By Yang Danzhi
Japanese defense minister Yasukazu Hamada confirmed on February 14 that the Japanese government plans to sign a Tomahawk cruise missile purchase contract with the US in the fiscal year of 2023, which is estimated to cost up to JPY211.3 billion (about US$1.6 billion). The defense ministry said it originally planned to deploy Tomahawk in FY2026 but is now mulling expediting the process pending discussions with the US side.
The Tomahawk cruise missile is a US-developed Stand-off Attack Weapon (SoAW) with a shooting range of more than 1,000km that can fly at a low altitude and attack targets precisely. With multiple types and its performance tested in real combat, the missile has been used by the US in local wars many times.
There are three reasons why Tokyo decided to spend so much money purchasing the Tomahawk.
First, it is to continue hyping the so-called “China threat”. Japan lists China as its No.1 threat in the three security policies, including the new National Security Strategy, released in 2022, and its politicians have repeatedly expressed concerns on public occasions about the so-called fast military expansion by China and DPRK. While announcing its plan to independently develop and deploy missiles with a shooting range of more than 1,000km, the country will also buy and employ American missiles in hopes of forming preemptive attack capabilities as soon as possible to cope with “pressing threats”. Second, Japan is worried that the US is only paying lip service about regional security, and hopes to demonstrate through the purchase how ironclad the Japan-US alliance is and how it can obtain strike weapons from the US anytime. Third, it wants to form visible strategic deterrence against China and DPRK as soon as possible and prevent them from making any new “adventurous” moves.
Japan’s moves before and after the release of the three new security policy documents have shown three dangerous signs.
First, JSDF is shifting from “defense only” to “defense and offense” functions. Japan is developing its own missiles with a range of more than 1,000km and buying Tomahawk from America in the name of enhancing offshore defensive capability, but both missiles will be used to destroy targets either at the missile base with foreign borders or at sea in order to achieve the so-called “preemptive strike and strategic deterrence”. Moreover, Japan is reinforcing defense on its southwestern islands and building new military bases on unmanned islands to build more “unsinkable carriers”. It has also intensified the joint combat exercises with American navy, army and air force to improve its ability to attack surrounding targets. All these moves are highly likely to trigger an arms race in the region.
Second, Japan is making efforts in new military domains while investing more in traditional ones. The Japanese space operation squadron has been in operation at its base since May 2020 after being incorporated in the so-called “Space Operations Group” in March 2022, fully revealing the country’s ambition to have a foot in the space. At the same time, Japan has also stepped up investment in cyber and electronic warfare and interoperability with the US. All in all, its combat capability in these new military domains –space, cyberspace and electronic warfare – is soaring.
Third, Japan is actively engaged in regional security and has strengthened its interaction with security and intelligence cooperation mechanisms such as NATO and the Five Eyes. In recent years, Tokyo has obviously paid more attention and engaged more actively in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea issues, not only playing an active part in the US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral mechanism (Quad), with America taking the lead, but also strengthening defense collaboration with countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, even seeking to build military bases or carry out joint patrols in relevant countries.
Japan’s aggressive advancements toward a military power on the excuse of “tackling regional security threats” and “becoming a normal country” are actually aggravating major-country confrontation, breaking regional strategic balance, and bringing more risks and challenges to regional security. The worst risk is that as Japan moves further away from the exclusively defense-oriented strategy, it will eventually revise the Pacifist Constitution and relevant laws and bring back to life its militarism that once plunged people all over the world, including Japanese people, into unimaginable suffering during WWII. At that time, Japan will be a substantial threat to regional security, which is why its current moves should put all peace-loving forces in the world on high alert.
(The author is a doctor at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and senior researcher at the National Security Research Center, Renmin University of China)
Editor's note: Originally published on china.com.cn, 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.