14 October 2021
On December 18, 2018, the Japanese government issued its latest National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG), marking another step in Japan’s defense planning and the readiness of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). Broadly, there are four key takeaways from the 2018 NDPG: (1) Nascent but notable push for readiness based on Japan’s expanded strategic frontiers under the auspices of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, (2) the emerging concept of “offense is the best means of defense” to defend and deter against threats, (3) pursuit of readiness for multi-domain operations in the ground, maritime, air, cyber, outer space, and electromagnetic spectrums, and promoting jointness that coordinates operations in those domains, and (4) greater coordination and interoperability with the United States and to some extent with other likeminded states at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. The revised NDPG is certainly a new step in Japan’s accelerated efforts to sharpen and strengthen the JSDF’s readiness. Yet, despite the notable developments over the past two decades, there are still some issues that constrain Japan from formulating the strategies and readiness to effectively deal with the fluid and uncertain security environment in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly with China’s increasingly assertive strategies and actions in the East and South China Seas and Taiwan Straits, North Korea’s continued bellicose behavior and military modernization, and also uncertainties over Russia’s strategies. Moreover, given the growing demands despite the political and economic constraints, there are still questions about how Japan’s defense planning and readiness will continue to advance in the years to come.