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Concerns that Ukraine invasion signals lessened U.S. deterrence with impact in Indo-Pacific

By Sugimoto Yasushi and Ichioka Toyohiro


Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine despite U.S. deterrence could impact Japan’s security. This is because the credibility of the U.S.’s “extended deterrence,” which discourages attacks on allies and partners, could be shaken by the invasion of Ukraine. The enhancement of the U.S. military presence in Europe in response to the current situation may affect the U.S.’s strategy to prioritize deployment of forces to the Indo-Pacific region.


After a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Feb. 26, Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa emphasized to reporters that “we reconfirmed that it is essential to strengthen the deterrence and response capabilities of the Japan-U.S. alliance.”


The two foreign ministers confirmed their shared understanding that the war in Europe would affect the Indo-Pacific region. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio also said at a press conference on Feb. 25 that the situation “cannot be disregarded from the perspective of Japan’s security” and that the invasion of Ukraine was not “someone else’s problem.”


The invasion of Ukraine is directly linked to Japan’s security because it could undermine U.S. deterrence, on which Japan depends. A top Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official warned that “China is monitoring the situation in Ukraine. If China sees that the U.S. is not willing to protect its allies and partners, provocations against Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands may escalate.”


The U.S. is not an ally of Ukraine and before the invasion had indicated that it would not intervene militarily. The U.S. is responsible for Japan’s defense, and the Taiwan Relations Act stipulates support for the defense of Taiwan. Many in the Japanese government think that [Japan’s and Taiwan’s situations] are different from the situation of Ukraine. Hayashi emphasized at a press conference on Feb. 25 that “the credibility of U.S. deterrence will not be affected.”


Declaring that “deterrence will not be affected” is part of the Japanese government’s enhancement of deterrence. A reconfirmation of the “enhanced deterrence” of the Japan-U.S. alliance in the U.S. and Japanese foreign ministers’ discussion on Ukraine are designed to prevent China and other countries from harboring misconceptions. The government’s declaration may have less of an effect to discourage Chinese and North Korean attacks if there is a deviation between the declaration and the actual situation.


Changes in the U.S. are also a cause for concern. On Feb. 22, former President Trump praised Putin’s acknowledgement of the “independence” of the pro-Russian region of eastern Ukraine as “savvy.” The U.S. could become less involved with its allies if former President Trump were to be reelected in the 2024. Japan needs to show its willingness to contribute to regional security and maintain U.S. involvement in Asia. This is why Hayashi emphasized at a press conference on Feb. 25 that “Japan will reinforce U.S. involvement and further strengthen our defense capabilities.”


The U.S. government plans to strengthen the deployment of U.S. troops in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China’s rise, but the invasion of Ukraine has made it more likely that the U.S. military presence on the European front will be strengthened. The situation is expected to affect the Biden administration’s efforts on formulating the National Security Strategy and National Military Strategy.


A top MOFA official said, “The US government has positioned China as its ‘only competitor,’ and this will not change significantly.”  The Russian threat to European countries principally involves ground forces. This is different from the threat posed by China, which is mainly an air and maritime threat. This situation leads to the view voiced by a Ministry of Defense (MOD) official who said, “There is no overlap between the U.S. forces in Europe and Asia.”


Some MOD officials are concerned about the impact [of Ukraine]. Another MOD official said, “Air capabilities are also needed in Europe. Increased deployment of U.S. air capabilities in Europe may cause a reduction of air capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region.”

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