Japan’s New National Security Strategy and Nepal

Rajani Thapa

May 8, 2023


Japan’s New National Security Strategy and Nepal

We are living in a world where a hardheaded approach matters a lot rather than idealism—making country or entity to change their policies based on the context and circumstances.

Underlining this, Japan changed her Post-WWII pacifist policy on December 2022 to acquaint itself with the rise of China, North Korea’s growing threats, Russia-China’s ever-budding lasting friendship, the Russia-Ukraine war and waning US supremacy.

The three policies adopted by Japan are National Security Strategy (NSS), National Defense Strategy (NDS) & Defense Build-Up Program (DBP)—all meant to enhance Japanese counter and defense capabilities by increment in its defense budget in ratio to GDP (2%), which will be equaling to NATO standard.

The former Abe government had already raised this issue and tried to revive the Japanese defense industry and the current Kshida government gave outright attention to this by initiating these policy documents.

As per USIP, Back in 2013, the Japanese tone toward Russia was soft citing it as a potential asset for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

And, also has urged for cooperation with Russia on all fronts including dispute settlement on the island on Japan’s north.

But now Russia’s role in Crimea &Ukraine war—has been shattered; making the Japanese government to respond this by adjusting its policy. In the same way, Japanese aggression towards China and vice versa continues—putting the entire Eastern Asian security in a volatile state.

As per Council on Foreign Relations, in previous years; Japan has developed coastal defenses which have a limited range of around 125 miles(200 Kilometers).

In addition to this, new air-to-air missiles which were purchased from Norway have a range of over 300 miles( 480 kilometers). But based on these 3 documents, Japan wants to advance its missile defense system that has a range of 1000 miles( 1610 kilometers), which will strike targets within continental Asia.

Policy changes

NSS, NDS & DBP which were approved together in December 2022 is aimed at shaping Japan’s overall defense policy, strategy and defense acquisition.

The increment of $314 billion from the year 2023-2027 which is about a 56.5% jump from the current 5 years plan( 2019-2023), ultimately making the defense spending as per the NATO standard in ratio to the national GDP in 2027.

In streamlining this strategy into action, Japan showed interest in buying 500 U.S.-made Tomahawk cruise missiles by the end of the fiscal year 2027, which can travel up to 2500 Kilometers. Japan for the first time through these 3 policies documents has changed Article 9 of Japan’s postwar constitution about “Japanese people renouncing war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes,” and, “The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” Acquiring counter-strikes capabilities will change the policy of not attacking opponents.

Matters to Nepal

The Embassy of Japan in Kathmandu, Nepal reports that Japan has been involved in Nepal’s economic development projects since 1954 and has provided grants and financial assistance to Nepal since the Embassy opened in 1968. Japan is currently a major contributor to Nepal’s economy and is active in a variety of economic sectors.

Japan has been the predominant development and technical partner in Nepal’s development. Japan, such a pacifist country moving from its previous policy to counter strike defense policy will affect its overseas development initiative by making its agenda interest-driven or result oriented deviating from the humanitarian ground like that of DFID(now merged with the Foreign & Commonwealth Development Office).

As per Bond, The merger of DFID as an FCDO had faced much criticism against Boris Johnson’s government, especially if such a merger should put the humanitarian agenda at the top of government, ensuring public accountability to the British Taxpayers as well as poverty reductions.

Underlining such developments in the UK, the possibilities of becoming Japanese Official Development Assistance( ODA) much more strict and rigid; can be seen due to the impact of these policies. This is because the UK is a leader in global development and footprints may be followed by the Japanese government.

In Nepal, we are extremely in need of investment and funding to finance our development projects and infrastructure.

The concessional loan provided by Japan is below 1%. Take the example of our ongoing development infrastructure projects of the Naghdhunga-Naubise road tunnel being constructed by Japan International Development Cooperation( JICA) at an interest rate of 0.01% followed by China-built Pokhara International Airport in Nepal, which has an interest rate of 2% per year.

So, the Japanese development aid and concessional loan program have been very helpful to Nepal for its development.

Secondly, Japan has been an active member of the Free & Open Indo-Pacific( FOIP) as well as Quad—an active group in countering Chinese advancement.

If in the future, Japan requested to support FOIP as terms and conditions to get Japanese aid and technical assistance, how could we deal with China (being our immediate neighbor)—such questions are crucial. In the same way, India is also an active frontrunner in IPS & QUAD and also has close ties with Japan.

India, with which we have also closed defense ties; if wanted us to support IPS & QUAD; what will be our non-aligned policy? Our current foreign policy doesn’t reconcile with the changing global context confusing addressing such concerns.

India’s concern

As per IISS, Kishida and Modi met in May 2022  for reassuring their ‘special strategic and global partnership’ including a commitment to enhancing cooperation under Quad as well as practical cooperation in the areas such as COVID-19 pandemic response, vaccine production, infrastructure, climate change, cyber security and critical emerging technologies such as 5G, telecom security, submarine fiber optic cables, smart city technologies.

Japan-India held a second 2+2 meeting attended by their Defense and foreign ministers for the purpose to create a robust defense partnership. $42 billion investment was announced by Japan following Modi’s visit to Tokyo; which was increment from 3.5 trillion Japanese yen.

Following close ties between India-Japan—the future possibilities of blending FOIP & Quad strategy in their overseas projects, especially in Nepal by India and Japan —because India shares an open border and cultural, historical, geographical and economic connectivity with Nepal; the Indian policymakers think of their leverage in Nepal for integrating Nepal in FOIP & Quad.

Unlike Nepal’s non-aligned policy prohibits her from joining such a coalition of strategic nature. However, unpredictable Nepali politics is always uncertain to happen anything out of the box.

Looking beyond

The US supports this new Japanese policy, but China, Russia, and North Korea have vehemently opposed it, claiming that it exaggerates China’s danger and that Japan is pursuing an arms race.

Second, some analysts in Japan are debating whether it is possible to modify counterstrike capabilities while maintaining the framework of current policy texts.

If Japan launches a counterattack against China over the Senkaku island disputes, the issue of the 100,000 Japanese citizens living in China and the 20,000 who live in Taiwan also matters.

Our development collaboration with Japan may be impacted by Japan’s change in military policy in Nepal, making it more interest-driven while overlooking the humanitarian component. Relationships between India and Japan might perhaps act as a unified voice in the case of Nepal.

Such policy shifts cast a shadow over humanity’s future amid the arms race and the ominous threat of conflict. The fact that nations all over the world are erecting fortifications, from China to Taiwan to India to Japan, suggests that another war is imminent.

Above all, speaking in a much more realistic sense, development aid is not free of any interest, thus it is our responsibility to separate it for converting into Nepali interest rather than that of donor nations.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Khabarhub)

(The author is pursuing her PhD in International Relations & Diplomacy, at Tribhuvan University, Nepal).