Japan’s New National Security Strategy and Contribution to a Networked Regional Security Architecture

This commentary is part of the Exploring New Horizons: Japan’s Defense Priorities project, a CSIS Japan Chair initiative featuring analysis by leading Japanese and American scholars examining the implications of Japan’s new national security and defense strategies and opportunities for bilateral cooperation.


The new National Security Strategy (NSS), together with the National Defense Strategy (NDS) and the Defense Buildup Program (DBP), all released on December 16, 2022, entail a number of unprecedented and highly ambitious projects relevant to Japan’s own defense capabilities. Japan should urgently revamp its military force in light of today’s acute security environment, particularly due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, tension over the Taiwan Strait, and the nuclear and missile ambitions of a more provocative North Korea. The NSS constitutes a dramatic transformation of Japan’s national security policy and illustrates growing threat perceptions in the minds of the Japanese people.

However, the dramatic transformation is not about “fundamental principles and policies” but rather about execution of the initiatives in the strategy documents. In fact, the basic three pillars of national security policy remain essentially intact. The goals are clearly stated in the NDS: (1) “to strengthen Japan’s own architecture for national defense”; (2) “to further reinforce joint deterrence and response capability of the Japan-U.S. Alliance”; and (3) “to reinforce collaboration with like-minded countries.” The basic construct of the defense buildup also remains the same. The NDS states, “Japan will fundamentally reinforce the current Multi-Domain Defense Force through further accelerated efforts.” Thus, the course of Japan’s national security policy is not a fundamental shift of trajectory but an acceleration of the previous course of action, provoked by the recent deterioration of the security environment. In this sense, the dramatic transformation is not a revolution but an evolution with a giant leap.

This article discusses how the Japan-U.S. alliance and Japan’s security cooperation with other like-minded countries should proceed in accordance with the three national security documents and contribute to building a regional security architecture.

Promotion of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific

The NSS states that “as a nation in the Indo-Pacific region, Japan will further promote efforts to realize a FOIP by deepening cooperation with like-minded countries through the Japan-U.S. Alliance as a cornerstone and through efforts such as the Japan-U.S.-Australia-India (Quad) partnership. To this end, Japan will strive to make the vision of a FOIP more universal around the world . . . and expand efforts to ensure maritime security.”

Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision is not only about economic projects related to connectivity but also peace and security. Given that the Indo-Pacific region represents the connectedness of the world’s largest and third-largest oceans, it is natural for Japan, as a maritime nation, to consider maritime security an integral part of the vision.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio of Japan introduced a new plan for FOIP in a speech before the Indian Council of World Affairs on March 20, 2023. Though the FOIP vision is not clearly defined in the NSS or NDS, the Kishida speech serves as a guide. The ends, means, and ways to achieve the FOIP vision are clearer in his remarks than in previous presentations by the government. Japan’s FOIP originally had three pillars—promotion of basic principles, economic prosperity, and peace and security—but the new plan presents four pillars: (1) furthering principles for peace and rules for prosperity; (2) addressing challenges in an Indo-Pacific way; (3) building multilayered connectivity; and (4) extending efforts for security and safe use of the sea to the air. The core principles and concepts are clearer, and the geographical priority is clearer: Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands region, particularly on building of connectivity.

The contribution of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to the FOIP vision is also clearer than before. From the viewpoint of resource allocation, a new framework for maritime security assistance in the form of grant aid to armed forces and other organizations of like-minded countries is noteworthy. Japan’s effort to promote the FOIP concept in a more detailed and transparent way provides a formal basis for aligning with a variety of partners which have already established their own Indo-Pacific strategies, such as the United States, Australia, South Korea, Canada, Europe, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Though thorough scrutiny is necessary and implementation should be carefully watched, Kishida’s FOIP plan is a substantial document, not just a patchwork of miscellaneous projects, and therefore can be regarded as another transformation.

A New Framework for Japan-U.S. Alliance Cooperation

Japan is trying to realize its FOIP concept through the Japan-U.S. alliance as its core, as noted in the NSS. However, the NSS also notes that it is increasingly difficult for the United States to manage risks in the international community and maintain a free and open international order on its own. That is why Japan should work more closely with the United States to strengthen alliance roles and missions. 

The present set of common strategic objectives for the alliance was established in the joint statement of the 2+2 ministerial meeting in February 2005, in the age of the global war on terrorism, and even before North Korea’s first nuclear test. The world has completely changed since then. Similarly, the division of labor between the two countries in security terms defined by the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation (Defense Guidelines), published in April 2015 need to be reviewed, as almost eight years have passed since its release. Both the common strategic objectives and the Defense Guidelines should be updated to reflect the new framework for alliance cooperation.

Japan is acquiring new defense capabilities, particularly counterstrike, per the NSS and NDS. Japan’s roles in regional and international security will be enhanced. Meanwhile, the United States is strengthening its own capabilities based on the concept of integrated deterrence. These changes in both countries necessitate a review of alliance roles and missions, with additional emphasis on developing joint capabilities.

Japan’s counterstrike capability will provide a new opportunity for alliance cooperation. In fact, the NSS states that “while the basic division of roles between Japan and the United State will remain unchanged, as Japan will now possess counterstrike capabilities, the two nations will cooperate in counterstrikes just as they do in defending against ballistic missiles and others.” This general statement of the Japanese side should be incorporated into the Defense Guidelines in a much more detailed way.

Another priority is cybersecurity. The NSS states that “Japan will introduce active cyber defense for eliminating in advance the possibility of serious cyberattacks that may cause national security concerns to the Government and critical infrastructures and for preventing the spread of damage in case of such attacks, even if they do not amount to an armed attack.” The measures will include the necessary mandates to allow the Japanese government to penetrate and neutralize an attacker’s servers in advance. The roles and missions of the military establishment will be expanded accordingly. The Japanese military will utilize its capabilities to reinforce cybersecurity throughout Japan in accordance with the NDS. These changes should be appropriately reflected in the Defense Guidelines.

In addition, the scope of the Defense Guidelines should be expanded to be fully whole-of-government. The main purpose of the Defense Guidelines is to make the military operations of both countries smooth and effective and ensure that other bodies are involved to the extent necessary for that purpose. But a truly whole-of-government framework for alliance cooperation should be devised, replacing the guidelines for “defense” cooperation to harmonize the comprehensive national power of both countries. Of particular importance is to ensure the commitment of maritime law-enforcement organizations. Japan’s NSS gives the Japan Coast Guard important roles to support national security, so the coast guards of both countries should be fully incorporated in a new framework for bilateral security cooperation.

Finally, the scope of the Defense Guidelines should be expanded to include cooperation with other partners. The Japan-U.S. alliance is part of the U.S.-centered alliance network in the Asia-Pacific region. As Japan’s capabilities and roles are enhanced, partnership between Japan and other regional allies of the United States can and needs to be strengthened to make the alliance network more robust. In this sense, the Defense Guidelines will have to have more multilateral elements. The 2015 Defense Guidelines emphasizes “cooperation with regional and other partners, as well as international organizations,” but this should be expanded to reflect the networking dimension of the FOIP strategy.

Advancing International Security Cooperation with Like-Minded Countries

In advancing Japan’s international security cooperation to realize the FOIP concept, it is critical to strengthen the U.S.-centered alliance network, particularly in maritime security. Australia, South Korea, and the Philippines are particularly important in this context. The Philippines and Vietnam are critical to address China’s expansion in the South China Sea. And India is also an indispensable partner as a rising maritime power in the Indo-Pacific. Though Taiwan is not officially within this alliance network, it should also be given an appropriate position in light of the tensions over the Taiwan Strait. Potential avenues for security cooperation with each of these stakeholders are outlined below.

  • Australia
    Almost a decade has passed since the Japan-Australia relationship was elevated to a Special Strategic Partnership. Japan’s first-ever NSS, published in 2013, mentioned Australia second among Japan’s security partners, after the United States. The 2007 Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation (JDSC) between Japan and Australia was revised in October 2022. The new JDSC states: “Over the next ten years, Japan and Australia will work together more closely for our shared objectives. . . . We will consult each other on contingencies that may affect our sovereignty and regional security interests, and consider measures in response” (italics added). If both countries act accordingly, the relationship will be much closer to an alliance.

    Japan-Australia security cooperation for the peace and stability of the Pacific Islands region is also important, as the region is a vital sea lane and also located on the southern flank of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) and climate security cooperation with the Pacific Island countries are worth exploring.
  • South Korea
    The importance of security cooperation with South Korea cannot be overstated. Political sensitivities between Japan and South Korea have at times complicated efforts to develop security cooperation bilaterally and with the United States. However, Japan and South Korea are the only two countries in Northeast Asia with a robust U.S. military presence. Japan-South Korea cooperation has become even more necessary due to the threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

    Capitalizing on the Phnom Penh Statement on the “US – Japan – Republic of Korea Trilateral Partnership for the Indo-Pacific,” issued in November 2022, and the resumption of shuttle diplomacy between Japan and South Korea in the spring of 2023, both Japan-South Korea and Japan-U.S.-South Korea security cooperation should be irreversibly restored.
  • The Philippines and Vietnam
    The Philippines is one of the very few countries in Southeast Asia with which Japan has a 2+2 ministerial framework. Capitalizing on the momentum for the bilateral strategic partnership created by the inaugural meeting held in April 2022, both countries should enhance maritime security cooperation, particularly in capacity building as well as arms transfers and joint exercises.

    Cooperation with Vietnam is also important to counter China’s advances in the South China Sea. Japan should consider security cooperation focused on issues such as maritime capacity building and underwater clearance of unexploded ordnance, as well as other areas in the future, but with an eye on Vietnam’s longtime friendly relationship with Russia.
  • India
    India is not an ally of the United States and has a history of nonalignment. As it has maintained a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership” with Russia for years, it is necessary to keep watching the progress of the relationship carefully, but both India and Japan need each other in order to counter China’s maritime expansion.

    Japan established a 2+2 ministerial framework with India in 2019 and maintains a “Special Strategic Global Partnership” reaffirmed during Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to India in March 2023. An Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement was signed in September 2020 and came into force in July 2021. Based on these developments in recent years, the bilateral security cooperation has deepened and expanded.

    The Quad is a mechanism to engage India with the U.S. alliance network in the region. Partnership with India is increasingly important even outside of the context of the Quad. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also launched the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) in 2019. It has the potential to become a catalyst to interconnect the existing smaller networks across the entire Indo-Pacific, even including extra-regional partners. The IPOI has great potential as a comprehensive platform for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, and Japan could be more involved in its promotion. At the same time, joint exercises and maritime and air domain awareness cooperation should be enhanced.
  • Taiwan
    Japan’s awareness of the importance of Taiwan is increasing due to the tension over the Taiwan Strait. The new NSS states, “Peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is an indispensable element for the security and prosperity of the international community.” It also states, “Taiwan is an extremely important partner and a precious friend of Japan, with whom Japan shares fundamental values, including democracy, and has close economic and personal ties.” These expressions are not new, but it is for the first time in this official national security document of Japan. A question is how these expressions will translate into action.

    Japan’s geographical proximity to Taiwan binds Japan’s security with that of Taiwan. Japan has to be well prepared for Taiwan contingencies, and security cooperation between Japan and Taiwan will therefore have to be explored in close coordination with the United States. Should a Taiwan contingency take place, the long-standing One China policy (i.e., commitment to the peaceful settlement of the dispute over the Taiwan Strait) would cease to exist. At least a Track 1.5 or 2 approach should be explored, even if a Track 1 approach is not feasible. Further development of the Global Training and Cooperation Framework to include security cooperation is one possible idea.

Toward a Networked Regional Security Architecture

As noted in Japan’s new NSS, the United States is “the world’s greatest comprehensive power.” The U.S.-centered alliance network will be the core of the Indo-Pacific regional security architecture because the rules-based liberal international order that has brought stability and prosperity to the United States and its allies is an international extension of the U.S. system of liberal democracy. The United States, together with its allies, can provide the necessary might to sustain that order. Enhancement of Japan’s international security partnerships should contribute to such networking efforts. 

Tokuchi Hideshi is president of the Research Institute for Peace and Security (RIPS) and a former vice minister of Defense for International Affairs of Japan.

This project is made possible with support from the Government of Japan.

Tokuchi Hideshi

President, Research Institute for Peace and Security (RIPS); Former Vice Minister of Defense, International Affairs of Japan