For defense officials in Tokyo, it is time to revisit the National Security Strategy (NSS). Following the monumental decision to cancel the deployment of the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system in June 2020, the central debate consuming Japanese security thinking is straddling between missile defense and strike capability, or what is called “enemy base strike.” The National Security Council (NSC) has its work cut out in the coming months: find Japan an alternative to Aegis Ashore, while balancing technological precision and budgetary concerns in the post-COVID 19 economy.
Cancelling the Aegis Ashore system, which was one of the key pillars of the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) and Mid-Term Defense Program (MTDP), should not create a gap in Japan’s defenses. Thus, the NSC is engaging in a much larger discussion this summer on how to reinforce deterrence and hammer out a new direction in the NSS.
Going forward, there are colossal challenges in terms of both seeking Japanese public understanding on strike capability within the scope of Japan’s exclusively defense oriented posture and Article 9 of the pacifist constitution, as well as managing regional concerns over the “normalization” of Japan. Any possible policy shift in Tokyo will raise fundamental questions on the spear and shield nature of the alliance. Moreover, the cancellation of a $4.1 billion Aegis Ashore system during President Donald Trump’s re-election year will not go down well with the “America First” template practiced in alliance management. Furthermore, it will have implications for America’s Indo-Pacific strategy.
Striking the Right Note on