In the March 3 edition of The Sankei Shimbun, Tomohide Murai, a specially appointed professor at Tokyo International University, penned an article for the Seiron (“Just Arguments”) column, titled, “Protecting Japan With an Active Yet Exclusively Defense-Oriented Policy.” I agree entirely with what he wrote:
There is a pervasive belief in Japan that avoiding war is the most important thing. No one tries to think what would happen if a war started. Many citizens draw a blank when they hear the term “military operation.”
To reduce the toll on civilians, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is making great efforts to shoot down missiles that can destroy apartment buildings and infrastructure facilities. He hopes to minimize the missile threat by attacking missile launch sites and bases from which bombers are deployed. Decreasing the number of enemy attacks will lead to less damage on the Ukrainian side.
However, the war would only intensify if Zelensky attacked a base in Russia. The West fears this, and Russia as well does not want to expand its “special military operation.” I doubt Russian President Vladimir Putin would have begun this war if he expected it to be a lengthy one. Mired in the mess of the Vietnam War, the Lyndon B. Johnson administration collapsed when it raised taxes and sent more reserve soldiers to Vietnam. Nor does China desire a major war – its fundamental strategy today is that of “limited” warfare.
Consequently, even major powers are hesitant to take part in conflicts that are certain to become major wars. No countries want to start World War III. In the world of today, one effective tactic for deterring war is to possess the capabilities and determination that guarantee a conflict will turn into a great war. During the Cold War era, France’s deterrence strategy was to guarantee that, even if France was destroyed, it could harm the Soviet Union by using its surviving submarines to retaliate.
If a country with an exclusively defense-oriented policy is the target of a unilateral attack, its side will experience rapidly increasing damage after the war starts, while its enemy will not suffer much harm. The enemy can wage a small war that incurs limited damage. An exclusively defense-oriented policy provides a safety zone to enemies, but none for the country and its supporters.
China has employed the military tactic of active defense since the time of Mao Zedong. After the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Mao emphasized this defense policy as a tactic for ensuring the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) survival while fighting the powerful Japanese military. In this “people’s war,” small-scale surprise attacks were repeatedly waged while fleeing from place to place across its vast territory. “Active defense” included not only strategic defense, but also active offense. The CPC claimed active defense as a guiding principle of war and as a national strategy. On the operational level (which is below national strategy), it emphasized that active offense could be necessary depending on the circumstances of the war.
The CPC attempts to promote an image of a peaceful China by externally publicizing its policy of active defense. However, it is conspicuously taking active offense actions against foreign countries, including its expanding jurisdiction in the South China Sea and intrusions into the Japanese Senkaku Islands territory. The CPC’s current military movements are on the operational level – they are not active defense on the strategic level. It insists that active offense is a correct action at the operational level.
Japan’s defense strategy is its exclusively defense-oriented policy. According to the CPC, fundamental defense policy is an issue of national strategy, not a topic of the operational level. Japan’s exclusively defense-oriented policy also incorporates national strategy: “the posture of a passive defense strategy in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution.” The CPC believes that aggressive, operational-level actions do not contradict this. Engaged in a hard fight, Ukraine cannot strike sites from which the enemy launches attacks. Viewing this, I feel Japan should emulate the CPC by implementing an active yet exclusively defense-oriented policy as a national strategy incorporating active offense on the operational level.
Furthermore, the Senkaku Islands area is not just six square kilometers of uninhabited islands – it is Japan’s indigenous territory, a place where our honor and trust are on the line. The key to Japanese national security will be making aggressors aware that Japanese people possess the determination to absolutely respond to territorial incursions, in a way that goes beyond a small war.
Fundamentally, the exclusively defense-oriented policy means battles will inevitably be waged within Japan’s territorial waters, airspace, and land. As Murai points out, this type of warfare is safe for enemies, but not for the country and its supporters. Japan is exactly the same as Ukraine in this way. Many Ukrainian soldiers and citizens have died in this war, but there have been no Russian civilian deaths. One year in, no one can predict when the war will end. Putin started this conflict because he thought he could easily take Kyiv and annex Ukraine through a special military operation. He actually lost many Russian troops in the Kyiv offensive. Had he known this ahead of time, I imagine he would not have carried out that operation. Similarly, I doubt Putin would have decided to invade Ukraine if he felt certain it would bring a fierce attack on Russian territory.
Rather than the exclusively defense-oriented policy that assumes decisive battles will take place on the Japanese mainland, we should discourage other countries from attacking through an active yet exclusively defense-oriented policy. The most important thing is to have sufficient offensive abilities to make other countries aware that their military would suffer heavy damages if they tried to attack or invade Japan. We must also make them see that attacking or invading Japan would invite a counteroffensive that would seriously harm their own territory and people. Japan should abide by the common knowledge of the world – namely, these concepts of “deterrence by denial” and “deterrence by punishment.”
Traditionally, the left wing and many media outlets have made the argument that Japan cannot begin wars according to Article 9 of the constitution. They assume no wars will occur unless Japan starts them, which is just like the belief that peace is guaranteed by wishing for it. This is a preposterous and entirely mistaken way of thinking. Solid military preparations are what deter war, just like the saying, “If you are prepared, there is no need to worry.”
Murai also wrote a Seiron article published on January 30, titled, “The Japanese People’s National Safety Strategy Lacks Resolve.” I was particularly impressed with the following section:
Amidst China’s continuing arms buildup, Japan must expand its military to obstruct China from gaining an overwhelming advantageous military position, and to show China that defeating Japan would not be so simple. However, military expansion could lead to an arms race with China, which neither country desires. But if Japan does disarm, China will gain even greater military predominance. In the worst-case scenario, it might decide war is a more effective way to deal with Japan than diplomacy.
Still, if an arms race did break out, I doubt the military balance would tip in an extreme way to favor China, which is experiencing ever-greater economic and social contradictions. Contemporary wars indicate the low possibility that accidental occurrences will escalate into major wars, unless both governments want to start a great war. Therefore, if Japan carried out military expansion, the worst-case scenario would be a Sino-Japanese arms race. Comparing the worst cases that could result from disarmament and military expansion, an arms race would be preferable to an actual war. It seems like a Sino-Japanese arms race would help prevent a military conflict.
In all eras and in all nations, peace is achieved via a balance of power. Because a country with significantly greater military strength cannot resist the lure of invading a weaker country, wars break out when this balance crumbles. The ideal of peace is not enough to stop a war. Peace is maintained by having evenly matched power, including military alliances that exercise the right to collective defense. Russia’s war with Ukraine has once against affirmed that unbalanced power leads to warfare. As Murai writes, an arms race that deters war would be a better choice than an actual armed conflict.
Considering this, Japan cannot avoid discussing the topic of nuclear weapons. Our neighbors of Russia, North Korea, and China are nuclear states, and we cannot deny the possibility that South Korea and Taiwan will obtain nuclear arms as well. Japan might be the target of a nuclear attack. We can also imagine a scenario in which Japan is drawn into an armed conflict caused by the deteriorating balance between our neighbors. We can no longer guarantee peace just by following the Three Non-Nuclear Principles of “not possessing, not producing and not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons.” Japan must consider means for maintaining a balance of power, including our neighboring countries.
Our alliance with the United States is, of course, extremely important. However, Japan has continually put shackles on its alliance with the U.S., some of which still remain today. For instance, the Japanese constitution did not recognize the right to collective defense until the legislation for peace and security was established in 2015. Some people are speaking out against this constitutional interpretation in recent years. Tokyo University of Foreign Studies Professor Hideaki Shinoda wrote as follows in his 2022 book, Protecting Japan Through the Right to Collective Defense: Why is this Constitutional? As an expert in international law, Shinoda states that traditional interpretations of the constitution have been erroneous. I found his argument to be quite persuasive:
Rather than the U.S. fighting to protect Japan, all Japanese citizens must first be resolved that the Japan Self-Defense Forces will fight for our sake. This is even more important if we are to fully recognize the right to collective defense. This is in accordance with Murai, who said, “The key to Japanese national security will be making aggressors aware that Japanese people possess the determination to absolutely respond to territorial incursions, in a way that goes beyond a small war.” In my view, now is the time for the media and all Japanese people to once again take a pragmatic look at methods for deterring war.
March 13 (Monday), 6:00 p.m.