Japan's space law shift rattles regional nerves

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-7-2 19:15:03


Kazuto Suzuki
Kazuto Suzuki
Lee Sangsoo
Lee Sangsoo
Liu Jiangyong
Liu Jiangyong (刘江永) 

Editor's Note:

The House of Councillors of Japan's Diet recently passed legislation deleting the provisions that the country's Aerospace Exploration Agency's activities are limited to peaceful purposes. According to the law, Japan's aerospace research and development are now developed for security programs such as spy satellites. What motivated the legislation? What influence it will have on regional security and stability? Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Zhaokun talked to Liu Jiangyong (Liu), deputy director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University, Kazuto Suzuki (Suzuki), an associate professor at the Public Policy School of Japan's Hokkaido University, and Lee Sangsoo (Lee), a research fellow with the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy, on these issues.

GT: Do you see the legislation as a major step taken by Japan toward space military development?

Suzuki: The current change, as well as the change in 2008 of the space law, did not initially come from security concerns. These changes were made to shift the paradigm of Japanese space policy from research and development to practical uses.

For many years, Japanese space development was driven by technology without much commercial and security interest.

But there is a growing demand for military satellite communications because of the deployment of Japanese Self-Defense Force (SDF) for peacekeeping operations.

Lee: The passing of the legislation appears inevitably to move toward Japan's re-militarization with the opening up of military uses of space use. It is likely that Japan will continue increasing research and development funding to develop military space technology.

It seems that Japan will focus on the improvement of missile detection system. The legislation could also open the door for expanding Japanese military capabilities and Japanese leaders will continue to ease the security limitations imposed by constitutional constraints, with the final goal of transforming Japan into a normal country.

Liu: Peaceful space development should be a consensus among the international community and I think Japan's revision of its space law is obviously aimed at military development.

It means that Japan has entered what became a forbidden zone after World War II. Japan recently also ratified its Atomic Energy Basic Law by inserting "national security" as an aim of the law.

This language could be used as a legal basis for the nation to create a nuclear weapon program. All these moves by Japan are alarming as they could pave the way for the country's further militarization.

GT: Some say Japan pushed the legislation because of the threat of North Korean missiles and nuclear weapons. But there are also comments that Japan sees China's growing military power and space capabilities as long-term challenges. What's your view?

Suzuki: Japan already has the capability to monitor North Korean activities or Chinese activities in the East China Sea, so it was not necessary to change the law if those were the objectives.

Perhaps one of the possible changes would be the early warning satellite for detecting North Korean missile launches.

Lee: From an overall security perspective, Japan is under pressure from North Korean missiles and nukes and China's growing of space development.

However, North Korean threats could be drastically reduced by diplomatic efforts, while China does pose long-term challenges for Japanese security, as China is able to maintain large budgets for space programs.

GT: The legacy of Japan's World War II era atrocities continues to fuel suspicions over Japanese intentions in its East Asian neighbors. What influence is the legislation likely to bring to regional security and stability?

Suzuki: I don't think this new legislation will increase tension among Japan, China and South Korea. Using space for military communication and surveillance may contribute to regional peace, because without knowing what other countries are doing, it can be difficult to clear up doubts. This is a way to avoid conflict. So, using space for military purposes does not mean that the purpose is offensive, but instead improves transparency.

Lee: I think the legislation in Japan is likely to lead to increased military space competition among the East Asian powers.

Many countries not only in East Asia but in other regions are interested in developing their space program and have recently set the space development program as a national priority, which has become a more common trend than in the past period of the Cold War.

However, due to a historical legacy and a lack of confidence in East Asia, in particular strong suspicions over Japanese intentions with recent military development, it is difficult to promote peaceful space development in the region. Rather, there may be an East Asian space race.

GT: There are voices in Japan urging the country to take greater responsibility for protecting its own national interests and security by reducing dependence on the US. How do you see the US role in Japan's space development?

Suzuki: Washington has already stated that this legislation will improve the US-Japan relationship because previous restrictions were too restrictive to do any meaningful cooperation.

For example, the US is interested in developing a global network of Space Situational Awareness (SSA) to monitor space debris. But because the US military is the central operating entity of SSA, Japan was not able to cooperate and participate in this global network.

Lee: Military support, in particular military facilities supplied by the US to its allies, has been reduced thanks to a long term economic recession in the US. This creates more room for Japan to develop its own military sectors and space program.

Nevertheless, the US will not share its unique space technologies with Japan and will control the speed of Japan's military development by using political pressure.

Liu: Some hoped to use the US-Japan mutual defense treaty to limit Japan's postwar military development. But such a scenario is already unlikely nowadays.

The US will adjust its defense cooperation with Japan in accordance with the change of Washington's strategic interests by encouraging or limiting the growth of Japan's military capability.

In Japan, there are also forces who want to get rid of the US limits and seek Japan's rapid military expansion and even non-peaceful nuclear rights. The US-Japan alliance is in a stage of qualitative change and if right-wing voices win increasing support, the alliance could finally meet its quantitative change.


Side Bar:


Space law catches up with technological reality in Japan

The Upper House of Japanese Diet recently passed legislation deleting the provisions that the activities of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)’s are limited to peaceful purposes, opening the door to military space development programs with an emphasis on space-based missile early warning.

With the passage of the legislation, there is a fundamental shift in official attitudes toward military space programs in Japan, although the budget involved has yet to be decided.  This was a trend that was marked by the passage of the Basic Space Law in 2008, and is continuing with the revision of JAXA’s basic law in 2012.

But it shall be stressed that the law in Japan is really catching up with the country’s technological realities in military space applications, not the other way around. As far as military space prowess is concerned, in my judgment Japan is already a “normal country.”

Because of their dual-use nature and, consequently, their widespread integration in the domestic civilian and commercial base, space technologies have been shielded from condemnation in Japanese domestic politics. Over the long run, it is likely that military space progress in Japan will go on to affect the tenor and direction of Japan’s overall security policies.

The threat of North Korea's missile and nuclear activities is the reason behind Japan’s push for the pass of the legislation. North Korea is a very high-profile problem for Japan, and helps to galvanize the Japanese public too.

But from a long-term strategic perspective, the China factor is far more important for legitimizing Japan’s military space policy directions. Chinese achievements to date have certainly affected Japan’s manned space ambitions for example. But as the current legislative changes make clear, Chinese actions, among other factors, have also had a significant impact on Japan’s national security directions in space.

Japan has always had independent ambitions in space technologies, and these are not likely to go away although it has moved forward concretely with its ballistic missile defense system and also a framework for space-related cooperation with the US. For the foreseeable future, Japanese public and private actors will also continue to work on protecting Japanese national interests in space through their own efforts.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Wang Zhaokun based upon an interview with Saadia Pekkanen, Professor with the Jackson School of International Studies of the University of Washington.

Posted in: Dialogue

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