Japan recently announced that it will transfer some number – reportedly “dozens”– of license-built Patriot missiles to the United States. This is to bolster American missile stocks depleted by two years of supplying Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion.
It is the first time Japan will export military weaponry owing to longstanding – though informal – policy restrictions.
The announcement makes for a good headline. And some analysts view it as a significant step and a sign Japan is stepping up to its global security responsibilities.
But, on closer look, it seems more smoke-and-mirrors, intended to keep the Americans in the Asia-Pacific and on the hook to defend Japan (and Taiwan). And from shifting more resources and attention to Europe and the Middle East. I’ll explain.
The news Japan would hand over Patriot missiles raised some eyebrows among people who follow Japan’s defense.
One wasn’t aware that the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) was flush with extra Patriot missiles for its own batteries.
In fact, JSDF arsenals and magazines are believed to have inadequate stocks of missiles, artillery shells, bombs, and ammunition, not at all enough of what’s needed to fight a war.
So it’s puzzling that Japan will provide the Americans with Patriot missiles when they don’t have enough for themselves.
The reports mention “dozens” of missiles to be transferred to the US.
Dozens? The number will probably turn out to be even fewer. Say, 30 or 40 missiles?
Unless these missiles have magic properties, this isn’t enough to make up for the American missile shortfall.
It’s mentioned that Japan will step up missile production. But this will take some time and one fairly doubts the output will be sufficient to make a difference for the Americans – or even the JSDF.
A Political Move?
This all seems like a political move. One observer calls it “virtue signaling.” It’s intended to demonstrate Japan’s support for the overstretched United States which is heavily engaged with Ukraine and also supplying Israel with armaments.
In return, the American commitment to defend Japan is “solidified.”
Viewed this way, it’s a strategic investment. Japan supplies a small number of missiles – and gets potentially the full weight of available US military support in return when the time comes to deal with China. And possibly with North Korea and Russia.
Meanwhile, Team Biden can point to Japanese backing for the administration’s policy towards Ukraine at a time when a number of European and some other countries – not to mention US legislators – are hesitant or opposed to future support for Kyiv.
Read the rest at JapanForward.
Grant Newsham is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute.