By Xiang Haoyu
British Financial Times reported that the Japanese Defense Ministry has recently announced its official admission to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE), which proclaims to be the most authoritative cybersecurity agency in the whole world. In recent years, Japan has had frequent interactions with the UK in military security and maintained a close relationship with NATO as well. Against such a background, joining NATO’s cyber defense center is the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party’s latest move to seek to break away from military restrictions.
The Ukraine crisis has shown a major feature of modern warfare is operations in the cognitive domain, mainly cyber war and information war, which lends an unprecedented importance to reinforcing cybersecurity and cyber offensive/defensive capability. The CCDCOE has shot up as a rising star in such a context, whose acceptance of two heavyweight Asian countries – Japan and ROK – this year marks a breakthrough in NATO’s efforts at globalization. From the perspective of the US-led military bloc, incorporating Japan and ROK in the US-dominated multilateral cybersecurity cooperation framework will further intensify the West’s domination over international cyberspace while fostering pivots of cyber confrontation in Northeast Asia to better serve their strategic needs of containing China.
Although joining the cyber defense center doesn’t mean Japan’s accession to NATO, the move nevertheless released messages that consisted with Tokyo’s persistent pursuit for relaxation of the military restrictions on it. At the end of this year, the Fumio Kishida administration will release the latest edition of three key defense policy documents – National Security Strategy, National Defense Program Guidelines, and Mid-Term Defense Program. As the LDP government has been constantly hyping external threats and stoking a public sense of crisis through media manipulation, it is generally believed that the upcoming documents will further exaggerate the severe external security environment and specifically demand a massive increase in defense expenditure and development of aggressive combat capabilities. That will further shallow out the Pacifist Constitution and the “defense only” policy, leading Japan one step closer to its goal of becoming a military power.
In its latest Defense White Paper released in July 2022, the Japanese government made enhancing combat capabilities in cyberspace and outer space a key direction of its defense policy adjustment, planning to increase human and fiscal input comprehensively and trying to secure a vantage point in the cutting-edge domain of international security. The Japan Self-defense Forces formed a 540-member cyber defense unit in March that is responsible for cyber defense and combat operations, and plans to swell the ranks to 5,000 people. JSDF has participated in several multinational cyberwar exercises this year, including CCDCOE’s Locked Shields in April. Japan’s Yomiuri Shinbun reported recently that the Japanese government will write establishing a proactive cyber defense system in the National Security Strategy to be issued at year end. Sources said policies will be adjusted to give JSDF more power to enable it to not only regularly monitor cyberspace, detect signs of incoming attacks, and lock the source of attack, but also to take preemptive countermeasures.
Cyberspace, a virtual existence, is stealthier as a domain of warfare than the land, sea and airspace where conventional combats take place. Japan’s attempt to break the Pacifist Constitution’s restriction on its development of aggressive military forces and to exercise aggressive combat subjects will also be more secretive when shielded by the pretext of strengthening cyber warfare capability and defense capacity. However, playing the old trick of hyping external threats in the field of cybersecurity will only stretch the geopolitical tension in Northeast Asia to cyberspace, aggravate the risk of militarizing cyberspace, and add new uncertainties to the region and the world at large.
NATO, a military security bloc with a deep-seated Cold War mentality, is an important tool for the US to maintain its global hegemony, and its CCDCOE just exposes America’s strategic intention of continuously pushing forward the frontline of the “New Cold War”. Whether it’s NATO’s infiltration into the Asia Pacific or the latter becoming a mini-version of NATO, the military bloc stretching its antenna to the region will take a serious toll on regional peace, stability and cooperation. In face of the mounting risk of military confrontation in cyberspace, China must take precautions and countries in the region must stay fully alert against the trend of cyber militarization.
(The author is a special researcher at the Department for Asia-Pacific Studies, China Institute of International Studies)
Editor's note: Originally published on huanqiu.com, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.