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The militarization of the island chain of Japan, which set out to have the third highest defense budget in the world

By Horst Teubert and Dr. Peer Heinelt

NATO will selectively expand cooperation with Japan and work more closely than before with the East Asian country through its traditional forces in cyber defense and space.

The world has reached “a historic turning point” where the “balance of power in the Indo-Pacific is shifting rapidly,” according to a joint statement signed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo at the beginning of this year.

The expansion of cooperation, which Berlin is also specifically promoting at the national level, is taking place when Japan embarks on an unprecedented rearmament program since 1945.

It is increasing its military budget by more than 50 percent, becoming the country with the third-largest defense budget in the world and acquiring a missile arsenal capable of attacking targets in China in a concentrated manner.

The militarization of the first island chain of Japan. (Photo internet reproduction)
The militarization of the first island chain of Japan. (Photo internet reproduction)

In parallel, the U.S. is intensifying its military cooperation with Japan – in a way that experts compare to the buildup of Western military potential around Ukraine beginning in 2014.

Washington is taking similar steps throughout the first island chain off China – including Taiwan and the Philippines.


Ultimately, cooperation between NATO and Japan dates back to initial contacts in the early 1990s – when Tokyo participated in “Operation Southern Flank,” a German Navy-led mine-clearance operation in the Persian Gulf in 1990 and 1991.

From around 2007, the two sides expanded their cooperation; for example, the first German-Japanese maneuver took place in April 2008, when German Navy warships held joint exercises with Japanese Navy ships in the Gulf of Oman.

In 2013, the two sides signed a joint political declaration setting their sights on closer cooperation, followed in 2014 by the launch of a program to expand so-called interoperability.

In December 2020, Japan – alongside South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, and Sweden – attended a meeting of NATO foreign ministers for the first time.

The June 2021 NATO summit in Brussels then agreed to expand NATO’s practical cooperation with allies in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan.

The June 2022 NATO summit in Brussels was the first time Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attended in person.


NATO now intends to systematically further intensify its relations with Japan. Last week, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg first arrived at Iruma Air Base near Tokyo.

Japanese transport aircraft carrying supplies for Ukraine take off from there. Stoltenberg then met with Kishida in Tokyo to discuss the expansion of cooperation and to adopt a joint declaration on the subject.

The statement said the world had reached “a historic turning point” where the “balance of power in the Indo-Pacific is shifting rapidly”.

In this context, against the backdrop of power struggles against Russia and China, “the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific security are closely linked. ”

NATO and Japan, therefore, launched a new cooperation program (Individually Tailored Partnership Programme ITPP) and would, in the future, cooperate closely not only in areas such as maritime security but also in cyber defense and space, defense against “hybrid challenges,” and propaganda (“strategic communications”), among other fields.

Japan would, from now on, regularly attend meetings of the North Atlantic Council and NATO defense ministers.


The transatlantic military pact is expanding its cooperation with the East Asian nation at a time when Japan has embarked on unprecedented militarization since 1945.

In 2015, Japan’s parliament approved a law allowing a reinterpretation of the constitution, which authorizes military activities exclusively for self-defense.

Since then, Japan’s armed forces have been allowed to operate abroad if that serves broadly construed “collective self-defense.”

In addition, Tokyo is dramatically increasing its military budget.

In December, the government announced that it would increase funding for the armed forces by 56 percent to US$318 billion over the next five-year period.

This would give Japan the third-largest defense budget in the world. In addition, Japan’s armed forces – in a departure from the actual defense – are to develop the capability to conduct “counterstrikes” on enemy territory.

To this end, missiles of the U.S. Tomahawk model with a range of more than 1,500 kilometers are to be procured, and the country’s missiles are to be developed.

Last, Japan concluded a defense agreement with Australia in October 2022, allowing both sides to deploy troops to the other country.


At the same time, Tokyo and Washington have also begun to intensify their close military cooperation further.

For example, the United States will modify its troop presence in Okinawa. A U.S. artillery regiment will now be replaced by a U.S. unit expected to be “more lethal, more mobile, and more capable” than the previous force.

In addition, arrangements are to be made to quickly move U.S. and Japanese military personnel to offshore islands in Japan’s far southwest.

These are not far from Taiwan or, in the case of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which are also claimed by China, are territorially disputed.

Washington recently confirmed that an armed conflict over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands would be considered by it an alliance case.

U.S. military officials report that U.S. and Japanese forces are integrating their command structures and expanding joint operations exponentially in preparation for war against China.

They are creating an environment similar to the one madeeated in Ukraine beginning in 2014 with military training, establishing forward supply depots, and identifying locations to conduct Army support operations at a time.


According to U.S. military officials, the United States is taking a similar approach in the Philippines, which is also preparing for a possible war against China.

There, they are expanding military facilities that can house U.S. troops and store war materiel near possible theaters of war (Army Prepositioned Stock APS).

While such facilities have mainly been located near the capital Manila or on the troubled island of Mindanao, military facilities are now to be added in the province of Cagayan and on the island of Palawan.

Cagayan is located in the far north of the main island of Luzon, just a few hundred kilometers from Taiwan.

On the west coast of Palawan are the islands of the Spratly group, disputed between the Philippines and China.

In the Philippines, the United States is expanding its maneuvering activities as well as arms deliveries to the armed forces of its former colony. Taiwan is also being systematically rearmed.


Meanwhile, a U.S. Air Force general is making headlines with his assessment that war between the United States and China is not far off.

“I hope I’m wrong,” said General Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command, “My gut tells me we’re going to fight in 2025.”

“Minihan urges his subordinate militaries to prepare for such a scenario; it will be a matter of “fighting and winning within the first island chain.”

The first island chain stretches from Japan and its southwestern islands through Taiwan and the Philippines to Borneo.

It is the area where the U.S. is currently expanding its military presence.

The intensified cooperation with Japan makes NATO, and with it the Federal Republic of Germany, a party in a possible U.S. war against China – Germany all the more so because Berlin is also intensifying its national military cooperation with Japan.

This post was published first here. 

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