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Bolstering Japan’s invisible dimensions of power

Kyodo News via AP
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida walks on the Maritime Self Defense Force’s helicopter carrier JS Izumo during an international fleet review in Sagami Bay, southwest of Tokyo, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. Kishida, at an international fleet review Sunday, said his country urgently needs to build up military capabilities as it faces worsening security environment in the East and South China Seas and threats from North Korea’s nuclear and missile advancement and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

As Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visits the White House this week, President Joe Biden will appropriately applaud Kishida’s championing the strengthening of Japan’s defense capabilities. Kishida leads an American ally made even more essential by its recent National Security Strategy (NSS) and National Defense Strategy (NDS) defining the path to doubling defense spending and adding counterstrike capabilities.

The two heads of state share the objective defined in Japan’s NDS to deter “unilateral changes to the status quo by force.” While one might first visualize how these actions will strengthen Japan’s visible hard power in terms of fighter jets, warships or missiles, what will be equally, if not more, essential to achieving the allies’ objective is Japan’s progress in bolstering dimensions of power not evident to the human eye.  

In addition to the unseen strength of Japan’s economic and diplomatic efforts to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, let me highlight three areas of invisible power essential to deterring aggression.

Space, cyber and electromagnetic

Japan’s NDS recognizes that in today’s digital world, “The domains of space, cyber, and the electromagnetic spectrum are basic infrastructure in people’s daily lives as well as being vitally important for carrying out cross-domain operations in defense of Japan.” Central to effectively deterring aggression is the perception and reality of being able to mobilize forces. That is why America’s recent National Defense Strategy commits to “improve its ability to operate in the face of multi-domain attacks on a growing surface of vital networks and critical infrastructure, both in the homeland and in collaboration with Allies and partners at risk.”

Two recent reports highlight the centrality of securing the ability to mobilize from Japan. The top three risks in the Council on Foreign Relations’ Preventive Priorities Survey 2023 are 1) An escalation of coercive pressure by China toward Taiwan, including heightened military activity, 2) Ukraine and 3) A highly disruptive cyberattack targeting U.S. critical infrastructure.

To deter aggression in Taiwan, Japan is “U.S. critical infrastructure,” as a recent war game of a potential attack on Taiwan by the Center for Strategic and International Studies affirms. It concludes: “Japan is the linchpin. Without the use of U.S. bases in Japan, U.S. fighter/attack aircraft cannot effectively participate in the war.” The ability to mobilize from these bases is essential to achieve the objective the two allies share.

Japan has escalated its investments in space capabilities and its cooperation with the U.S. Space Force. It is focused on the need to bolster its cyber defense, including increasing citizen awareness of its importance. Japan is also investing in its electromagnetic capabilities.

Attention to the success of these efforts should equal or surpass the focus on visible elements of power.


In earlier days, Japan’s prowess with spying gave us the word ninjas. Yet like so many security-related functions, it atrophied following WWII. While the push to elevate Japan’s intelligence capabilities began in the 1980s, it has been since 2013, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office for a second time, that Japan earnestly turned its attention to building up its own intelligence function.

Japan’s NSS goal is that with, “comprehensive analyses utilizing all means of collection and sources of information possessed by the government, information on national security should be obtained as early and accurately as possible, and shared and utilized within and outside the Government.” In achieving this end, Japan should learn from America’s 9-11 findings. One response by America was to develop the role of the Director of National Intelligence to quickly synthesize insights from the various intelligence agencies and make them promptly available to the president.

Kishida needs a role that consolidates Japan’s intelligence elements from its Ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs and Justice (Public Security Intelligence Agency) and police to provide daily briefings that can lead to actionable results.   

Continued progress to ensure intelligence is kept secure is essential if Japan is to achieve the goal of becoming the “sixth eye” to the Five Eyes intelligence sharing collaboration among the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The economic security law Japan passed last year seeks to bolster Japan’s security clearance process, a necessary step to greater intelligence sharing will allies. All allies benefit as Japan becomes a more credible source of intelligence and more capable of keeping shared intelligence secure.


The overarching strategy for the U.S. military is integrated deterrence, integrated across all domains — conventional, nuclear, cyber, space, informational, all theaters of competition, all spectrums of conflict from high intensity warfare to the gray zone and all instruments of national power. Perhaps most important is being “integrated across our allies and partners, which are the real asymmetric advantage that the United States has over any other competitor.”

Central to succeeding with this strategy is Joint All-Domain Command and Control or JADC2. JADC2 seeks to connect sensors securely and reliably to shooters so that with the help of artificial intelligence the insights from all sensors are integrated and as necessary, the best placed shooter is activated to neutralize a threat. The more sensors and shooters connected with each other, the more effective JADC2 becomes.

As America’s various military branches have become increasingly integrated or “joint” to achieve the benefits of JADC2, Japan’s effectiveness in contributing to “integrated deterrence” depends on its own jointness. Towards this end, Japan’s NDS commits to “reinforce the infrastructure to support effective joint responses in all phases.” Key to succeeding in this goal will be funding being directed through the Ministry of Defense instead of individual branches of Japan’s Self Defense Force (JSDF) and joint commands having the ability to direct, not just coordinate, JSDF actions.

The enhancement of Japan’s unseeable domains of power — the digital elements of space, cyber and electromagnetic, intelligence and jointness — could make a pivotal difference in securing peace in the region. As Kishida and Biden meet, Biden should fully commit to assist Japan in cultivating its invisible power.

Mark R. Kennedy is director of the Wahba Institute for Strategic Competition at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a U.S. Air and Space Forces Civic Leader, president emeritus of the University of Colorado, and former U.S. Representative (2001-07) from Minnesota.

Tags Fumio Kishida Japan Japan Self-Defense Forces Japanese defense Japanese prime minister Japan–United States relations Joe Biden Prime Minister of Japan US-Japan relations

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