The prospect of hanging focuses the mind wonderfully, according to Samuel Johnson. Apparently, for nations, so does a growing national security threat. A politically assertive China with an increasingly powerful military has done about everything it can to worry its neighbors and, more important, energize their defense activities. China has managed to rouse even a pacifistic Japan from its seven-decade sleep, prompting that country to take an unprecedented series of measures to enhance its defense decision making capabilities and modernize its military.
For more than a decade, China has been steadily building up its conventional and nuclear forces. It has hundreds of land-based ballistic missiles able to reach as far as Japan, the Philippines and Australia (not to mention every U.S. military installation in the Western Pacific). It is building a powerful air force and deploying advanced air defense systems some of which can reach into the airspace over neighboring countries. The Chinese Navy is becoming a formidable force with its first aircraft carrier (two more are under construction), missile destroyers and corvettes, both diesel electric and nuclear attack submarines and amphibious warfare ships.
Defense experts use a simple formula to represent the severity of threats to national security: capabilities multiplied by intentions. The world has been watching China’s military buildup with growing concern while hoping that Beijing’s intentions remain peaceful. Unfortunately, this is not proving to be the case. China has been acting in an increasingly aggressive manner, most recently by unilaterally declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that encompasses a set of disputed islands and encroaches on airspace also claimed by both South Korea and Japan. It also sent its new aircraft carrier into a portion of the South China Sea, the ownership of which is disputed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines and others.
The threat indicators, capabilities and intentions, have turned yellow and may even be showing a reddish tinge. China’s neighbors are responding. Japan has developed its first ever National Security Strategy, a new Mid-Term National Defense Program Guidance and a new Mid-Term Defense Program. These documents clearly show that Tokyo has no intention of ceding control of the Western Pacific to China. South Korea also indicated its intention to stand up to China by creating its own ADIZ which overlaps that declared by Beijing. The Mid-Term Defense Guidance also identifies critical defense modernization objectives for Japan over the next five years.
“Japan places particular emphasis on the following functions and capabilities: ISR capabilities, intelligence function, transportation capability, C3I capabilities, response to attacks on remote islands, response to ballistic missile attacks, response to attacks in cyber space and outer space, response to large-scale natural disasters, and engagement in such activities as international peace keeping operations.
“In addition to efforts to strengthen defense posture in the Southwest region, Japan prioritizes capabilities aiming at securing air superiority and command of the sea, which will serve as a premise for effective deterrence and responses. Development of rapid deployment capabilities is considered important as well.”
Japan is building capabilities to deter China. Japan’s defense budget has been increased for the first time in nearly a decade. The additional funding will help pay for acquisition of new equipment including V-22 Ospreys, Global Hawk long-endurance unmanned aerial systems, missile defense destroyers, amphibious warfare ships and submarines. Japan and the United States are collaborating on the advanced IIA version of the Standard 3 ballistic missile interceptor. Tokyo also is acquiring the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as is Australia and almost certainly South Korea.
As the Obama Administration continues its “pivot to Asia,” it will need to do even more to support the efforts of regional allies and friends to defend themselves. In particular, it should reconsider its decision not to sell new F-16 C/D fighters to Taiwan.
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