Today the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) activated Japan’s first marine unit since World War II. The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB) has come into being to help Japan meet the evolving security situation in that part of the world. The troop strength of the brigade will be around 2,1000 troops, NCOs, and officers. It’s equipment will include V-22 Ospreys, and AAV7A1 amphibious landing vehicles. Although a brigade in name, the ARDB more closely resembles a US Marine Expeditionary Unit in size, organization and capabilities.
The main role of the marine unit will be to retake islands from an occupying force. In recent years Japan and China have seen a rise in tensions over Japanese islands at the edge of the East China Sea. As access to the Western Pacific becomes more of a priority for China, Japan is not taking the potential threat likely. Chinese military capabilities continue to increase and Japan is making strides in its own rearming process. The ARDB marks a significant increase in Tokyo’s ability to defend its most exposed territories.
Creation of the marine unit has brought controversy too. Amphibious and expeditionary forces have the capability to project power far beyond a home nation’s borders. Japan’s post-World War II constitution renounces the nation’s right to wage war. Japan’s neighbors could point to the creation of the ARDB as a provocation if they wanted.
In any case, Tokyo’s rearmament is moving at full speed ahead. The Japanese Self Defense Forces are loading for bear….or dragon, as the case may be.
The People’s Republic of China has launched its second aircraft carrier in the port city of Dalian. This ship will be the first domestically built carrier, however, it will not likely enter service until 2020. At present the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) has one aircraft carrier in service, the Liaoning, an ex-Soviet Kuznetsov class ship. When Liaoning became operational it was suspected that the ship was serving as a testbed of sorts for China’s aircraft carrier program. Judging by the first photos of the new carrier, which show its design has borrowed heavily from the Liaoning, the suspicion is reasonable. The flight deck layout and island structure is nearly identical to the Liaoning and its displacement of 50,000 tons is on par with the earlier carrier.
This is a big step for China. It has been over twenty years since the 1996 Taiwan Straits Crisis when two US carrier battlegroups were rushed to Taiwan in a traditional show-of-force that deterred Beijing from taking aggressive action against the island nation. The crisis forced China to acknowledge the threat posed to them by US aircraft carriers and accelerate its military buildup, and begin to consider building or purchasing aircraft carriers of its own.
The PLAN has taken on a more prominent role in China’s foreign policy as the South China Sea and Senkaku situations moved to the forefront of national priorities and international scrutiny. Large scale naval exercises and Chinese warships appearing at far-flung locations around the world were common in 2016 and act as the vanguard of China’s growing ability to project power and influence events with its own maritime forces. The ongoing buildup of US naval forces in the Sea of Japan serves both as a mirror of what the PLAN is striving to become, as well as an illustration of the sort of US involvement in regional matters that China wishes to deter.
After a passionate, and at times contentious debate, Japan’s parliament, the Diet, has passed a law expanding the role of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces abroad. The law allows Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since the end of World War II. The change is dramatic for a nation with a constitution based on the premise of pacifism.
The Self-Defense Forces will be permitted to provide limited defense capabilities for allies in conflicts outside of Japanese territory. An example would be intercepting a missile launched from North Korea that is bound for US territory in the Pacific, or for the US mainland. North Korea does not have the ability to hit CONUS right now, however, some of the missiles in their inventory can reach US bases on Guam. Another situation could be providing logistical support for US forces in Korea in the event of a Second Korean War. Japan would be unable to commit troops to a conflict in Korea, its constitution still prohibits that.
The national debate on expanding Japan’s military is bringing large numbers of students out to opposition demonstrations. Student protests are not common in Japan. Unlike their counterparts in South Korea, most Japanese students have remained detached from politics. This issue is so big, though, it is drawing in people from every facet of Japanese society. One fear the opposition has is that the new law will draw Japanese forces into US led wars in other areas of the world. This was not the point of crafting the bill.
Supporters of the change argue that the era of a hands-off, isolationist Japan is over and the role of the Self-Defense Forces has to be modified. The rise of China’s military power and its assertive attitude in the Asia-Pacific region are two primary reasons for concern. The US is firmly behind Japan’s new role. It adds a new dimension of cooperation to the US-Japan military relationship and serves as an reminder that US concerns about China’s recent actions and behavior are not unilateral. The Obama administration has struggled to put together a cohesive response in Asia. Japan’s move will help bring one about.
Tomorrow, Part Two of the Week in Review will cover new happenings in the European humanitarian crisis as well as Syria. I hope everyone is enjoying the weekend.
Back in August of 2014, I began renovating the look and feel of this blog. Also, I began toying with the idea of a brief that presented a glimpse of the comprehensive articles I planned to write for the coming month. On paper it was an excellent organizational concept. In practice, however, the results left much to be desired. As I became overloaded with the responsibilities of a new job, my plans fell apart.
Six months have passed and it is time to try again. Over the next two weeks, I am going to finish the renovations that were started in August. An outline for the coming month will also be posted on the 1st or 2nd of every month. Comprehensive articles will be published on the dates specified. Weekly updates, and posts about emerging crises will continue.
Upcoming Articles For February
Why Saudi Arabia Matters So Much– With the transition of power to King Salman complete, Saudi Arabia begins to confront the myriad of challenges facing it. Yemen’s political collapse, a virtual cold war with Iran, and threats made by ISIS against the Kingdom top the list. Saudi Arabia is a rock of stability amid the chaotic sea that is the Middle East. Its importance to the United States is rising exponentially as disarray becomes the new norm in the region.
Exit Air Sea Battle, Enter JAM-GC– The concept of Air Sea Battle is supposedly alive and well despite the name change. This may not be the case. Will the concept survive and be expanded upon or will JAM-GC signify something entirely new? More importantly; why is the plan still a concept and not a concrete doctrine by now?
Senkaku Islands Dispute– Things have been relatively calm in the East China Sea lately. This article will examine recent developments and offer a guess or two about the direction that the China-Japan dispute could take in the near future.
In the Western Pacific, the prospect of conflict between the People’s Republic of China and one of its neighbors is steadily moving from frightening scenario to reality. China’s rise in influence, economic and military strength, as well as its ability to project power, is causing heightened tensions in the WestPac. Recent PRC actions in the South China Sea have alarmed China’s neighbors and is helping to usher in a large scale Japanese military modernization and buildup. The Republic of the Philippines is following suit, albeit at a pace and level commensurate with the PI’s (Philippine Islands) economic capabilities.
The catalyst for these two buildups in particular, has been China’s assertion of control over a vast area of the South China Sea (SCS) and portions of the East China Sea. The Senkaku Island crisis continues to simmer. In January, 2014, on the heels of the creation of an ADIZ, China has passed a series of new fishing laws that require foreign fishermen to seek Beijing’s permission to fish a wide area of the South China Sea. The SCS is an area rife with intersecting territorial claims and disputes. The PRC’s latest move is lessening the stability and security of the region. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei all have territorial claims in the SCS.
In the absence of effective resistance, China’s moves are likely going to grow bolder. The Philippines and other SCS nations can do little on their own to counter PRC fishing incursions into what they consider to be sovereign territorial waters, for example. Their diplomatic influence and military capabilities are negligible and ineffective when compared to the PRC. The United States is the great equalizer. If the US fails to play a consistent role in the South China Sea crises, there is little to dissuade China from continuing on its current path. Thus far, the US has done just that.
The US response to the rise of PRC power has been undemonstrative, and at times contradictory. The pivot to Asia has not been an act of visible policy change and power projection. Instead, the pivot has been gradual and at times lacking direction. Certainly not an encouraging sign for America’s allies in the region. As much as the US tries to downplay or even minimize the situation in the WestPac and SCS, China’s actions say otherwise. It’s understandable why Washington does not want to do anything which could increase tensions between the US and PRC. Having said that, the United States needs to reassure friendly nations in the Western Pacific that if push comes to shove, the US will be there to support them because as time goes on, the possibility of an armed conflict in the SCS or East China Sea increases.