A Japanese destroyer at Sagami Bay, Japan, October 2015.
Toru Hanai/Reuters

Japan confronts an increasingly difficult security environment. Despite the current media attention on North Korea, a very real but largely one-dimensional nuclear threat, Japanese strategists are concerned primarily with the broader and more multidimensional challenge posed by the rise of China and its territorial ambitions in the East China Sea. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been more forward-looking regarding security affairs than his predecessors. He has moved to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities, reorganize its security policymaking institutions, and increase its military budget after a long period of decline, while loosening some restrictions on its military forces and enhancing Japan’s intelligence capacity. These measures, however, can only marginally slow a shifting balance of power. A rethink of military strategy, one that looks to buttress deterrence even in the absence of military dominance, is urgently required. 

Japan’s current approach might be labeled a strategy of “forward defense” and

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