CNAS recently hosted LTG Koichiro Bansho of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces for a discussion on Japan’s evolving role in defense and security. General Bansho set the stage by describing the “three fronts” Japan faces in assessing strategic threats: an ascendant China, an unstable North Korea, and large-scale regional disasters.
Aggressive behavior on the part of China has prompted a reorientation of the JSDF from its typical northern posture. During the Cold War the JSDF was primarily concerned with Russian movement across the Sea of Okhotsk. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and presented with contemporary Chinese aggression in the region, Japan began focusing its Self-Defense Forces on contingencies related to the South and East China Seas.
Bansho also highlighted the policy changes recently enacted by the Abe government in Japan. The new national security legislation would allow Japan to provide what General Bansho called a “proactive contribution to peace.” But in addition to the expansion of the JSDF’s constitutional authorities, Bansho also pointed to substantial improvements in the Force’s modern capabilities. In particular, Bansho touted the development of more robust amphibious units designed to retake outer islands in the event of a crisis.
Discussants praised the overall JSDF’s remarkable modernization progress, but also expressed concern over the Force’s “jointness,” pointing to reports that the three branches of the JSDF may still place insufficient emphasis on collaborating in the field. There was unanimous agreement, however, that the JSDF Navy and U.S. Navy enjoy cooperation and interoperability on par with the U.S. and the United Kingdom.