By former Chief of Staff, Joint Staff Kawano Katsutoshi
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrates that “brute force” or military power is employed even today in the 21st century, an era of globalization.
Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine with the intent of making the country a buffer zone between it and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations. He may have thought Russia could take over Ukraine in a brief operation, but he was wrong. Many Russian soldiers have relatives in Ukraine and must have sincere misgivings about the operation.
In October 2018 when I was Chief of Staff, Joint Staff, I met with General Valery Gerasimov, who was Chief of the General Staff of the Russian forces, and we agreed to strengthen trust between Japan and Russia and advance defense exchange. He is leading the invasion of Ukraine now. Yet, he did not seem to me like someone who would undertake something irrational. We must analyze how the Russians made the decision to invade Ukraine.
The Ukraine issue also affects Japan’s security. Russia considers the four Northern Islands a buffer zone in the Sea of Okhotsk. That sea is a base of operations for Russia’s nuclear-powered submarines equipped with nuclear weapons. We will not see the return of the Northern Territories under Putin.
China, which is attempting to change the status quo by force in the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, must be closely watching the situation in Ukraine.
The Ukraine crisis has demonstrated the reality that only military power can contain military power. Japan must urgently strengthen its defense capabilities.
When I became Chief of Staff of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) in 2012, I recognized that the combined U.S. and Japanese military power served as deterrence because it surpassed that of China. The balance of power has, however, shifted rapidly over the past few years. China now surpasses the Japan-U.S. combined military power in terms of quantity, while the U.S. and Japan surpass China in terms of quality. China may have the advantage in both quantity and quality in 10 to 20 years.
The SDF has high-performance Aegis ships, F-35 fighter jets, and other outstanding equipment, and the troops are highly skilled. Further response capabilities are urgently needed, however, in our rapidly changing strategic environment.
In Ukraine, there are reports of fuel shortages in the Russian military. To maximize the SDF’s capabilities, fuel and ammunition stockpiles must be increased. It is also important to secure stocks of parts and increase the operating rate of equipment. It will also be critical to strengthen medical services to treat those who fall wounded.
The issue of the Taiwan Strait is not someone else’s matter. Chinese leader Xi Jinping considers the unification of Taiwan a historic mission, and he has not ruled out the use of force to achieve it.
The distance between Yonaguni Island, Japan’s westernmost island, and Taiwan is only about 110 km. This is about the same distance as that between Mt. Fuji and the center of Tokyo. It is impossible that Japan would not to be affected if a war broke out in the waters and airspace around Taiwan. Since China claims that the Senkaku Islands are part of Taiwan, the Taiwan issue is also a Japanese issue. In other words, Japan is located on the front line of the most intense U.S.-China confrontation in the world.
During a congressional hearing last March, Adm. Philip Davidson, then-Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, pointed out the possibility of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan within six years. Later, I had an opportunity to ask him what he meant by his remark. He said that since it will take five to ten years to further enhance defense capabilities, the U.S. and Japan must start strengthening deterrence before it is too late. I could not agree more.
In the current Japan-U.S. alliance, Japan’s role is limited to that of a “shield” in the event of a contingency, while the U.S. plays the role of a “spear.” The Japanese people, however, know that a shield alone is not enough to protect the country.
China is said to possess more than 1,250 intermediate-range missiles capable of reaching Japan and the U.S. territory of Guam, while Japan and the U.S. have none. It is my opinion that Japan and the U.S. both need to play the roles of shield and spear. Japan also must discuss the sharing of nuclear weapons with the U.S.
For many years, there have been no clear-cut acts of aggression in the world. I believe many Japanese may have thought that “war will never happen again.” The Ukraine crisis has once again demonstrated the importance of always assuming the worst.
The government will revise the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Program Guidelines, and the Medium Term Defense Program to strengthen Japan’s response capabilities. How can we protect and defend the nation? I would like to see the government thoroughly discuss this based on the perspective [of always assuming the worst].