The new defense plans emerging from Tokyo and Washington, D.C. offer a high degree of convergence. In Japan’s December 2013 National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) and the United States’ forthcoming 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), both allies seek to address the short- and long-term challenge of a reemerging China, while placing military forces within a comprehensive framework. However, there remain at least three hard questions to be answered regarding future alliance cohesion: viz., how to forge a common China strategy, how to sustain extended deterrence, and how to integrate Japan’s increasingly independent capabilities, including offensive strike weapons. Absent candid and persistent reflection on these issues, what now appear to be acceptable gaps could develop over time into deep fissures.
Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG)
Japan’s latest NDPG is the fifth such document to be published in the postwar period. The 1976 National Defense Program Outline (as it was called then) emerged in the midst of U.S.-Soviet détente and burgeoning strategic arms control agreements. A second was released in 1995 to update and rejuvenate the alliance after the end of the Cold War. A third was written in 2004 in the aftermath of the threat of global terrorism and growing nuclear and missile threats. A fourth, issued at the end of 2010 by the previous Democratic Party of Japan government, emphasized the rapid shift in the global balance. The latest document, perfectly synchronized with the release of Japan’s first National Security Strategy and a five-year Mid-Term Defense Plan, emphasizes the deteriorating security environment in East Asia: North Korea is unstable and better armed; mitigating the effects of major disasters requires better preparedness and civil-military crisis management; and China’s coercive diplomacy and military modernization are causing alarm.
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