Science, Technology, and National Security: Japan in Global Perspective

Abstract

This paper examines the role of science and technology in Japan’s national security strategy and policies in a global context. It provides an overview of Japan’s science, technology and innovation system, key technologies being developed for security purposes, and how Japan leverages science and technology within its broader national security and foreign policies. The paper analyzes Japan’s motivations to strengthen its science and technology capabilities, how Japan balances civilian and military research, and Japan’s international science and technology cooperation on security issues. Challenges and implications for Japan’s future science, technology, and security policies are also discussed.

Introduction

Science and technology (S&T) capabilities have become integral to economic competitiveness and national security for all technologically advanced nations. While Japan is well known for being a global leader in civilian technologies, the role of S&T in Japan’s national security policies and strategies is less recognized internationally. After World War II, Japan adopted a strictly defensive security posture centered on its alliance with the United States. However, in recent years Japan has aimed to play a more proactive role in regional and global security, developing and harnessing advanced technologies to strengthen its national defense capabilities.

This paper provides an overview and analysis of the role of S&T in Japan’s evolving national security policies and strategies in a global context. The first section examines Japan’s overall S&T and innovation system and key dual-use technologies being advanced for security purposes. The second section analyzes how S&T capabilities and priorities are integrated within Japan’s broader national security strategies and policies. The third section explores Japan’s motivations in strengthening its security-related S&T capabilities. The fourth section discusses how Japan balances military and civilian S&T research. The fifth section reviews Japan’s bilateral and multilateral S&T cooperation on security issues. Finally, challenges and implications for the future direction of Japan’s S&T and security policies are discussed.

Japan’s S&T System and Key Security Technologies

Japan has built a strong science, technology and innovation system to support its economic competitiveness and national security interests. According to the OECD, Japan spent over 3.3% of GDP on research and development in 2020, the third highest total in the OECD after Israel and Korea (OECD, 2022a). Japan has adopted key national S&T and innovation strategies and policies over the years to maintain its S&T capabilities, such as the Basic Act on Science and Technology (1995), the First and Second Science and Technology Basic Plans (1996-2000; 2001-2005), the Third Science and Technology Basic Plan (2006-2010) which targeted strengthening research capacity and achieving innovation-driven economic growth, the Fourth Science and Technology Basic Plan (2011-2015) which set five S&T policy priorities, including life sciences and green innovation, and the Fifth Science and Technology Basic Plan (2016-2020) which focuses on maximizing social and economic impacts (OECD, 2014). The government has also established research and development funding programs and incentives aimed at advancing dual-use technologies with security and defense applications.

Several key technology areas that Japan is advancing for national security purposes can be highlighted:

Space Technology
Japan is strategically developing its space program and capabilities, including reconnaissance satellites, to boost its national security. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has launched intelligence gathering satellites since the early 2000s to monitor North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and activities in the East China Sea. Japan is enhancing radar satellite capabilities to track ships and aircraft. Japan is also working on satellites with dual-infrared sensors and developing a constellation of small radar satellites for 24/7 monitoring (Panda, 2020). JAXA’s budget and space security activities have accelerated under the administration of Prime Minister Abe. Japan launched the nation’s first dedicated military communications satellite in 2017 to augment satellite capability of sharing data between maritime Self Defense Forces, ground SDF units and US forces (Kelly, 2017).

Cybersecurity
Strengthening cybersecurity and expanding cyber defense capabilities has become a national security priority for Japan. The country has suffered major cyberattacks on government agencies and critical infrastructure operators. The National Center of Incident Readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity (NISC) was established in 2014 to bolster cyber crisis management and coordinate national cybersecurity policy. The Defense Ministry’s Cyber Defense Unit, founded in 2004, defends SDF networks and supports cyber threat analysis. In 2016 the SDF established a Cyber Protection Unit to defend IT infrastructure and command systems. The government adopted a Cybersecurity Strategy in 2018 focused on five pillars: developing a resilient cyber society, advancing fundamental cybersecurity technology research and development, developing cybersecurity human resources, enhancing crisis management, and strengthening international partnerships. R&D priorities include technologies for provable security, measurement and analysis of software reliability, and automated cybersecurity processes and countermeasures.

AI Technology
Japan aims to harness AI technology to support its national security objectives. The Ministry of Defense has applied AI for defense applications such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), satellite imagery analysis, and cyber defense systems. In 2016, the Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) established a department focused on AI technology research for military uses. ATLA is applying AI to analyze data collected by radar systems and video feeds. The MOD has also established a new research program for intelligent unmanned systems technologies and an AI technology research initiative in cooperation with the private sector. Applications include automated surveillance, threat analysis, intelligence gathering, missile tracking, and augmented human decision-making. The MOD aims to recruit 1,000 AI experts over five years to expand its AI research and development capabilities (Kallender-Umezu, 2019). However, Japan lags behind the U.S. and China in military applications of AI.

Underwater Sensor Networks
The MOD has invested heavily in developing underwater sensor networks to enhance maritime monitoring and antisubmarine warfare capabilities as Chinese submarines increasingly operate near Japanese waters. Key technologies include compact sonobuoys, fiber-optic Distributed Temperature Sensing (DTS) cables, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), and advanced signal processing for target detection. In 2015 Japan installed a large-scale experimental DTS ocean observation network off the Boso Peninsula to detect submarines. Japan is also developing a deep sea surveillance system combining fixed DTS cables and mobile AUVs equipped with sensors. The MOD aims to deploy an operational DTS monitoring network by 2025 (Przystup, 2019).

Integrated Air and Missile Defense
Japan has prioritized advancing missile defense capabilities against North Korean missile threats. Japan has cooperated closely with the U.S. in co-developing key missile defense technologies, including missile interceptors, radars, sensors and command and control systems. The MOD has acquired Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) missile interceptors and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) naval systems. Japan has also indigenously developed the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptor with the U.S. to destroy ballistic missile threats in space. To counter hypersonic glide vehicles, Japan is researching high-power lasers, electromagnetic railguns, and other directed energy weapons. Developing and networking advanced radar systems to detect and track incoming missiles remains a high priority. Integration and interoperability of air and missile defense systems, including data-links, is another focus (Chanlett-Avery et al., 2022).

Quantum Technology
Japan aims to apply quantum technology for national security uses in computing, communications, detection and other domains. The Cabinet Office published the Quantum Information Science Basic Research and Development Promotion Plan in 2020, identifying defense applications as a priority research area. The MOD and private firms are advancing quantum radars and sensors for ultra-precise object detection. The MOD is researching quantum key distribution networks to securely transmit encryption keys. In 2022 Japan established the Quantum Information Science National Core Research Center to promote collaboration on quantum technology research and development between academia, industry and government, including for security uses (Sugiyama, 2022). However, Japan trails the U.S. and China in advancing quantum technologies for military applications.

S&T in Japan’s National Security Policy

Science and technology capabilities have become increasingly central to Japan’s evolving defense and national security strategies and policies as part of Japan’s expanding security role in the region and globally in recent decades. Analyzing key Japanese security and defense policy documents over the years illustrates the growing emphasis on S&T:

  • The 2004 National Defense Program Guidelines emphasized enhancing intelligence capabilities by leveraging advancements in satellite, imagery and communication technologies. It also called for developing advanced ballistic missile defense technologies through cooperation with the U.S.
  • The 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines highlighted priorities including strengthening cyber defense capabilities, advancing surveillance abilities using satellites and UAVs, and cooperating with the U.S. on ballistic missile defense technologies.
  • The 2013 National Security Strategy underscored expanding space, maritime and cyber domains as critical for security and aimed to leverage dual-use technologies for defense applications.
  • The 2013 National Defense Program Guidelines called for various initiatives to “actively leverage dual-use technologies” and “strategically promote defense equipment and technology cooperation” for national security. Priorities included unmanned systems, C4ISR, ballistic missile defense, and cyber defense capabilities.
  • The 2018 National Defense Program Guidelines continued promoting dual-use technology development and aimed to build an “integrated defense capability” combining capabilities across all domains. It called for enhancing capabilities in new domains like space, cyber and electromagnetic spectrum.
  • The 2019 National Security Strategy highlighted strengthening technology research and utilization for national security purposes as one of Japan’s key strategic approaches.
  • The 2022 National Security Strategy underscored expanding security-related research and development, cultivating and securing defense technology and human talent, and deepening cooperation with the private sector on dual-use technology development for defense. It also stressed expanding cooperation on critical and emerging technologies for security with partners like the U.S., Australia and Europe.

This policy trajectory illustrates Japan’s aim of leveraging science, technology and innovation to play a more active security role in line with its vision of “Proactive Contribution to Peace” based on the principles of international cooperation. Importantly, while Japan mentions dual-use technology development for defense purposes, all these policy documents are carefully framed to emphasize that Japan’s defense policies remain strictly within the boundaries of its pacifist constitution and exclusively for self-defense.

Motivations Behind Japan’s Security-Related S&T Push

Japan’s motivations for advancing its security-related science and technology capabilities can be analyzed from geopolitical, economic and technological perspectives:

Geopolitical Motivations

  • North Korean nuclear and missile threats: Developing advanced missile defense and deterrence capabilities has become more urgent for Japan in light of North Korea’s accelerated nuclear and missile programs since the early 2000s. Japan has invested heavily in ballistic missile defense technologies to counter North Korea’s ability to strike Japan with nuclear weapons.
  • China’s growing military power: China’s rapid military modernization, including its advances in missiles, naval capabilities, cyber and space domains, poses a major security concern for Japan as territorial disputes remain unresolved. Building capabilities including underwater sensors, cyber defense and space assets helps address the regional military imbalance with China.
  • Maintaining credible deterrence under the US alliance: Strengthening indigenous S&T capabilities allows Japan to be a more capable ally and maintain credible deterrence vis-a-vis shared regional threats in cooperation with the U.S. amid perceptions of declining relative U.S. power.
  • Expanding security partnerships: Leveraging Japan’s dual-use technology excellence helps attract new security partners like Australia and Europe for joint research and development, strengthening regional and global security networks.

Economic Motivations

  • Revitalizing the defense industry: Proactively developing and producing advanced technologies domestically helps boost Japan’s defense industrial base, which has weakened in recent decades due to limited defense spending and reliance on the U.S. Promoting dual-use innovations links economic and security objectives.
  • Preparing for the 4th Industrial Revolution: Prioritizing emerging technologies like AI, robotics, quantum, and biotech for defense drives commercial development in these strategic fields, helping Japanese firms compete in the 4th industrial revolution.
  • Reducing reliance on arms imports: Indigenous innovation reduces costly imports of defense equipment from alliance partners like the U.S. and builds supply chain resilience for Japan’s self-reliant defense posture.

Technological Motivations

  • Closing capability gaps: Accelerating R&D in advanced technology areas where Japan trails peers such as unmanned systems, directed energy weapons, and hypersonic technology helps close strategic capability gaps.
  • Interoperability with allies: Advancing interoperable technologies and systems through joint R&D improves coordination and complements alliance capabilities, especially with the U.S.
  • Future battlefield advantage: Mastering new technologies like AI, robotics and quantum computing early on may provide military advantage in future warfare by enabling paradigm shifts in approaches to intelligence, decision-making, command and control, and other battlespace functions.

In summary, Japan is strategically developing security-related science and technology capabilities in response to an evolving geopolitical threat environment, for economic security and competitiveness, and to potentially gain future military advantages as warfare undergoes technological transformation. S&T is becoming inseparable from how Japan envisions its future defense posture and ability to deter regional threats and uphold a favorable regional order.

Balancing Civilian and Military Research

As Japan advances security-related science and technology, it continues grappling with appropriately balancing civilian and military research. Japan’s post-war focus on pacifism and rebuilding economic power led to a strong preference for civilian S&T research. Japan’s S&T budget tilts very heavily toward civilian research compared to defense research, estimated at a ratio of nearly 99:1 (Nagy, 2019). However, China’s growing military capabilities and North Korean threats have led Japan to slowly expand defense R&D budgets. From 2001 to 2020, defense R&D expenditures grew from 47 billion yen to 96 billion yen (Fouse, 2022). The MOD’s Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI), Japan’s equivalent of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has seen its budget doubled over the past decade.

Japan’s civilian science and technology agencies, especially the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the research organization Riken, conduct more basic research linked to defense applications such as materials science, propulsion systems, robotics, space technologies and supercomputing. The TRDI and Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) focus more on applied R&D and acquisition programs closely tied to Japan’s near-term operational requirements. The MOD has also increasingly engaged the private sector in dual-use technology development through new research initiatives like the Innovative Science & Technology Initiative for Security program (Nagy, 2019).

However, institutional divides between the civilian science agencies and MOD persist due to different research cultures and priorities. Japan’s civilian agencies enjoy greater prestige and independence. Recruiting defense researchers remains challenging due to Japan’s prevailing culture wary of military research. While integration is increasing through communication channels like the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, observers argue more reforms are needed to align Japan’s civilian and defense research enterprises to meet strategic national security objectives (Fouse, 2022). Potential steps include implementing stronger top-down coordination of national R&D strategy encompassing civilian and defense streams, increasing lateral mobility between civilian and defense labs, expanding funding and incentives for defense research, and shaping cultural attitudes through education and workforce policies to make defense research a more prestigious career path (Nagy, 2022).

International S&T Cooperation on Security

International science and technology cooperation is an important element of Japan’s national security strategy. Collaborating with allies and partners on critical technologies strengthens strategic ties and allows Japan to share costs and access innovation from abroad. The U.S. has been Japan’s closest research partner, followed by European partners. However, Japan under the Abe administration expanded security-focused science and technology partnerships, particularly with Australia and Southeast Asian nations to promote a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

U.S.-Japan S&T Cooperation
The U.S. and Japan have cooperated extensively on co-developing defense technologies and systems through bilateral forums like the Systems and Technology Forum and Comprehensive Dialogue on Space. Major joint technology projects include missile defense systems like the Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor, air and missile defense networking technologies, underwater sensors, aircraft avionics, air combat training systems, and exchanges on hypersonic technology and directed energy weapons (U.S. Department of State, 2021). The U.S. and Japan signed a collaborative research agreement in 2014 on defense equipment and technology. In 2022 the Security Consultative Committee reaffirmed plans to strengthen collaboration on emerging technologies like AI, quantum, integrated space capabilities, and defense industrial cooperation (U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, 2022).

Australia-Japan S&T Partnership
In 2017 Japan and Australia signed an accord on defense science, technology and industry cooperation focused on joint research on underwater technologies including sonar and antisubmarine warfare architecture. Australia and Japan have also agreed to partner on research in air and missile defense, maritime unmanned systems, and space situational awareness. The partnership aligns with Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision and Australia’s Indo-Pacific Endeavor exercise series (Chanlett-Avery et al., 2022).

Southeast Asia S&T Partnerships
Japan has also initiated security dialogues on S&T with Southeast Asian nations. In 2018 Japan and Indonesia agreed to cooperate on defense technologies covering exchanges on humanitarian assistance/disaster relief capabilities. In 2019 Japan and Thailand signed a defense technology and industry cooperation agreement. With Vietnam, Japan set up a Cybersecurity Policy Dialogue. Japan has trained cyberdefense officials from ASEAN states at Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (Devetak, 2022). These partnerships provide emerging regional allies access to Japanese defense technology know-how.

Europe-Japan S&T Cooperation
Japan has sought to step up defense research and development ties with major European powers. Japan signed its first reciprocal defense procurement agreement with the UK in 2013, followed by agreements with France in 2015, covering cooperative R&D. Japan has explored collaborating with France on unmanned systems. With Italy, Japan partnered on air and space technologies. In 2022 Japan and the European Union reached an agreement allowing Japan to participate in the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) mechanism for joint defense projects (Tsuneoka, 2022). These partnerships help Japan tap European capabilities in strategic technologies to complement the U.S.-Japan alliance.

In summary, international science and technology partnerships on security issues support Japan’s vision of cooperative leadership and augment Japan’s dual-use technology innovation for its own defense needs. While Japan’s S&T cooperation has diversified, the U.S. remains its closest and most vital research partner for jointly .uphold developing critical defense capabilities.

Challenges and Implications

As Japan continues bridging its civilian and defense technology streams and expanding international security partnerships, it faces several key challenges:

  • Balancing technology self-sufficiency vs reliance on imports and allies: Japan remains heavily reliant on importing defense technologies from the U.S. Striking the right balance between indigenous capabilities and leveraging alliance technology access will be an ongoing challenge.
  • Coordinating civilian and defense research: Institutional divides remain obstacles to tightly coordinating civilian and defense research to meet Japan’s security needs. Cultural attitudes constraining defense research must adapt.
  • Competing with China’s defense tech sprint: Japan is at risk of losing its technological edge to China in some dual-use fields critical for defense like AI, robotics, quantum tech and hypersonics. Japan will need to accelerate research in these emerging areas.
  • Enhancing competitiveness of defense industry: Japan’s defense industry lacks economies of scale and R&D spending compared to the U.S. and China. More investments, mergers and global partnerships are required to make Japan’s defense industry more innovative and internationally competitive.
  • Securing critical minerals for defense tech: Japan relies heavily on imports of rare earths and other critical minerals essential for defense technologies from unreliable sources like China. Advancing sustainable mining and recycling is necessary for supply security.
  • Tightening technology controls and counter-intelligence: As Japan becomes a bigger defense tech power, protecting its innovations from espionage and cybertheft will become more challenging. Improvements in security screening, monitoring research exchanges, and export control enforcement are needed.
  • Navigating technology alliance dilemmas: Sharing more sensitive technologies even with close allies risks unintended leakage. But not sharing enough limits interoperability. Japan will have to strike a careful balance.

Japan’s expanding science and technology role in its national security strategy will have several broader implications moving forward:

  • More proactive overall defense posture expected: Strengthening defense S&T capabilities could foster political momentum and public opinion favoring additional expansion of Japan’s military capabilities and operational roles.
  • Closer integration into U.S. technology alliance network: Prioritizing interoperable technologies and co-development with the U.S. will bind Japan tighter into America’s alliance technology architecture in the region.
  • Rising global profile as defense technology power: As Japan becomes an increasingly important defense innovation hub, it can shape international norms and standards on military applications of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and autonomous weapons.
  • Potential concerns from China over Japan’s defense trajectory: Japan’s security-focused technology advancements may add to tensions with China and complicate balancing deterrence with engagement.

In conclusion, science and technology is becoming a pivotal element of Japan’s strategy for national security, requiring active balancing across multiple dimensions – civilian versus military research, domestic capabilities versus imports and alliances, economic versus security interests, and deterrence versus engagement. As Japan navigates these trade-offs, S&T will remain central to its vision for more proactive contributions to allied and international peace and security.

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SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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