By Shigeta Shunsuke
Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo visited the U.S. Cyber Command headquarters in Maryland on May 5. Kishi confirmed the response to “hybrid warfare” that combines land, sea, and air capabilities with cyber attacks and information manipulation. The visit will lead to the Self-Defense Forces’ development of human resources as well as infrastructure and legal systems.
This was the first time for a Japanese defense minister to visit the U.S. Cyber Command. The U.S. Cyber Command was established in 2010 and was upgraded to a “Combatant Command” in 2018. Combatant Commands have missions by region and function that transcend military branches.
Kishi was briefed on the mission of the Cyber Command and introduced the SDF’s newly established cyber-defense unit. Kishi also exchanged views on the cyber capabilities of neighboring countries such as Russia, China and North Korea.
Japan plans to enhance its cooperation with the U.S. not only in the conventional military domains such as land, sea and air, but also in cyber defense. At the meeting with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on May 4, Kishi discussed the importance of information security and cyber security.
Russia used cyberattacks to cause loss of power in Ukraine at the time of the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Analysists believe that in the current Ukraine invasion the damage to Ukraine from Russia’s cyberattacks was minimal because the U.S. notified Ukraine of Russia’s actions in advance.
Kishi’s emphasis on cyberwarfare is due to the security environment surrounding Japan in Northeast Asia. Not only Russia, but China and North Korea are also focused on improving their cyber capabilities.
There is a risk that Japan will be subject to a large-scale cyberattack in the event of a Taiwan contingency. Power, communication, transportation, and other important infrastructure may fail if cyber defenses are not prepared for attacks.
Although the SDF newly established the cyber defense unit in March 2022, the SDF’s current cyber capability is held in low esteem internationally.
Former Director of U.S. National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who visited Japan in April 2022, pointed out that “there is no Japanese counterpart to the U.S. Cyber Command.”
As of March 2022, the SDF’s cyber defense unit had only 540 members. The Ministry of Defense (MOD) estimates that China’s and North Korea’s cyber units have 30,000 and 6,800 members, respectively. Japan’s cyber defense unit is even smaller than the 6,200-member U.S. Cyber Command.
The legal system also poses a barrier. The Japanese government has been cautious about enacting cyber defense laws, taking into consideration that the Constitution guarantees secrecy of communications. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in its April 2022 proposal urged the government to immediately consider measures, including legislation, to strengthen cyber defense.
Keio University Professor Tezuka Satoru says, “The law has not changed even though information technology has changed drastically over the last 20 years.” Tezuka emphasized that “the legal system must enable an active defense system that includes the identification of attackers.” (Slightly abridged)