroad. And again, this comes out of the debate in the first Gulf War and the external pressure on Japan really to contribute militarily to larger, global, shared security concerns, right? That evolves into a far more globally active Japanese military in that chapter.

The second is what the Japanese had to do to improve their military’s ability to defend Japan, right? And that’s largely a chapter about military readiness. A lot of people don’t understand that the Japanese government actually has deployed its military in defense of operations. So whether that’s shoot down—shooting down—getting ready to shoot down incoming missiles with ballistic missile defenses or sending their navy out to make sure that there’s maritime security operations in the waters around Japan, this has been ordered multiple times in the—in the—in the Cold War, the post-Cold War period. And so I talk a little bit about how those operations happened, where and how the restraints that the military felt were relaxed somewhat to allow them to do their job.

The third chapter focuses right on that constitutional debate and it’s a little bit archaic and so for some students it’ll be, oh, my gosh, constitutional interpretation is really not something I want to read all that much about. But it really is the politics, right, of how the Japanese people think about their military, its purpose, whether limits on the military should still be maintained and, if so, they should be maintained through the constitutional document, the constitution itself as a document.

And then the last chapter, I got a lot of feedback in Washington about this, but I’ve called it “relying on borrowed power.” And I think what I’m trying to do is to get the reader to step out of the American gaze on this idea of extended deterrence. If you are an ally, you are, in effect, yes, relying on the United States, but you’re relying on a military capability that they themselves usually don’t have. Now, some of our European allies have nuclear weapons, at least a minimal deterrent, but most of our allies in Asia do not—not most, our allies in Asia do not maintain nuclear weapons. And that’s an important piece of the puzzle.

From the beginning, the Japanese have lived in a nuclear era, but they have chosen not to join it. And so that reliance on American nuclear power then is a key factor in the way in which the Japanese have to think about their security arrangements. And the U.S. extended deterrent of course is absolutely indispensable to Japan’s security.

So those are the four chapters. And I can talk, when we’re talking with the—with the students, I can talk more about policy implications if they’re interested.

FASKIANOS: Wonderful.

SMITH: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Sheila, thank you very much for that overview.

Let’s open it up to the group for questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, we will open the floor for questions.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

FASKIANOS: While we’re waiting for questions, let me start. The Japanese emperor, Akihito, will abdicate on May 1, ushering a new era. What do we know about the incoming emperor in Japan?

SMITH: Well, Naruhito is his name. And he is married to a woman who was a diplomat in the ministry of foreign affairs, the empress—so she will be the Empress Masako.

He is a fairly cosmopolitan person. He studied at Oxford. Or was it Cambridge? I apologize; it might have been one of the two. Anyway, he went to England—(chuckles)—to study. He is very outgoing. He is known to speak his mind when necessary. So when he married this young diplomat, he very forthrightly told the Japanese public that he felt his first duty was to protect her, which is not what most Japanese emperors would say. So he’s a younger and more modern figure for the imperial household.

They will have, of course, all kinds of expectations on them, as every emperor does. I think the interesting thing is, if you watch the emperors from Emperor Showa, who lived through the war, Hirohito, his grandfather, his father, Akihito, and then now Naruhito, they will represent that generational change in Japan in some ways.

But his father, Akihito, had never been associated directly or personally with Japan’s militarist pact by the Emperor Showa that lived through the 1930s and into World War II and then beyond, right, and accepted, right, surrender. Akihito, basically if we look back at his reign, was the emperor that spent a lot of time traveling abroad. He was, in some ways, seen as the reconciliation emperor. He’s the emperor, and his wife, the Empress Michiko, who went to China, right? They went to Southeast Asia. They went to the Pacific islands, right? And they talked about the war, they visited the remains of soldiers and people, the Japanese who had died, but they also spoke with regret of the terrible cost of Japans’ behavior at that time. So Naruhito, so that’s an interesting phase of Japanese foreign policy in which the imperial family played a pretty significant role.

Emperor Naruhito will be a little bit—I expect him to be a little bit more globalist. I think that’s the orientation he’s likely to take. His wife was educated at Harvard, she then went into the ministry of foreign affairs, she herself and her own professional commitments, she’s also a globalist, so I’m expecting a little bit more of that flavor from the new imperial family.

FASKIANOS: Fantastic.

All right, let’s take the first question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our first question comes from Eastern Michigan University.

Q: Hi. I’m Don Shapiro, a political science student here at Eastern Michigan University.

In December of last year, there was an incident regarding a South Korean destroyer locking on its fire-control radar onto a Japanese Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft. And I was wondering, since this point, how is the more or less continuing deteriorating relations between South Korea and Japan and somewhat spoken hostility and rhetoric between the two countries going to work with the mutual threat of North Korea, which they quite simply cannot take on with one another. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that.

SMITH: Thank you, Don. That’s a great question. And your school was paying attention. (Laughs.) I love it.

So, yeah, all of us in Washington were kind of saying we should be paying more attention to this in Washington than we seem to be at the moment.

So South Korea and Japan, as you point out, their relationship politically has been deteriorating now for some time. In 2015, it was—in Asia, it was the seventieth anniversary of the end of the war. Everybody was commemorating the end of the war. Prime Minister Abe, who, as you may know, is seen as a fairly conservative nationalist in the region, right, was due to make a statement, the Abe statement on the end of the war. People were worried. The Chinese celebrated or commemorated I should say the end of the war for the first time in a national commemoration, including a parade that we all watched. And the South Koreans, of course, also made their speech.

At that point in time, there was a really serious effort to try—in the United States—to try to help Japan and South Korea, you know, lessen those historical legacy—the tensions of historical legacy. That has not been sustainable over time. We can talk about that if you’d like to. But the political tensions over the past and their reinterpretation and some judicial action about the treaty, normalization treaty, has produced a new episode or a new moment of animosity.

That incident is not the first time the South Koreans have threatened military force against the Japanese. So in 2016—again, Mr. Abe was prime minister at the time—a Japanese geological survey ship was approaching what the Koreans call the Dokdo Islands or what the Japanese call the Takeshima Islands, both claim them, and the South Koreans mobilized their military in response. And the Japanese geological survey ship turned around and left. So the South Koreans feel very strongly about their territorial integrity.

What’s striking about this incident, though, is the fire control. It’s unusual for ships to do that unless they have hostile intent. The South Koreans claim it didn’t happen. The Japanese governments and South Korean governments have made no progress on some kind of bandage or Band-Aid or, you know, trying to figure out how to build confidence. They’ve basically said, you know, it’s a he said/she said kind of or he said/he said incident and so there’s been no repair of the relationship.

If you think about the broader geostrategic trends in Northeast Asia, both of those allies, right, are critical, as you said, in responding to any efforts or any action on the part of North Korea. But they are also not positioned to defend against themselves.

So the legacy of the Cold War alliances with the United States is neither has had to worry about the other. And if you take a look at a map, if you think about that changing, that would be a fundamental altering of the way in which South Korea and Japanese forces would have to mobilize and would have to organize themselves.

Certainly nobody wants to go down that path and think about that outcome. But as you think about potential scenarios for the future of Northeast Asia, we now, I think, should consider the costs of this deterioration in the relationship between Seoul and Tokyo. And I think for the United States it should be a priority to spend some attention on trying to help prevent that outcome from becoming the worst-case scenario.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our next question comes from Howard University.

Q: Hello. This is Sabri Harvey (ph), senior international business major from Howard University.

And my question is, with the close ties that the U.S. and Japan have nowadays with their military alliance, I wanted to know what the direction that Japan has with their military, how can the U.S. help, via the Department of Homeland Security, help upgrade Japan’s military assets as well as their naval assets.

SMITH: Thank you, Sabri (ph), that’s a great question.

So the United States and Japan have had a very close economic partnership, as you suggested, and that partnership has, at times, had some disputes. The 1980s were filled with trade disputes, right? We see the echoes of that language of trade tensions over the trade deficit with Japan in the Trump administration’s approach. In a week or two, you’re going to see Japanese and American negotiators try to come together for the first time to work on a bilateral trade agreement.

So I think, in some ways, we’ve been here before. It’s not a—trade disputes will not undermine the military alliance. I think our military and the Japanese military are very closely connected. They rely on each other to, operationally, to be able to do their jobs. If you go to any of the bases in Japan run by the United States military, you will get the commanders talking all the time about the way in which they work closely with their counterparts in the self-defense force.

So I’m not worried about our military-to-military relationship. In fact, we’ve got a strong network of personal ties in addition to the underlying strategic interests I think that those ties serve.

Where I think it’s—I wouldn’t—the homeland security question is an interesting one for me. We have largely depended on the Department of Defense and the Japanese ministry of defense and our three or—our four branches and the Japanese three branches of the services to work closely together.

What I think you’re starting to see, though, is issues like cybersecurity, space, and, as you pointed out, the maritime domain. These are new areas in which we will probably see new actors in both of our governments taking a larger role. President Trump talks about a Space Command, right, or a space force. I’m not sure that we’re going to have a separate space force, but our Air Force has just set up a Space Command. The general who leads that served in Japan in the United States Air Force. He was there in fact during the earthquake in 2011. And he’s also leading space cooperation with Japan.

Last December, the Japanese announced their next 10-year defense plan and which space they are going to set up, specifically a space command, and that will be, I think, a very good asset for the alliance.

In cyber, we work across the board in terms of both business cyber assets and expertise as well as our military-to-military conversation on cybersecurity. So there, you might find Homeland Security playing a little bit of a larger role. But I think, to be honest with you, I think the commercial cooperation on cyber is leading, in many ways, the government-to-government conversation and that has to do a little bit with the nature of cybersecurity itself.

So I think there’s a lot of ways that the U.S. and Japanese relationship will be strengthened and the way in which we cooperate militarily and in the civil space for our mutual security is going to expand, so we should have new actors involved.

One area you didn’t mention, but you might be interested in, is disaster relief. We’ve had, as you know, considerable disasters—Katrina, et cetera—and we have, since the Japanese earthquake in 2011, our disaster experts and Japanese disaster management experts have had a pretty strong relationship as well, so that’s another area where human security, right, cooperation between the Japanese and Americans has been—has been strengthened in recent years.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Texas A&M.

Q: Hi. Oh, sorry. Given North Korea’s (non-signatory ?) status to the Convention for Chemical Weapons, and their development of missiles capable of launching a warhead of any kind, and their recent history, and Japan’s recent history with Aum Shinrikyo and chemical and biological terrorism, is there any concern within Japan about the possibility of a chemical or a biological strike by North Korea in lieu of a nuclear one?

SMITH: And your name is?

Q: Andy Wright (sp).

SMITH: Andy (sp), is that right? Well, thank you.

Q: Yes.

SMITH: It’s a great question.

So the Japanese government has been quite focused on all means of weapons of mass destruction that might be delivered to Japan with the expanding nuclear—I’m sorry, the expanding missile capability of the North Koreans.

Prime Minister Abe very early on, as the North Koreans expanded the number of missile launches over Japan or in the direction of Japan, about halfway through 2017 began to talk in the national Diet in the parliament about the fact that these missiles could carry a variety of weapons of mass destruction. We in the United States tend to be very focused on nuclear capability, but if you are Japanese and you’ve been watching the North Koreans, as you point out, their stockpile of chemical and biological weapons would be equally devastating.

Your point about the Aum Shinrikyo is well-taken. I write about this in the book. For those of you who don’t know about it, it was a religious cult. They used sarin gas on the Tokyo subways in 1995. There were a considerable number of deaths and other—and casualties as well.

The sarin gas is a very crude chemical weapon that is fairly easy to make. But the more complex chemical weapons that the Aum Shinrikyo ended up having actually were found to have come from Russia and other parts, so there was an external link between this group and other actors in the northeast of Asia. No North Korean connection that we know of.

But what it did do inside Japan is it brought the self-defense force, who had chemical warfare training, and the police agency in Japan, who were basically responsible for civil law enforcement, brought them together for the first time. Before that, the police tried to not have the self-defense forces involved in their work for constitutional reasons. But the particular expertise of the self-defense force in chemical war and biological warfare prevention made it indispensable for the police’s investigation and then, of course, for preventing further incident.

So these are—this is an experience the Japanese have had. The ground self-defense force, their army, is largely responsible for this and they have a separate unit that is dedicated to chemical and biological responses.

It is a huge concern for any Asian society or any society for that matter with large civilian population centers. This kind of weapon of mass destruction could be equally devastating as a—as a more traditional military weapon.

So it’s a great question. Yes, they’re worried. And yes, Mr. Abe brings it up regularly with President Trump that weapons of mass destruction, generally speaking, should be our concern with North Korea.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Rutgers University.

Q: Hello, can you hear me?


Q: Hello? OK, great.

I was at a talk recently at an Asia Society where the honorable Akitaka Saiki was speaking about Abe’s plan for a free Indo-Pacific region. And the question came up, and they were pretty frank about it, talking about the cuts to the State Department and the need for more diplomacy in the region, but at the same time we’re cutting funding toward that. And I was wondering, what are the implications with these—with these budget cuts going—what are the implications going to be when it comes to actually being able to create stronger alliances and relationships in the—with Japan and then just in the general region of Asia?

SMITH: Thank you. Can I—can I have your name?

Q: My name is Vienno James (ph), and I actually study fine arts at the Mason Gross School of Art and Design at Rutgers University.

SMITH: Well, thank you. I am delighted. And it’s a great question.

So I know Saiki-san quite well. He’s a former vice foreign minister of Japan, as you know, a very articulate man and very thoughtful person and very dedicated, I think, to making sure that the United States and Japan are committed to cooperation, not only in our bilateral relationship, but also across the Asia Pacific or what we now refer to more broadly as the Indo-Pacific.

You’re asking me to comment less on Japanese politics and to talk about our own, but I think our Department of State budget cuts are a tremendous loss to our capacity, whether it’s in Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa, wherever. We need our diplomats and we need people who have spent careers building relationships in countries around the world who know our partnerships and can also navigate our adversaries—with our adversaries.

So I think the Department of State, in my view, is always underfunded. You know, I don’t think it can be strong enough. Because at the end of the day, you know, my book spends a lot of time about the—talking about the military instrument. But at the end of the day, any country—Japan, the United States, any country we can think of—needs to marshal a broad array of instruments to help it navigate a very complex world, to build partnerships, to work in multilateral frameworks, to work in bilateral frameworks, and to make sure that we are still talking to the people that we may not always agree with. And that’s the job of our diplomats. We need—investing in that kind of expertise, for me, is just as important as investing in military capabilities or spending money on making sure that we are helping development and aid across the world. But we have a lot of instruments that we need to bring to bear and our State Department diplomats are high on my list of where we should dedicate our resources.

Q: Thank you.

SMITH: Let me—let me address the Indo-Pacific point.

Q: Yes, ma’am.

SMITH: Does that get in the way? I think our partners in the Indo-Pacific think it does. I don’t know that it’s just a resource question, and I don’t want to put words in Mr. Saiki’s mouth, but the free and open Indo-Pacific idea or vision is something that Japan shares, India shares, Australia shares, Korea, Southeast Asia, right? So the idea that we will help build a regional multilateral order that is free, open, and inclusive is what many countries of that region are hoping for, and so they really want to see us forward leaning and engaged.

And so I think Secretary Pompeo and others are trying. But I think what Saiki’s point—Saiki-san’s point is that we should try harder and put more emphasis into the future of the Asian region.

Q: Thank you so much, yeah.

FASKIANOS: Did you have a follow up?

Q: Well, yes, I sort of did. It was just kind of following up on that, because though your focus is on military, if the diplomat thing kind of—kind of helped us steer away from having to, you know, step over the line and then end up in some sort of conflict in this case. And, yeah, thank you very much for you—for your input.

SMITH: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our next question comes from Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

Q: Hello. Can you hear me?

SMITH: Yes, we can.

Q: OK, great. My name is Nicholas Seltzer, and I study nuclear nonproliferation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey.

So my question has to do with the North Korea issue and Japan’s policies. I think that Japan has tried to hew pretty closely to the U.S. line in supporting a maximum pressure campaign and we’ve seen lots of meetings between the Trump and Abe administrations, some of the Trump team summits. But I think on the other hand, Japan is—policymakers are pretty worried that the U.S. could try to cut a deal with North Korea for political reasons and kind of leave some of Japan’s security concerns unaddressed.

And I think one more issue for Japan is the abductee issue, which Abe has emphasized quite a bit, and maybe in some ways has produced a domestic political situation that limits his diplomatic options.

So I’m curious, I wanted to ask your opinion, what do you think we’ll see moving forward? And what sort of avenues and leverage are available to Japan for pursuing its diplomatic and defense policies for the North Korea issue? Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you, Nicholas. First of all, you’re in the best spot in the country to be studying nuclear nonproliferation, so good for you, you’ve got great faculty over there.

Let me just change your—just suggest a change of language from the beginning of your question. So you suggested that Japan was hewing close to the U.S. line on maximum pressure. I would—I would counter that by saying Japan has always had that line, has always wanted maximum international pressure, has wanted more sanctions rather than less. And you can go back before the Trump administration and even, you know, the ten—you can go through the ten or fifteen years of the, you know, the global effort to negotiate with North Korea and you can see a pretty consistent Japanese line on that.

And there’s, you know—good or bad, whether you like it or not is not my point here. But they want a hard international stance on sanctioning for two reasons: one, they believe the North Koreans need to be contained and that the proliferation effort needs to be contained; and second, they see, because they are not sitting at the table, right, they are not the United States, they are not South Korea, they don’t have any legal way into the negotiations, they want the international community, and in this case through the United Nations Security Council, they want a strong Security Council condemnation of nuclear nonproliferation.

Now, Japan is a signatory to the NPT, as you know. That’s a standard line for Japan. It does not want more nuclear proliferation. But it particularly doesn’t want North Korean nuclear proliferation and it has worried consistently—you can go back to the Bush administration to look at this as well—it’s worried that we will cut a deal, the United States will cut a deal that focuses only on nuclear weapons, only on nuclear capability, doesn’t focus sufficiently on missile production, which is, again, that’s a ten-year-old conversation between the United States and Japan, doesn’t focus, as the previous caller had asked about, on chemical and biological weapons, right. So the Japanese focus first on missile capability and then secondarily on what might be delivered by that missile capability and that’s the weapons of mass destruction.

It doesn’t mean they’re not worried about nuclear fissile material, but they have prioritized very differently than us. So there’s always been—and even in the six-party talks when we had that multilateral framework for the region that did include a seat at the table for Japan and Russia, they have always advocated quite strongly for a hardline on the—on the nuclear proliferation side.

Now, Trump and Abe, it’s interesting on the North Korea piece, because I think Prime Minister Abe, although I don’t think you’ll hear Japanese officials describing it this way, but I think the shift from maximum pressure to direct Trump-Kim talks caught the Japanese very much by surprise and felt jarring to them. They don’t necessarily—were not necessarily overtly against the Singapore summit, but the outcome of that summit raised questions in their minds about whether President Trump would be able to negotiate successfully on denuclearization.

And then when you had the Hanoi meeting and the breakup of the—of the conversation, you’ll notice the first thing that Prime Minister Abe did in his press conference is say no deal is better—he didn’t quite say it this way, I’m paraphrasing—no deal is better than a bad deal. OK, so he was supportive of the president’s decision. But he then said it may be time for Japan to talk directly to Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang.

So I suspect, as your question implies, there’s a very deep concern about exactly how the administration is going to proceed with North Korea just as Japan is vulnerable to those missiles and increased tensions again in the region. Japan is also vulnerable to a half-done or half-baked negotiation that really leaves nuclear capability in Pyongyang’s hands. That would be, I think, a pretty serious test of the alliance. I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker.

But Japan is feeling the frustration of not being able to influence the decision-making effectively in a way that will ensure the security of the Japanese people

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our next question comes from Eastern Michigan University.

Q: Hello?

SMITH: Hello?

Q: Hi. My name is Addison Bank (sp).

And I recently was at a conference for—we were doing a model European Union simulation. And one of the topics was—it was transatlantic relations with the United States. And a lot of what was brought up with that was rising tensions with Russia, especially from the Eastern European countries. I was wondering if that was kind of the same in Japan, where, like, the rising tensions from Russia was also, like, a concern of the Japanese government.

SMITH: Great question. The Russia piece is interesting in a couple of aspects towards the Japanese. As you probably know, the Russians—or, the Soviets and now the Russians—and the Japanese never signed a postwar peace treaty. And they didn’t do that because there’s a territorial dispute over the islands north of Hokkaido that the Russians refer to as the Kurils and the Japanese refer to as the Northern Territories. The lack of a resolution of that territorial dispute has gotten in the way of a formal peace treaty, but it hasn’t gotten in the way of economic ties or diplomatic ties between the two countries. Nonetheless, I think for most Japanese leaders—and that includes Mr. Abe, but also his predecessors—have periodically felt the need to go back to try to negotiate a formal peace treaty with the Russians.

Now, Mr. Putin has played a little bit on temping Mr. Abe into the idea that a peace treaty was doable. He referenced that to a negotiation in the 1950s, in which the Japanese and, at that time, the Soviets agreed to separate four islands, two for the Soviets and two for Japan. And then Mr. Abe called Mr. Putin on that offer and said: All right, let’s move forward on that deal. And then Mr. Putin said, no thank you. So Mr. Putin has been trying to entice Mr. Abe into greater—convincing his companies to invest the Soviet far east more. Japan doesn’t necessarily see Russia as the largest threat in the neighborhood, but it does scramble its aircraft considerably in response to Russian bombers to circumvent Japanese territory. The Russians in the north play a little bit of a cat and mouse game, and they have from the Cold War into the post-Cold War, with Japanese air Self-Defense Force fighters up there.

And the number of Russian military, you know, sort of testing of Japanese defenses—the frequency of that has not gone down, even though Mr. Putin is saying he wants to negotiate a peace treaty with the Japanese. So there’s a tension in the relationship, but it is not the highest concern of the Japanese government. China is, and North Korea. You’ll notice, though, that in that December long-term defense plan that was announced, that I referenced earlier, Russia factors in on Japanese threat perception. It’s the third or fourth item down the list, but it’s the first time that the Japanese in the post-Cold War period have named Russia as a potential concern—security concern for Japan. So I think there’s a tug-of-war here between the diplomatic strategic interest in a peace treaty with Russia, but also the reality that they have a northern neighbor that has sufficient military capability to make their life complicated.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Spelman College.

Q: Hello. How are you today?

SMITH: I’m good, thanks. And who am I speaking with?

Q: This is Theresa Quarter (sp). I’m a third-year international studies student with a minor in Japanese studies.

And my question is, with the population—(inaudible)—dilemma of Japan being at the forefront of—OK. With the population—(inaudible)—being a huge issue in Japan today, along with the strong history of being antiwar and having a new growing and more youthful population being a bit more liberal, how exactly do you see Japan—how exactly do you see Japan being able to maintain its military numbers and strength?

SMITH: Great, Theresa (sp). Shall I speak in Japanese?

Q: One more time?

SMITH: Shall I speak in Japanese? Shall we—shall we speak in Japanese?

Q: Oh. (Laughs.) I don’t quite yet have the ability to comprehend that level of Japanese, but I’m getting there. (Laughs.)

SMITH: Excellent. I’m so excited that you’re getting there. Thank you. I was just teasing you just a little bit. But I’m excited to hear that you have a Japanese language capability and that you’re minoring in Japanese.

So you are right. Japan’s population, its demography is its biggest long-term challenge, whether that’s an economic challenge, or a social challenge, or, as you point out, a military challenge. You know, by 2060, most of the population, or at least half of the Japanese population, I should say, will be in retirement, right? That doesn’t bode well if you’re trying to attract people to join your military. But, here’s the thing, the Japanese military has had a hard time filling its ranks even with a strong population. They understand that most younger Japanese don’t see the Self-Defense Forces as their first choice. Their recruitment tends to come from areas where there has traditionally been military service. So if you’re thinking Sasebo down south, down in Kyushu for example, or up in the north Hokkaido is a very—has a large population that is going into the Self-Defense Forces. So there’s a large Self-Defense Force population there.

The antiwar generation—and I think this is one of our challenges, is for people like studying Japan in the years ahead—the antiwar sentiment of the Japanese I think is very, very strong. Even the generation, in particular those who had experienced the war, are now passing away. And you’re seeing a lot of statements. You saw that when President Obama visited Hiroshima. The survivors of the Hiroshima bombings were sitting there. You see it also in many of the veterans associations in our country and in Japan, that have reached out to each other in their 80s and their 90s to find common cause from that terrible experience, even though they were adversaries. So I think there’s a generation passing from the scene who has had a very strong impact on the national debate over the past, and the mistake—or the mistakes, plural, that Japan made in going to war, and the tragedy of that war.

The younger Japanese you described as liberal, and I know lots of young Japanese who are liberal, but I’m not sure everybody—every young Japanese person is liberal in the traditional sense. And I think younger Japanese are, for example, more willing to ask questions about why can’t we revise our constitution? They’re not necessarily pro-military, so please don’t misunderstand me on that, but in the traditional way we think about Japanese politics—the right and the left—I think younger Japanese are just asking different kinds of questions. They didn’t inherit that deep division that I think characterizes generations that came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, right, and ‘80s.

So I think the young—how the younger Japanese feel about their government, about their society, how active they become politically will be a really fascinating topic for us to watch. Young Japanese have traditionally been fairly apathetic, whether it was voting, in some senses even social activism. So I’m going to be looking forward with lots of interest to your generation to see how the Japanese define their priorities going forward. Japanese military is only going to be as strong as the Japanese people want it to be. The planners in the defense ministry, to be very specific about how this affects their thinking, you’ll see a lot of interest in AI, artificial intelligence. You’re seeing a lot of investment in underwater and air drones, for example on UAVs. Sorry, I am giving you an acronym.

You have investment in technologies that might help offset the population decline in Japan. So the military looks an awful lot like other sectors of the Japanese economy and society. They are looking partly to technology to help answer some of these questions for them.

Q: Well, thank you very much.

SMITH: Very welcome.

FASKIANOS: We talked about—I wanted to just speak to—we talked a little bit about the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

SMITH: Sure. So the book I wrote last time, the Intimate Rivals book, spends an awful lot of time talking about the history of those islands and how Japan and China still struggle over who they think they belong to, right? They’re uninhabited islands. They’re rocky outcroppings. The people who lived there, who were Japanese, before World War II, were fairly impoverished, right? They basically used the islands to collect guano which is, you know, seabird droppings, which was a very lucrative business in fertilizer. But they weren’t people who made a living off the islands. So it’s a pretty desperate place for people to live. And so in the postwar people—nobody’s lived there.

Now it’s become this focal point of contention over historical legacy. For the Chinese, they believe those islands should have gone back to them, or at least to Taiwan, because that’s territorial where they assign them. And Beijing, of course, thinks Taiwan is a province of China, right? The Taiwanese feel that those are their ancestral fishing grounds around those islands, that they should be Taiwan—they should belong to Taiwan. And of course, the Japanese claim that they had staked out a territorial in the absence of any other power way back in the Meiji period of the late 19th century.

So what the difference today about those islands is not—people don’t really want to go and live there. People want to fish, because it’s pretty lucrative fishing grounds. And the Japanese and the Taiwanese have come to some arrangement on that, as have the Chinese. But now there’s a question of who’s going to patrol those islands, who’s going to assert sovereignty? And of course, the tensions that I wrote about in my previous book, I talk a little bit about their military implications in this current book. But now you’ve got government vessels—coast guards, to be sure, but not far off the horizon are navies behind them. And under the water, of course, that’s a very, very deep trench. Lots of submarine activity by various countries in the East China Sea.

So I think it’s a pretty critical area. You’ve got the United States and Japan. You’ve got the United States and South Korea. You’ve got obviously the Chinese, who don’t want people operating so close to their land. And then, of course, you’ve got the open-ended Taiwan question, right? Which the Chinese care deeply about. And the Chinese military has now been operating in close proximity and through the straits around Taiwan in a much, much more forceful manner than they’ve ever done in the past. So the Senkaku issue overlaps with the sovereignty, historical legacy issues between Japan and China, but it’s also positioned as a pretty important vortex of military presence when many—by many, multiple countries in the region. And it also raises its head a little bit into this question between the Taiwan-China relationship.

Pretty difficult spot for something to go wrong. So like in 2010, when there was a—you know, a drunk Chinese trawler, or in 2012 when there was the Japanese who owned the island sold it to the government, little things that seem to be civil sort of law enforcement kind of problems can really quickly escalate today. So it’s a place to pay attention. Nobody wants that to blow up again.

FASKIANOS: Right. I think we have time for one last question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our last question comes from Bowling Green State University.

Q: Hello.

SMITH: Hello.

Q: I’m calling—my name is Beatrice Guenther.

And I’m calling regarding the one paper that you had us read regarding cyberwarfare. Could you let us know a little bit why this is considered underneath the constitutional rejection of getting involved in an aggressive war, and if there are any more developments about this question?

SMITH: Sure. So the piece that you read is by two authors who are cyber experts, right? So that’s a great piece for you to look at. The reason that the constitution comes into play is what I discuss in my book, which is this question of can and should Japan use offensive military force? Now, in these new domains—in the space domain, right, in the cyber domain, it’s not traditional weaponry. It’s not as if you’ve got two aircraft carriers in the sea, or you’ve got two fighter jets, you know, fighting it out. It’s a new—a new area where, in many ways, cyberwarfare you have the advantage on the offense, right? Defense is basically covering up the vulnerabilities that some other cyber attacker has managed to find.

And so offense is cyber, right, warfare. And in that sense, in the—again, referring back to that December defense plan, underneath it are several things that suggest that Japan is sort of sliding out of that very neat and tidy—if you can ever have a neat and tidy distinction between what is offensive versus what is defensive. Cyber, if you’re not offensive, you’re not—you’re not—you know, you’re not able to defend yourself. Space, weaponry is barred under international treaty, but there are increasing numbers of countries, China included, that have deployed new weaponry in space despite that treaty. Recognizing a military weapon from a civilian apparatus is not always easy in these new domains. And so this is a place where should the Japanese develop their cyber capabilities sufficient that they can deter aggression by other cyber actors—well, if they want to do that, then they’re going to have to be on the offensive. They’re going to have capabilities that we would traditionally think of, and behaviorally at least, as being offensive.

It’s not an area of technological expertise among legislators. We can—(laugh)—I think any country, to put it—to put it mildly. And it is a very highly technical area to discuss. The Diet, the parliament, which is usually where these issues of constitutionality are adjudicated, the Japanese legislature would not able, I think, to effectively have a conversation about this. So you are looking at technologies and new operations that are now seen as military operations that don’t fit neatly into this offense-defense kind of paradigm that the Japanese politicians have created in the postwar period. So that’s the key, I think, to understanding the Japanese debate.

Q: Thank you very much.

FASKIANOS: Wonderful.

SMITH: You’re very welcome.

FASKIANOS: So can you talk the last minute or two to talk about this wonderful interactive info guide that you have created?

SMITH: Sure. So this is a separate project, not that we want to inundate you with Japan stuff from CFR, but I kind of do. (Laughter.) And I specifically would love students to see it and give us feedback on it, because it’s designed—it sounds to me, for the questions that I have today—that this is a pretty expert audience, people who have been studying Japan, and military affairs, and international relations very closely. So this would be—you would be a great audience to give me feedback, if you’re in the—so inclined. But the info guide is an online resource. It’s on Japan’s constitutional debate. It covers issues of the emperor, the military, the role of women. It looks at the constitutional—the origins of the constitution, but it also looks at the changing politics around this question of revision, and also how—a final section looks at public attitudes towards the political debate on revision.

I think what I’m trying to do here is to share with you my sense that this is a pretty broad debate in Japan. It is not a predetermined debate. It’s not as if Mr. Abe is going to carry the country in the direction of constitutional revision. But what I think a lot of outsider observers don’t really see is there’s a very big focus on Article 9, which is very important, obviously. But this is also—this is the foundational document of Japan’s postwar democracy. And so for those of us outside the country, for those of us debating constitutions and going to war, or constitutions and women’s rights, or constitutions and the balance between social and individual rights, right? Social obligations and individual rights. Japan is in the middle of that debate in a way that it hasn’t been before.

And the traditional, as I said in a previous answer, the traditional kind of right-left paradigm that we used to understand as—you know, in Japan, has shifted dramatically. And the constitutional debate is one area where this is reflective of this is a changing Japanese society that faces a whole host of issues—aging, environmental challenges, natural disasters, external—a world that’s changing very rapidly. But also, challenges to women and their place in the workplace, their place in the family. Like every other democracy, this is a place where the Japanese are debating their future. And I think it’s an excellent prism through which to think about how Japan is going to look forward. And all of those young people that we have just talked about have an opportunity here to shape that conversation.

So that info guide helps people who don’t have access to Japanese-language materials, but who are interested in constitutional issues broadly, or people who just want to get a better grip on, well, what are they talking about when they talk about constitutional revision? Hopefully it will help you gain some access to those resources and prompt more conversations in your classrooms and other settings.

FASKIANOS: I believe it will be released on April 15.

SMITH: April 8, next Monday.

FASKIANOS: Next Monday. Hard on the heels of the book. (Laughter.) And what we will do is we’ll circulate to your professors a link to the info guide, so that they can share that with you. Or else, you can just go to CFR.org to find it.

So thank you, Shelia Smith, for this terrific call, for writing this book Japan Rearmed. I commend it to all of you. And for all of your terrific questions. It’s really been a really great discussion. Our last call of the semester will take place on Wednesday April 17 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. Joshua Busby, associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, will lead a conversation on international security under changing climate conditions. So I hope you will all join us for that final call. I also encourage you to visit CFR.org and follow us on Twitter at @CFR_Campus for information on new CFR resources and upcoming events. And thank you all again for today’s discussion.


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