Japan is growing and taking leadership roles that not only benefit people in the Indo-Pacific, but the global community, said Grace Park, the director for Japan policy at the Defense Department’s Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Office said.  

Park spoke at “Japan in the Year 2024” at the Wilson Center, a Washington-based nonpartisan think tank named for President Woodrow Wilson.   

Japan, the fourth largest economy in the world, has taken a greater security role in the past decade, Park said. Japanese leaders are reorganizing the self-defense forces in the country, fielding new military capabilities, increasing the amount spent on self-defense and more. “I believe that the United States has gained a lot from this alliance relationship,” she said.  

Park hammered in on the security environment. She said at the very start that it is tough to speak of the security environment without including the effects of the economy, diplomacy and monetary policy and more. She said DOD works in cooperation with the State Department and National Security Council, the departments of Treasury and Commerce, and many other U.S. government agencies as the country approaches the U.S.-Japan Treaty Alliance.  

For DOD, she said, the alliance involves three pillars: modernizing roles and missions and capabilities of the alliance, optimizing force posture within the region and the multilateral networking of alliances. 

Applying these pillars to the challenges in the world is key. “We’ve got Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, we’ve got the Red Sea, … [North Korean] provocations and, of course, the aggressive course of behavior of the [Chinese] in the East China Sea, the South China Sea, as well as the Taiwan Strait,” she said. “In thinking through all of these networked security environments, … they’re all interconnected. There’s not very much an artificial line between economic coercion versus military coercion.”  

She said it is a testament to Japanese leaders that they are thinking through strategic messaging and “through the continuity of the international rules-based order.” 

The U.S. and Japan have agreed to modernize roles, missions and capabilities, and that “is really about revamping our alliances,” she said. The Japanese Self-Defense Force is working on new command and control setups, establishing joint operations centers.  

The United States and Japan are deepening industrial cooperation, another was to enhance alliance interoperability.  

All this helps ensure that if there is a contingency, “we’re all on the same page, looking at the same common operating picture or common information picture and really thinking through, who’s got what? What roles and missions do you have in the geographic space, and also in the cross-domain space,” she said.  

Japanese leaders have agreed to increase its national defense budget to 2% of gross domestic product, essentially doubling the amount dedicated to self-defense.  

The Japanese are also looking to breakdown stovepipes that can stand in the way of rapid innovation.  

Two areas in particular are in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities and in maritime domain awareness. “For us, it’s really speaking to Japan’s capabilities and desire to be hands-on with their approach in contributing to peace and stability in the region,” she said. “These MDA and ISR capabilities are not just for the self-defense of Japan … but really, to enhance awareness and also stability throughout the East China Sea, South China Sea region. It’s incredible.” 

Force posture discussions are also part of the picture in the region, but in a new way. It is more than just a simple question of where the United States should have forces and more about how the United States can work with allies and partners to increase interoperability, Park said.  

“For us, we’re really thinking about how do we make sure our alliance is positioned in more of a versatile resilient way,” she said.  

Japan is working with partners in the region as well with increased contacts between Japan and South Korea and Australia and the Philippines.  

The Japanese share the values and thinking about the rules-based international order and that is welcome in the United States, Park said. “It’s very clear when I’m working with my counterparts that we’re so aligned, not just on the strategic vision, but also on the methods to get there,” she said.  

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