China’s rise poses unprecedented challenges for Japanese defense planners, and the choices Tokyo makes in response may have consequences for regional stability that go well beyond the immediate security of contested islands. Japan has made several widely publicized moves to lift restrictions on the use of its armed forces. But despite increased challenges and scarce defense resources, there has not been a clear articulation of basic strategic options open to the state and the trade-offs between them. Not only has strategic change been chiefly incremental, but the nascent tilt towards strike capabilities has not been widely or adequately vetted and considered. This project examines the possible application of three broad approaches to the country’s most pressing security problems: deterrence by denial; deterrence by punishment; and forward defense. These options differ not only in terms of their deterrence efficacy at different levels of conflict (grey zone, limited conflict, or mid-size confrontations), they also entail different types and degrees of escalation risk during crisis or conflict. Ultimately, Japanese strategy will probably encompass some combination of these approaches, but the benefits of a denial approach – as well as the risks of Japan’s current offensive tilt – may well be underappreciated. And regardless of the balance struck, a clear elucidation of options and trade-offs should benefit analysts and decision-making.
Evaluating Japan’s Defense Options