Ambassador Glassman on: Japan and Defense Modernization: Critical Catalyst for Regional Stability and Recovery


Ambassador Jon Glassman
Ambassador Jon Glassman

Ambassador Glassman addresses the important question of how the new governments of the industrial democracies will address defense modernization. The global economic crisis could lead to a significant reduction in the capability of these democracies to defend themselves and their interests. Short-sided economic decisions could be taken to make defense the billpayer for short-term political gain. Alternatively, the opportunity could be taken to shape collaborative opportunities and to reshape allied capabilities. But such a path would need to shape abilities to use the new multi-functional systems emerging in the early 21st centuries. As Ambassador Glassman underscores, we need to meet the challenge.

The new Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)-led government faces major challenges as it seeks to restore Japan’s economy within the context of a (hopefully) recovering regional and global order. Like other former opposition parties empowered in the last 22 months in the US, Republic of Korea and Taiwan, the DPJ’s search, along with the parliamentary opposition, for new forms of economic stimulus and a steady growth path needs to be successful. Otherwise, malaise will deepen with grievous consequences for national well-being and regional stability.

In these circumstances, Japanese defense modernization could fall victim to competing demands for personal revenue enlargement and public debt control. Indeed, defense modernization might be seen as a significant overhead cost which the new government would seek not to pay.

This would be a terrible mistake — Japan, like other major powers, is on the cusp of assimilating new military technologies that not only will safeguard Japan’s population and preserve peace but also will contribute to shaping an ultra-high-performing information management and infrastructure worthy of emulation.

Japan’s failure to partake in this technological transformation of the economic and social base could leave the country an odd man out as the US and China, driven by military imperatives, advance the forward edge of cyber-infrastructure and functionality with possible huge parallel returns in the civilian economy.

Put simply, security modernization is inextricably tied to, and at the core of, needed economic recovery and growth. One need only look to the US Government-spurred defense and space origin of “Silicon Valley” to recognize this truth in historical perspective.

New Political and Technical Challenges

Japan lives in an ambivalent neighborhood –the high population and enrichment of China, South Korea and Southeast Asia provide lucrative markets, but political uncertainties in North Korea, China and Russia, coupled with the latter two’s capacity to invest in forward-edge military systems, mean that Japan’s citizenry is forever exposed to catastrophes that could emerge from circumstances beyond domestic control. Economic reform without defense modernization could alter Japan’s relative risk profile, as the markets became conscious of Japan’s exposure to ever evolving manifold risks not faced by other major economies.

Japan’s need to co-opt and deter neighboring leaders remains essential as during the Cold War and its aftermath. But what is new in this century are potential threats that could arise from political change and decomposition in the neighborhood — whether the emergence of rogue elements from North Korean regime collapse, future decentralization of authority in China, or the emergence of competing power centers in Russia. These incalculable threats, driven possibly by non-rational actors or political forces, require the ability to defend Japan reliably in a murky future — not simply to deter a clearly-defined, single strategic rival utilizing principally the US alliance strategic deterrent umbrella.

Defense modernization in a time of uncertainty becomes for Japan a public good required as both a guard and catalyst of change; the needed magnitude of the defense effort demands careful husbanding of the US-Japanese alliance and an integral approach within that alliance. A patron-protégé and partner relationship must be superseded by organic collaboration. Shaping a collaborative, intertwined US-Japanese defense capability is the strategic challenge facing the new government.

This capacity to collaborate and defend becomes more difficult as neighboring countries expand their physical capabilities to reach out and touch Japan with ground, naval and air-launched missiles — ballistic and cruises. The complexity in space (trajectories, axes of attack) and time (velocity, frequency) of new military threats requires means of response capable of performing multiple tasks sequentially and simultaneously.

Japan’s need to manage an ever more complex threat intersects with that of its US ally who also needs to find new ways to cope: multi-mission platforms, sensors, and weapons are very costly and increase the economic burden of defense. As projected out-year budget deficit estimates escalate in the United States, it becomes clear that the unipolar moment has passed — a lone-handed security umbrella maintained exclusively or even primarily by the United States is no longer sustainable.

The solution, therefore, resides in collaborative US-Japan operational and defense industrial developmental cooperation and division of labor. The purpose of this shared approach to investment and execution needs to go beyond the traditional budgetary “burden-sharing” argument.

The issue is no longer the equitable split of effort, taking into account Japan’s constitutional inhibitions. Today’s imperative is the need to finance the multi-mission platforms, sensors and weapons and their remote sensory and command, control and communication enablers critical to the real-time challenges facing Japanese and regional security. Absent a collaborative formula, Japanese security will be weakened with its future decided by others.

The shortfall in US wherewithal to play a lone-handed role as the East Asian security guarantor will have its own impact. The American security umbrella has permitted repudiation of ultra-nationalists along the Eurasian periphery who, absent the US umbrella, would be in a strong position to argue for independent nuclear and missile capabilities.

Therefore, while one can presume continuing critique by potential adversaries of efforts to strengthen or expand US-East Asian alliance ties, it is possible to assume their grudging acquiescence in modernization of collaborative capabilities needed to support existing and evolving US-East Asian alliance tasks.

Enlarging the Scope of Security Collaboration

There has been a valid assumption over the years that the combination of efforts to deepen US and allied cooperation with China and Russia and, in parallel, to foster US defense and economic ties with Japan, the ROK, Australia and selected ASEAN states has created an atmosphere propitious for regional and global trade and financial flows. The validity of this assumption has been demonstrated by both the remarkable economic success of the region over past decades along with the damage most recently done as a result of the US economic downturn.

There is consensus — demonstrated most eloquently by the Chinese advice regarding how to restore US economic stability — that the existing East Asian economic and security order needs to be made whole again. This requires involvement of all trade and financial partners — most particularly China. A strategic construct must be fashioned to permit close US-China and China-East Asian economic cooperation while providing sufficient security for Pacific Rim states to deny Chinese hegemony and to forego independent missile and nuclear capabilities. Chinese actual and potential creation of military disequilibrium should be neutralized without creating a specter of US-China and East Asian polarization.

The way forward on this in the security realm may be to enlarge the scope of regional security collaboration — both in terms of tasks performed and participants involved. This seems consistent with some of the themes surfaced in the Japanese election campaign and could itself spur recovery along with stability.

What could be created — as a possible build-out from Six-Party efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue — is a regional forum, involving also the United States along with China and Russia (and maybe, in the future, North Korea), addressing issues of common security concern. These could include items such as crisis communications, missile launch and military exercise notification, space situation awareness, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, disease surveillance, maritime security, and WMD non-proliferation and transparency.

In parallel with this, current bilateral US-East Asian alliances would be preserved but built out to permit broadened participation in operationally-focused shared security zones (SSZs)—geographic “security triangles” emanating south, west and north from the US force core in Guam, Japan, and Korea.

The SSZs would permit cooperative functional security divisions of labor with a widened sphere of participating partners:

  • Southern Maritime Zone (sea domain from Arabian Sea to Northeast Asia): US, Australia, Japan, India, Singapore + other ASEANS (and possibly China) to keep energy/trade transit open;
  • Northeast Asia Zone: US, Japan, ROK to maintain dynamic equilibrium with China, North Korea, and Russia via traditional and new US-allied defense cooperation augmented by CBM and arms limitation negotiation;
  • Arctic Zone: US, Canada, and Japan (and possibly Russia) to preserve access to Arctic resources.

In short, the new Japanese Government faces the opportunity to shape a new defense and economic modernization model — advancing security and economic recovery in East Asia and shaping a new relationship with the United States. New military systems and approaches built on collaborative capabilities can provide the building blocks for the military infrastructure needed for such an approach. Japan can challenge the United States toward true collaboration and the United States can offer core systems which can be shaped to meet this challenge. We need to ensure this opportunity is not missed.

Ambassador Jon Glassman is a retired career Foreign Service officer who is currently Director for Government Policy of the Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Electronic Systems sector. While at the Department of State, Ambassador Glassman served in many countries, including Afghanistan. Ambassador Glassman also has served as the Assistant to the Vice President of the United States and as Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs. The views in this article are his own and do not reflect neither the views of Northrop Grumman Corporation nor the United States Government.


***Posted September 21st, 2009