Friday, November 4, 2022

The Rising Threats in the Indo-Pacific: Insights from Japan

Colonel Cathy Blue, our visiting defence
fellow, introduces the Vice-Admiral
 This week, the Centre for Security, Intelligence, and Defence Studies (NPSIA's research centre on such stuff) hosted Vice-Admiral (ret.) Toshiyuki Ito who was visiting Ottawa. 

Admiral Ito gave a comprehensive talk about the threats facing Japan and everyone else in the region from Russia to North Korea to China.  As a retired officer, he could be more direct about the threats perhaps than an active one, and he humorously invoked "academic freedom" anytime he said something that was a bit controversial.

Japan has to scramble aircraft twice a day to confront Chinese and Russian aircraft.  Ito spoke on a record-setting day as North Korea sent more missiles near and over Japan while it was also engaging in greater tensions with South Korea.  He did not address the difficulties with South Korea that would make a more coordinated response more complicated.  

Ito discussed Canada's exercises in the region including the monitoring of sanctions against North Korea and the freedom of navigation operations in the South China seas.

Perhaps most striking, Ito made it clear to the Canadian audience that a Taiwan scenario--the imminent attack by China (sometime between now and 2027)--is also a Japan scenario for a couple of reasons.  First, there are some Japanese islands mighty close to Taiwan, and it is hard to imagine these islands would not become part of China's invasion plans.  Second, the US has pivotal bases in Japan, which might be specifically targeted to prevent US intervention in a Sino-Taiwan war. 

Here, Vice-Admiral Ito illustrates the
evolution of Self-Defence and
how it fits into the constitution

Ito talked about the need for what he called counter-attack systems--which are essentially first strike systems designed to hit missiles aimed at Japan before they are launched.  This is part of a larger effort to squeeze today's realities into the constraints posed by Article 9 of the Japanese constitution.  That clause prohibits Japan from having a military, although Japan has one by another name: Self-Defense Force.  Its navy, Ito said, was the second largest or more powerful in the world after the US.  The dodge has always been that all sovereign countries are entitled to defend themselves, so the SDF is legitimate (not all Japanese parties agree).  But what counts as defense?  Knocking down incoming missiles is obvious.  Having the ability to pre-emptively strike those that have not yet launched?  Hmmm.  

Japan is doubling its defense spending, getting to 2% when the controversy used to be whether it would exceed 1% of GDP on defense.  What will it spend money on?  Perhaps F35s and missiles?  Unfortunately, we ran out of time so we could not get more specific answers to this and other questions.

It was very useful and interesting to see the Indo-Pacific from a different perspective.  I always this this map I saw all over Tokyo in government offices to illustrate:

This point of view best illustrates how China
is hemmed in by Korea/Japan/Taiwan/etc.

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