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Yokota discusses Alliance Politics in an Age of Great Power Rivalry

YCAPS-SPF Community Conversations

On May 18th, 2023, YCAPS hosted Dr. Takuya Matsuda, a Visiting Fellow at George Washington University’s Institute for Security and Conflict Studies to lead us in a discussion about Alliance Politics in an Age of Great Power Rivalry. Dr. Matsuda was joined by James Angelus of ISIC Japan and Dr. Nancy Snow, a Distinguished Visiting Faculty and Advisor in the Schwarzman Scholars Program at Tsinghua University, who both shared several remarks.

Dr. Matsuda’s talk focused on the following question: “How is the US alliance system readjusting to the challenges of great power rivalry and demands for austerity?” In light of the recent changes in Japan’s security policy, his seminar unpacked the documents of Japan’s new National Security Strategy and examined broader implications in alliance politics, military effectiveness and U.S. grand strategy,

Dr. Matsuda presented seven major topics as part of this discussion: Alliance Politics and Japan’s Security Policy; Alliance Politics in an Age of Great Power Rivalry and Austerity; The New Documents in Context; Unpacking the Three New National Security Documents; Japan’s Emerging Defense Strategy; Deterrence by Denial and Resilience; and Japan’s Security Policy in the Next decade.

Starting the seminar off with a definition, Dr. Matsuda stated that Alliances are military alliances defined as a “formal commitment for security cooperation between two or more states,” citing Stephen M. Walt. As part of this, Dr. Matsuda asserted the aggregation of capabilities is the baseline assumption of alliances, focusing on Japan’s security policy in the last decade which has focused on untangling the political and legal barriers they have in enhancing military effectiveness. Looking forward, it was noted that Japan’s new security strategy serves to promote further institutional and strategic integration with the United States as a necessary step for increased collaborative strategy making.

Dr. Matsuda followed this up with a key observation that counterfactual analysis is needed in alliance politics as alliances are often victims of their own success. What is meant by this is that when an alliance is working they are taken for granted, raising questions of their necessity. This leads to debates in alliance politics over concepts such as burden sharing and other budgetary costs associated with alliances, with Dr. Matsuda giving notice to the debates on free-riding and entrapment. Dr. Matsuda recalled that the structural certainty and stability that were present during the cold war reinforced impressions that alliances are static, however, that is not the case. As the war in Ukraine has shown, alliances go through dramatic transformations in response to major changes in the strategic environment. Dr. Matsuda argues that the erosion of U.S. military dominance in contemporary times has prompted a shift from the former concept of “Two War Construct” to a posture that focuses on great power competition.

As part of this shift in posture, Dr. Matsuda called back to the history of the U.S-Japan Alliance, in which Japan has traditionally buck-passed its security to the U.S.. Japan’s defence strategy has always been dictated by their strategic calculations, and as the surrounding waters no longer offer Japan strategic immunity as U.S. military dominance continues to be eroded and their naval primacy in the Pacific and surrounding waters is called into question, Dr. Matsuda noted that Tokyo has started to re-engage in national defence and is seeking to strengthen their alliance with the U.S.

In unpacking the Three New Security Documents that Japan has put forth, Dr. Matsuda put forth four key areas of analysis. The first is the increase in Japan’s defence budget to 2% of Japan’s GDP by 2027. The second is the restructuring of Japan’s Self Defence Force to bolster Japan’s defence on their southwest front. The third is the establishment of a joint command structure to enhance coordination among the three services of the Self Defence Forces, and the fourth is the acquisition of counter strike capabilities, a topic that has been particularly controversial.

As part of these new areas of analysis, Dr. Matsuda remarked on Japan's emerging defence strategy of which he posits there are two strategic ends. The first is the maintenance of the current territorial status quo, and the second is the denying of a quick and decisive victory for China in the Taiwan contingency. To do so, Dr. Matsuda stated that there are two ways and means that Japan employs: deterrence by denial and deterrence by resilience. As part of this strategy, he noted that Japan’s contribution to sea and air control in the Sakishima Island constitutes a denial strategy in complicating PLA operations in a Taiwan contingency. Additionally, it is noted that the withdrawal of two squadrons of F-15C/D fighter jets from Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa resonates with their deterrence by resilience strategy as they are repositioned elsewhere. As these squadrons are not as concentrated, Dr. Matsuda asserted that as credibility can be measured by the ability to defend an ally, combat sustainability through a dispersed posture is more effective. This combat sustainability, he argued, allows the U.S. and Japan to deny China a quick victory and turn any potential conflict into a war of attrition that would favor their alliance. Finally, he questioned the role of air power in U.S. strategy and where it is shifting in the future, whether it is shifting from power projection to air denial, and whether there is more of a focus on posture resilience.

In the final part of his talk, Dr. Matsuda discussed Japan’s Security Policy in the next decade, given that the defence planning that was illustrated in the documents have a five to ten year timeline. He questioned how Japan can deal with acute and immediate threats as there are numerous political arrangements necessary for the full-implementation of their new National Security Strategy. Taking this into account, he argued that Japan is peculiarly vulnerable to Fait Accompli scenarios, and stressed the need for strategic-planning beyond the localized southwest front – with future implications needing to be kept in mind regarding trilateral security cooperation between the U.S., Japan, and Korea. Dr. Matsuda shed light on the problems Japan faces in funding this long-term great power rivalry that they are facing, namely, their aging population, social security, and financial sustainability, as well as the problems inherent in persuading the public to invest in national defence. In concluding, Dr. Matsuda suggested that Japan has articulated their commitment to enhance the overall military effectiveness through the alliance. He noted that for U.S. policymakers, this presents an opportunity to further refine the concept of integrated deterrence including posture resiliency, and that critically, Japan's new security policy may have broader implications in updating our understanding of alliance politics in U.S. grand strategy

Following Dr. Matsuda’s talk, James Angelus and Dr. Nancy Snow served as discussants raising additional questions and issues for the audience to consider. Mr. Angelus stressed that winning is everything and the U.S. is on the verge of losing in their rivalry with China. His talk was focussed on issues of commercial power and integrated defence, arguing that Military power needs to be supported by commercial power, and that the U.S. and Japan need to work closer on real terms not just the battlefield. Dr. Snow in contrast to Dr. Matsuda and Mr. Angelus, raised the importance of information, particularly the communicative aspect and how it relates to demographics. She stressed the need to win the narrative battle against China, and noted China’s skill in communicating their narrative to their populace. Dr. Snow noted that this is not a monodisciplinary issue, but a landscape issue in which our security, quality of life, freedom of speech and expression are under threat.

Following the remarks made by the discussants, the floor was opened up to the audience for a Q&A session. Questions were raised by important members of the community, including a former Vice-Admiral of the Japanese Self Defence Force and a former ICRC member. Questions were focussed primarily on issues of national security, as well as how to win the narrative battle. After 30 minutes, the Q&A session ended, and the event concluded with a social as members of the community stayed and networked following the event.

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