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Japan’s New Security Policy

Author: Cüneyt Aksoy

In December 2022, Japan unveiled a new National Security Strategy (NSS) [1] together with three additional defence-related documents, namely the National Defence Strategy, Defence Buildup Programme, and the new Guidelines on Maritime Security, that lays out its security strategy and defence priorities for forthcoming years.[2]

The new National Security Strategy is only the second of its kind, the first one being released in 2013 with the formation of the National Security Council (NSC). The NSC, established under late prime minister Shinzo Abe as the culmination of security and defence reforms,[3] and which articulated a security doctrine of Japan’s ‘proactive contribution to peace’,[4] became a key achievement and one of the most significant institutional reforms in Japan in recent decades.[5] Prime Minister Abe expressed the determination to create the NSC as a ‘control tower for foreign and security policy to ensure Japan’s peace and independence amidst a security environment increased in severity’, phrasing echoed in the 2022 National Security Strategy.[6] [7]

The NSC and NSS are part of a longer trend in security reforms by Japan in recent years. Of the most noteworthy of these reforms, which include the lift of the ban on arms exports[8], perhaps the most significant are the changes in the legal interpretation of the post-war constitution and other relevant regulations. Over the past decade, Japan progressively moved to enable its exercise of ‘collective self-defence’, a step seen as necessary for the country to enhance the mutuality of its security alliance and to reestablish Japan’s autonomy as an international actor. [9]

The approval of the second NSS in 2022 coincided with an increase in defence spending of 2% of GDP – historically at 1% – by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government.[10] Together with the accompanying documents, the 2022 NSS reflects Japan’s evolving security environment and efforts to strengthen its security posture and defence capabilities in response to growing regional and international challenges.

What are these challenges, and what changed in a decade? The 2022 NSS describes Japan’s security environment as ‘as severe and complex as it has ever been since the end of World War II’.[11] First, compared to the security environment ten years ago, North Korean missile tests increased in number, and since 2017, multiple missiles have gone over territorial Japan and triggered emergency warnings for residents.[12] [13] Second, the intensification of China’s activities around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, East and the South China Sea, and a generally more robust stance, especially on the topic of Taiwan, cause more concern for Japan.[14] [15] Third, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been worded in the 2022 NSS as of ‘strong security concern’ and an action that has ‘shaken the very foundation of the international order.’[16]

Another important takeaway from the 2022 NSS and the other documents is that the US-Japan alliance remains a cornerstone of Japan’s security outlook.[17] At the same time, the authorisation of a counterstrike capability marks a major change in Japan’s traditional defence and deterrence policy.[18]

Taking stock of the first and current NSS, there is evidence of both continuity and change in Japan’s security policy. The formation of the NSC, NSS, and the subsequent reforms that were introduced point to a significant shift in Japan’s overarching ‘strategy’ in the security arena. These, along with a range of other security issues, such as climate change, food and energy security and even domestic demographic changes, are likely to mould Japan’s international role ahead.


[1] The Government of Japan, ‘National Security Strategy of Japan’ (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, December 2022),, accessed 15 March 2023

[2] Foreign Minister HAYASHI Yoshimasa, ‘Adoption of the New “National Security Strategy (NSS)”’, Press Release, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 16 December 2022,, accessed 16 May 2023.

[3] Hiroshi Nakanishi, ‘Reorienting Japan? Security Transformation Under the Second Abe Cabinet’, Asian Perspective 39, no. 3 (2015): 407.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Adam P. Liff, ‘Japan’s National Security Council at Five’, Brookings (blog), 4 December 2018,, accessed 17 May 2023.

[6] Adam P. Liff, ‘Japan’s National Security Council: Policy Coordination and Political Power’, Japanese Studies 38, no. 2 (4 May 2018): 262,

[7] Mayumi Fukushima and Richard J. Samuels, ‘Japan’s National Security Council: Filling the Whole of Government?’, International Affairs 94, no. 4 (1 July 2018): 782,

[8] Nakanishi, ‘Reorienting Japan?’, 413–14.

[9] Christopher W. Hughes, Japan’s Foreign and Security Policy under the ‘Abe Doctrine’: New Dynamism or New Dead End?, Palgrave Pivot (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 53–54.

[10] Tetsushi Kajimoto and Takaya Yamaguchi, ‘Japan Unveils Record Budget in Boost to Military Spending’, Reuters, 23 December 2022, sec. Asian Markets,, accessed 16 May 2023.

[11] The Government of Japan, ‘National Security Strategy of Japan’, 2.

[12] Dasl Yoon, ‘North Korea Launches Missile Over Japan’, Wall Street Journal, 4 October 2022, sec. World,, accessed 4 June 2023.

[13] ‘Japan Criticizes N. Korea Missile Launch as Threat to World Peace, The Asahi Shimbun,, accessed 15 May 2023.

[14] Guiborg Delamotte and Hideo Suzuki, ‘More of the Same or Different? Japan’s New Security and Defense Policy’, The Diplomat, 17 February 2023,

[15] The Government of Japan, ‘National Security Strategy of Japan’, 9.

[16] Ibid, p. 10

[17] Delamotte and Suzuki, ‘More of the Same or Different?’

[18] Takuya Matsuda, ‘Japan’s Emerging Security Strategy’, The Washington Quarterly 46, no. 1 (2 January 2023): 93,