Japanese Self-Defense Force Modernization


    The Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) of the 21st century is a capable and powerful military force. These capabilities differ notably from the JSDF’s role described in the 1947 constitution. A reinterpretation of Article 9, known as the ‘pacifist clause’ in 2015, provides legal cover for such a radical change. An evolving Indo-Pacific requires more flexibility than that given in the original constitution. The result has seen the nation become more capable of force projection. These trends are almost certain to continue. This is because of the threats posed by regional rivals and the planned expansion of the Japanese military-industrial capabilities and defense budget.

    KJ-1: The legalization of the external deployment of the JSDF will likely lead to further expansion.

    • From 1950-2014, the postwar Japanese constitution forbade using military force via Article 9, except in self-defense [source]. Article 9 did not include collective self-defense, which would necessitate the deployment of SDF forces beyond Japanese territory [source].
    • The past few decades have seen concentrated efforts to legally expand the mission of the JSDF beyond that envisioned by the Japanese constitution. The International Peace Cooperation Law of 1992 enabled the deployment of JSDF members in UN Peacekeeping operations [source.] A 1997 joint US-Japanese Defense Coordination review expanded the region the JSDF could operate in to include “surrounding areas” [source]. The 2003 Iraqi Special Measures Law gave the JSDF the legal authority to provide humanitarian assistance and aid in reconstruction [source].
    • In 2014-2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe successfully led efforts to reinterpret Article 9 to allow the JSDF the legal right to collective self-defense [source].
    • Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has stated his willingness to continue the policies described above [source].

    KJ-2: US encouragement, domestic support, and regional threats are likely the reasons for reinterpreting Article 9.

    • Since the late 1990s, the US has requested additional Japanese support to maintain the Indo-Pacific status quo [source]. The 2011 US ‘pivot to Asia’ further increased the importance of Japan as a military partner [source].
    • Early 21st-century American interventions in the Middle East raised questions about its ability and willingness to maintain its Indo-Pacific defensive commitments [source]. Because the reinterpretation of Article 9 is a way to reaffirm US promises, it can be seen as a quid pro quo [source].
    • Chinese expansionism in the East China Sea and the disputed Senkaku Islands are a top priority of the JSDF [source][source][source].
    • PLA Militarism and the high-tech military industry’s development threaten Japanese and allied interests [source].
    • Chinese economic outpacing of Japan in terms of GDP and military budget worries Tokyo greatly [source].
    • North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and the ability to strike the home islands are grave threats [source][source].
    • Additional threats include North Korean abduction campaigns and spy ships [source][source].

    KJ-3: Modernization of the JSDF is almost certain to continue due to planned projects and remaining threats in the Indo-Pacific.

    • Japanese military expenditure will increase to 2% of GDP by 2027 [source]. 
    • Japan has undertaken novel projects to build up its domestic defense industry. Indeed, the joint Japanese-UK F-X project and the acceleration of indigenous missile production are examples of this [source][source].
    • The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) has commissioned several new classes. These include two helicopter destroyers and 22 new FFM Frigates [source][source].
    • Chinese militarism regarding Taiwan is a serious threat to Japanese interests. In fact, the island is crucial for defensive plans and the security of Japanese trade [source]. Japanese naval and aerial expansion is motivated by the perceived need to contest Chinese sea power [source].
    • North Korean missile tests in 2022 have become worryingly frequent, culminating in a 5th of October overflight of Aomori Prefecture [source]. IRBMs can hit the entirety of Japanese territory and carry nuclear weapons; North Korea may have 40-50 such devices [source].
    •  Threats of North Korean missile strikes have seen the SDF agree to conduct research in conjunction with the US to counter such threats [source].

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 28th of November 2022.

    Maxwell Goldstein
    Maxwell Goldstein
    Maxwell is a Junior Intelligence Analyst and student pursuing an international master's degree through the Erasmus Mundus IMSISS programme. His areas of focus are aerospace, technology, and the Indo-Pacific.

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