In early October 2021, Fumio Kishida emerged as Japan’s new prime minister. Formerly in charge of foreign affairs, Kishida has much-needed experience promoting Japan’s diplomatic interests overseas, but less is known about his vision for national security.
What kind of security policy are we likely to see under his leadership? In this article, we explore three factors that are going to constitute Japan’s security policy for the next few months.
Kishida’s general stance on foreign policy is as follows. Within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), he is considered a moderate who tends to align with the party’s centrist values. In his new cabinet, he has retained foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi and defense minister Nobuo Kishi from the previous administration. In its overall foreign policy direction, Japan seems more likely to keep the status quo than to take a drastic change of course.
Yet the security environment is changing rapidly, and we need to consider at least three factors that are going to shape Kishida’s security policy. The first is what Japan does to strengthen relationships with the United States, India, Australia in the Quad framework. The Quad’s time will be tested against many dynamics across the Indo-Pacific, including China’s repeated violations of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in recent days. Kishida needs to protect Japan’s national security while keeping a level of integrity in his interactions with neighboring countries, including China’s military.
Specifically with China in mind, he has established a new government position to promote Japan’s economic security – Minister in Charge of Economic Security. This development is consistent with the growing perception in Japan that economic security and physical security are closely intertwined. The new minister, Takayuki Kobayashi faces a daunting task of dealing with competition with China, spurring innovation and entrepreneurship at home, and balancing the division of labor with relevant ministries, especially the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry.
Second, Kishida’s vision will be an important part of Japan’s security policy toward North Korea, whose military provocation seems to have increased since the transition to the Biden administration in the United States. North Korea’s military has resumed testing of ballistic missiles, which has concerned many in Japan, as Japan is situated less than 1,500 kilometers from North Korea, a capable distance for the new missiles. While North Korean missile testing is nothing new to Japan, its frequency over the past months has raised concerns in Tokyo. North Korea has conducted several major tests for missiles since January in violation of United Nations mandates. Kishida will have to find a way to restore order on the Korean peninsula while keeping his composure as the leader of one of Asia’s most powerful nations. One of the discussion points will be about specific defense options for Japan, especially whether Japan should acquire the so-called “strike capability” to defend against and deter North Korean aggression.
Third, Kishida faces a key task of enhancing cybersecurity. Japan’s digital policy improved under Sanae Takaichi, Kishida’s former rival and now a cabinet member, when she served as minister of internal affairs and communications. After losing to Kishida in the latest LDP election, Takaichi has retained influence as the second-time chair of the powerful Policy Research Council. So, cybersecurity will remain one of the most important national security policies under Kishida. But Japan’s record of defending against foreign cyberattacks has not been positive.
As one of the authors argues elsewhere, Japan’s cybersecurity strategy has long been based on a concept of passive defense, and Japan is not prepared to adopt an aggressive stance, at least publicly. Yet Japan has been adjusting its strategy to external developments, specifically pointing out Russia, China and North Korea as threats. Japan has sought greater network reliability and enhanced defense, including the protection of international cables that run under the ocean to preserve Japan’s communication with other nations.
Of course, Japan will have to tackle more threats than the three mentioned here. Yet we are likely to see a certain degree of stability in Kishida’s security policy, based upon the traditional LDP line of national security through robust defense and alliance politics. His security policy stance got a boost from the LDP victory on Oct. 31 in the House of Representatives election. With more than a majority of LDP members in the lower house, we are likely to see both the party and the new administration firmly in charge of security policy.
 Kim Tong-Hyung, “After Trump setbacks, Kim Jong Un starts over with Biden” AP News (2021).
 Laura Bicker, “North Korea tests new long-range cruise missiles” BBC News (2021).
 Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Fires 2 Ballistic Missiles as Rivalry With the South Mounts,” The New York Times, September 15, 2021 (updated October 1, 2021).
 Nori Katagiri, “From Cyber Denial to Cyber Punishment: What Keeps Japanese Warriors from Active Defense Operations?” Asian Security (2021).
 Kyodo News, “Japan names China, Russia, North Korea as threats in cyberspace” Kyodo News (2021).
— Hayden Turley is an international studies and Spanish major. Ashley Olms is a Spanish and international studies major. Nori Katagiri is associate professor of political science and director of international studies. All are affiliated with Saint Louis University.