In geopolitics, tectonic shifts are extremely difficult to detect in real time. A few notable events stand out, however: the launch of the first space satellite by the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the attacks of September 11, 2001. Everyone could see that these times marked turning points in history.
Another turning point is unquestionably Russia’s war in Ukraine, which heralds the return of naked, World War II-style aggression to Europe. The reemergence of Japan as a major geopolitical actor, meanwhile, is a development that has been less discussed but has just as much potential to change the course of history. Between the middle of December 2022 and the middle of January of this year, Japan rethought and reworked much of its security posture since 1945, replacing it with a new strategy that, if carried out, would make Japan stronger and more progressive.
Changes in Tokyo’s foreign policy may indicate a Japan that is more willing and able to get involved in geopolitical issues beyond its own narrow, defensive interests and more likely to act in ways befitting its strategic position, regional interests, and economic might.
Three new strategic documents, including a new National Security Strategy (PDF), National Defense Strategy (PDF), and Defense Buildup Plan, were released by the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the end of 2022. (PDF). Then, in January, he and his foreign and defence ministers met with their American counterparts in Washington. Joint statements with U.S. President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken showcased Japan’s new strategic thinking.
For political reasons in the 1970s, Tokyo imposed an informal budget cap of 1% of GDP, but has since announced its intention to increase defence spending by nearly 60% over five years. This change alone is a radical departure from conventional military doctrine. …