Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has completely changed the global security environment. Is Japan adequately prepared for a contingency? Nikkei interviewed Iwata Kiyofumi, former Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) Chief of Staff.
(Interviewed by Tajima Yayoi.)
Nikkei: What is your analysis of the security environment surrounding Japan?
Iwata: It’s the toughest situation since the end of the Cold War. In the worst case scenario, Russian President Vladimir Putin could use small nuclear weapons to occupy eastern Ukraine. That we have entered the age of the “threat of nuclear war” amounts to a major realignment.
Japan is surrounded by China, Russia and North Korea. We must face the reality that all of them are authoritarian regimes that possess nuclear weapons, are hostile toward the Japan-U.S. alliance, and believe in the use of force.
Nikkei: How imminent is a Taiwan contingency?
Iwata: It could happen in the late 2020s. Putin’s nuclear threat was effective in discouraging U.S. military intervention in Ukraine. China will also increase its small nuclear weapons.
The biggest issue is how the United States would support Taiwan. If the United States only shares information and provide weapons to Taiwan as it did with Ukraine, it could trigger a military invasion by China. China’s leadership, led by Xi Jinping, will try to ascertain [what the U.S. would do].
Nikkei: Some think that a Taiwan contingency would be a Japanese contingency.
Iwata: Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture is about 110 kilometers from Taiwan. The sea and airspace around Taiwan could be battlegrounds in the event of a Taiwan contingency.
The contingency-related legislation enacted up to 2004 instituted a framework for dealing with situations in which Japan is subject to armed attacks. The problem is gray area situations that stop short of a contingency. If we do not increase deterrence at this level, it could be too late to respond when the situation develops into a contingency.
Nikkei: What kind of legislation do we need?
Iwata: We should develop security legislation for peacetime to prepare for a Taiwan contingency. It is extremely important in particular to deal with “new areas [of defense]” such as space, cyberspace, and electromagnetic waves. Russia has blocked Ukraine’s satellite communications using radio waves. There are concerns about Japan’s satellite protection system.
China’s reconnaissance satellites are constantly monitoring Japan. The SDF’s deployment in the Nansei Islands is completely exposed. The SDF should emit jamming radio waves to obstruct China’s reconnaissance activities even in peacetime.
Nikkei: It would be necessary to deal with a large number of evacuees in the event of a Taiwan contingency.
Iwata: We would need to respond to three issues at almost the same time: Protecting the residents of Yonaguni Island and the other Sakishima Islands, transporting Japanese residents in Taiwan, and accepting evacuees from Taiwan. It is necessary to expand Japan’s naval and air transportation capacity as well as the capacity of airports and ports.
The Civil Protection Law, which covers the national and local governments’ evacuation of residents, is a framework for contingencies. It is essential to develop a law that allows the national government to evacuate over a wide area of the Nansei Islands even in peacetime. There is a limit to the current system under which the only legal basis for evacuation is the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act.