The Japan – US contingency plan – Less than meets the eye

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Originally published by AND Magazine

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The Kyodo News reported the other day that the U.S. and Japanese militaries have written a draft plan for a ‘Taiwan contingency’ – and may soon draw up an ‘official’ plan. The uninitiated might think the Americans and the Japanese are finally going to buckle down and develop a real joint operational plan to handle a Taiwan contingency.

However, after spending a few decades of observing the trajectory of Japan’s defensive capabilities, it’s easy to become a ‘glass half-empty’ kind of guy.  And a closer look at the plan – something that should have been in place years ago – doesn’t exactly inspire excitement.

The news account is admittedly fragmentary and confusing.

According the report, the plan would be set in motion once the Japanese government declares the situation around Taiwan to be serious enough to “undermine the peace and security of Japan.”

Once that happens, U.S. Marines are allowed to set up an ‘attack base’ somewhere along the Nansei Shoto – also known as the Ryukyu Islands chain, which includes the island of Okinawa – that stretches from Kyushu almost to Taiwan.

Japan’s role?  According the news story, the Japanese will provide logistical support – including ammunition and fuel.  If so, Japan will need to start buying HIMARS missiles of the sort the Marines use.  One suspects the JSDF hasn’t received that order yet.

So, Tokyo permits the Marines to sally forth to do battle with the Chinese threatening Taiwan — when the Japanese decide it is time.  And Japan apparently doesn’t have to join the fighting.

Such a deal.

Capabilities, Training, Goals and Laws

Almost inadvertently, the Kyodo report raises fundamental questions about the impediments to what actually needs to be done for Japan and the U.S. to defend Taiwan, each other, and themselves.

For example, sending out a U.S. Marine missile battery or two isn’t a contingency plan for dealing with a Chinese move against Taiwan.

Rather, a proper operational plan requires melding the full resources and capabilities of U.S. forces and the Japan Self-Defense Force – not just sending out the Marines.  And, even a detailed plan is still just a plan.  If forces don’t train and exercise for the plan – they might as well not bother.

The U.S. side is well aware of this.  Whether the Japanese side is, is another question.

Additionally, one imagines that if and when serious planning takes place, the U.S. and the Japanese militaries may come at the problem from two completely different directions.

Whereas the Americans are interested in stopping the Chinese invasion of Taiwan – and that means killing PLA troops – the Japanese may be more concerned with defense of the Nansei Shoto and Japanese territory – and avoiding as much harm to anyone as possible.

And other reasons not to hold one’s breath about the ‘plan’ having real world effects anytime soon is the Japanese still need to ‘study’ revising laws to permit the Marines to deploy.  And then they will have to actually pass the laws.

And Tokyo also needs to study and pass laws and/or regulations that lay out when an event involving Taiwan threatens Japan’s ‘peace and security’ enough to let the aforementioned laws kick in.

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