Japan will seek to review its defense buildup guidelines by the end of the year to address advances in the North Korean nuclear and missile programs and other tough regional security issues, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Tuesday.
“We will aim to review the guidelines by year-end,” Onodera told a press conference. He also noted beefing up security in cyberspace and outer space is becoming “especially vital,” in addition to reinforcing capabilities to counter ballistic missiles and defend Japan’s far-flung islands in the southwest.
After Onodera assumed the defense post in August, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had told him to review the current National Defense Program Guidelines, approved by the Cabinet in 2013. The document set defense capability targets that Japan should achieve over the next decade.
“We must squarely face the tough environment surrounding our country, such as the progress in North Korea’s nuclear and missile technologies,” Onodera said.
The defense minister also said the guidelines should be reviewed from the viewpoint of “what we truly need to protect the people, rather than simply building on” existing principles.
He also plans to compile a new five-year defense spending and procurement plan by the end of the year.
Onodera, meanwhile, vowed to work on information disclosure related to missions conducted under security legislation that has largely expanded the role of the Self-Defense Forces.
The defense minister’s pledge came after Abe said in his policy speech Monday that the SDF had engaged in missions to protect U.S. vessels and aircraft for the first time since the controversial legislation took effect in 2016.
The legislation has loosened the constraints imposed on SDF activities by Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution. Among other changes, SDF personnel are now allowed to guard vessels and weapons belonging to U.S. forces when the latter are engaged in activities beneficial to the defense of Japan.
The government had not previously announced that an SDF escort mission for U.S. aircraft had taken place. In May last year, the Maritime Self-Defense Force conducted its first-ever mission to protect a U.S. Navy supply vessel in the Pacific, amid heightened tension with North Korea.
Onodera stopped short of explaining the details of the missions, citing the possible impact on U.S. military activities and bilateral relations. But he said he will seek to make information public “as much as possible” after reporting such SDF activities to Japan’s National Security Council.