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A Japanese Perspective on U.S. Rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific Region

From: Asia Policy
Number 15, January 2013
pp. 7-12 | 10.1353/asp.2013.0019

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In January 2012, the U.S. Department of Defense released a new defense strategic guidance titled Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. The document notes that the United States "will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region" and explains the reason for this change as being that "U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia."1 Security specialists in Japan, while welcoming this emphasis on Asian security, find themselves confronted by key questions concerning how Japan and the United States should coordinate their security strategies, how China's rise will be addressed in U.S. policies related to rebalancing, and how Japan and the United States should work on the new posture of U.S. forward deployment in the region.

The U.S. Rebalancing Strategy and Japan's Dynamic Defense Force Concept

The United States' shift toward the Asia-Pacific is fundamentally a demobilization from a wartime posture rather than a mere geographic change in U.S. policy priorities. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted in her November 2011 article in Foreign Policy, "as the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point." Ending the wars in these two theaters is thus the precondition of the United States' rebalancing toward Asia.2 According to Japan's Ministry of Defense, in 2011 approximately 190,000 U.S. service members, or 13% of the U.S. military's total strength of 1.4 million, were deployed in and around Iraq and Afghanistan.3 The United States had maintained this size of forces for more than ten years since the beginning of what President George W. Bush called the global war on terrorism. In order to keep this level of operations, an additional force at home must prepare for the next deployment while another force recovers from the previous deployment. In other words, three times the 190,000-strong forward-deployed force, or around 40% of the total strength of the U.S. military, was needed for operations in those two theaters. Disengaging from close combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States finally seems ready to re-establish preparations for future security challenges.

If this is true, the questions of what kind of normalcy the world will face and how the United States and its allies should deal with future challenges may arise. It is obvious that we are not simply returning to the pre-September 11 world. The future world will be much more complicated and deliver a set of unprecedented unknowns. China's rise alone, for example, will bring tremendous opportunities and serious challenges that will require strategic coordination among allies and friends in the region. In this context, the U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review released in February 2010, as well as the defense strategic guidance document discussed above and Japan's new security policies dictated in the 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG), may provide the two governments with a strong basis for deeper discussion on their security strategies. In military operational terms, there is considerable room for closer cooperation between the two countries. For example, the new NDPG emphasizes the concept of a "dynamic defense force," as opposed to the traditional static disposition of a defensive posture, which will involve the flexible employment of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to prevent armed attacks against Japan through demonstration of the nation's strong will to protect itself. This concept, along with the new NDPG's particular focus on defense of the southwestern part of Japanese territory, will have significance for U.S. operational strategies that place a greater emphasis on capabilities needed to operate in an anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) environment.4 If Japan establishes a modest but reliable defense posture to protect its territorial waters and airspace, as well as islands in the Asia-Pacific theater, this policy will work well to reinforce U.S. capabilities in overcoming A2/AD-related challenges in the western Pacific. A good example was observed in April...

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