To Deter Communist China, Japan Must Join America as a Peer | Opinion

The People's Republic of China (PRC) is ramping up its aggression with an ever-more potent military ready to act upon its threats. It is essential for U.S. national security and deterrence that Japan become an equal partner in a formalized Quad Alliance with the U.S., Australia and India. The future of a peaceful and prosperous free world depends upon it.

Since the defeat of Imperial Japan in 1945 and the promulgation of a pacifist constitution in 1947, followed by the formal ending of the American occupation in 1952, Japan has operated less as a fully independent nation-state and more as a U.S. dependency. For the security of both Japan and America, this must end. It is time for Japan to resume its role as a major regional power. This must include the possession of an array of offensive military capabilities.

In 1987, while I was a young special assistant for foreign affairs in the Department of Defense, Honduras saw a need to replace its aging squadron of Dassault Super Mystéres with a dozen Northrop F-5s. The U.S. agreed. The rationale for the sale of these jet fighters was simple—it would allow Honduras to deter Nicaraguan aggression on its own, without the need for immediate U.S. military intervention. At the time, communist Nicaragua was receiving large arms shipments from Cuba and the Soviet Union, including very capable Soviet attack helicopters. A modern Honduran air force would allow the nation to defend itself. The counterargument, mostly from the Democratic majority in the U.S. House, was that the arms sale would be destabilizing and lead to a Central American arms race. The sale went through, and Nicaragua was deterred. A more capable Honduran military made the region more stable, not less.

Today we are facing an analogous situation in the Indo-Pacific, but with far greater stakes.

During the Cold War with the Soviet Bloc, Japan was snugly under the American nuclear umbrella. As a share of its economy, it didn't spend much on defense. It still doesn't; today, Japan spends about 1 percent of its economy on defense, compared to America's 3.4 percent. And Japanese political leaders often point to their constitution and claim that they can't spend much more than that on defense.

When the Cold War ended in 1991, the marriage of convenience between the U.S. and the PRC should have been re-evaluated. It wasn't. Instead, with America leading the way, the West built up China, empowering a ruthless Leninist regime utterly dedicated to the survival and aggrandizement of the Chinese Communist Party.

Asking Japan to shoulder more of a burden in regional defense is complicated by domestic political considerations. Further, there are historical concerns about a re-emergence of Japanese martial culture—concerns shared by people both in Japan and abroad. But Japan is constrained by geography, as are all nations. As with America, the existential threat to Japan emanates from China. The situation in Asia isn't at all like the 1930s, when Japanese militarism was emboldened by a weak and divided China, while the European powers were occupied with an ascendant Germany. For a hypothetical rise of Japanese militarism to be a global threat, China must first cease to be a world power.

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

How might Japan's defense policy and military forces evolve in the wake of Japan becoming a full-fledged nation-state, with the inherent ability to wage war?

First and foremost, Japan must acquire the means of striking potential enemies. This would include a range of capabilities. The aim would be to greatly complicate the task of war planners in both China and North Korea.

New capabilities need to be viewed through the lens of strategic competition, with the ability to offer an array of options that can both be planned for before hostilities and adapted by commanders during hostilities to meet unforeseen threats and exploit opportunities.

While Japan's domestic defense industry should be larger and more capable, continued sales of needed systems by the U.S. can fill the gap and, in many cases, be produced locally under license. Potential weapons America should suggest Japan might purchase include:

  • F-15EX, a thoroughly upgraded version of the F-15E Strike Eagle. The aircraft has some commonality with the locally produced F-15J, but with significantly greater ability to carry an astonishingly wide array of weapons.
  • JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile), a stealthy air-launched cruise missile.
  • Tomahawk cruise missiles, including variants that could be launched from a variety of land, sea and air platforms.
  • Hypersonic missiles—the U.S. should invite Japan to participate in the development of these crucial weapons.
  • Improved sensors and target acquisition systems, such as the SPY-7 radar.
  • Precision Strike Missiles capable of hitting moving targets at sea or land beyond 300 miles.
  • Improved anti-ship and anti-submarine capabilities.
  • Improved amphibious capabilities.

Along with Japan's enhanced military capabilities, the U.S. needs to formalize the Quad Alliance along the lines of NATO in Europe, with America joining the democracies of Australia, India and Japan in an Asian mutual defense treaty.

Furthermore, the U.S. should seek to marginalize the United Nations (where totalitarian China is gaining purchase with corrupt and non-democratic nations around the globe—all of which have an equal vote in the U.N.'s General Assembly) by creating an international grouping of democracies. The new security council of this group could include all nations with a durable rule of law and regular fair elections, and which also spend a requisite share of their economies on defense.

These two new international arrangements would provide a proper venue for Japan to participate in global affairs, with the added benefit of shifting Japanese domestic opinion toward shouldering greater international responsibilities.

It's time Japan joined the U.S. as a peer, rather than a junior partner.

Chuck DeVore is a vice president at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a former California legislator and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army retired reserve.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.