Battleland

A Modest Proposal for Defending Japan’s Remote Islands

  • Share
  • Read Later
USMC

A Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldier, left, trains with U.S. Marines on Guam in September 2012

Cooler heads have prevailed so far in the standoff between Japan and China over disputed islands in the East China Sea. But it might be time for Japan to put a few defenses there in case warmer heads prevail the next time.

Japan has talked for years about stationing troops or equipment on its far-flung Nansei Islands, which stretch some 700 miles (1,120 km) southward from the home islands, and developing a modest capability to conduct amphibious warfare. But so far, it’s amounted to little more than vague plans and slogans.

If Chinese warships want to slip troops ashore on one of the hundreds of remote islands that Japan owns or claims in the region, there’s little to stop them. And to pry them off would require the help of U.S. Marines — with potentially dire consequences for U.S.-China relations, not to mention the security of the entire region.

There’s no indication, of course, that China actually plans to seize Japanese territory. Japan itself is officially pacifist and has renounced the use of force in settling international disputes. That’s all fine and good. But if Japan wants a little more say in defending its territory, it could do so with a few modest steps.

Here’s where to start:

1. Put troops, ships and planes in the region and keep them there. The exact mix and number can be argued all day, but the point is to have a force that is substantial enough to dissuade anyone who might be tempted to look for a quick and easy military option. A battalion or so of ground troops, a squadron of patrol planes and a few small or medium-size warships, based in the southernmost islands near Taiwan, would probably suffice. Right now Japan has nothing south of Okinawa, and very little even there. Might as well post a “Come on in” sign.

2. Establish a joint command that will compel Japan’s self-defense forces to work together. Japan has an excellent navy, a good air force and a decent army. But they suffer the usual interservice rivalries and are rarely required to operate as a joint force. To protect a vast area like the Nansei Islands, they’ll need to work hand in glove, with a single chain of command, well-established plans and procedures, and each with a thorough understanding of how its counterparts operate. Establishing a Joint Task Force Nansei Islands would put everyone on the same page and have the benefit of attracting some of the most energetic and capable officers from each service — after all, a real-world mission sure beats a desk in Honshu.

3. Conduct frequent training exercises and learn from the Marines, since they know how to do these things. Combat operations are inherently dangerous, complicated and chaotic, and adding an ocean increases the problems exponentially. Getting soldiers, equipment and supplies off a ship quickly, in rough seas, over rocks and coral reefs, day or night, with aircraft overhead, hostile forces all around and water everywhere is something that must be learned and practiced. The Marines have been doing it for 70 years, and even they, in candid moments, will tell you they still don’t know it all.

4. Invite the Chinese to watch, no matter how much this goes against the grain. Deterrence does no good if the other guy doesn’t know what you are capable of. And treat them nicely — there are a lot of them and they live very close by.

The Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) has been battling flat budgets for a decade, but fortunately this won’t cost as much as one might think. JSDF already has about 80% of the equipment it needs to develop a workable amphibious warfare capability, according to the head of the Marines’ liaison office with the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), Grant Newsham. While specialized hardware like the Marine’s Wasp-class amphibious assault ships would be ideal, the Maritime Self-Defense Force has three Osumi-class transport ships that could be readily adapted to carry ground troops, as well as helicopters and amphibious assault vehicles. That’s enough to move substantial troops and equipment anywhere in the Nansei Islands on short notice.

The Nansei Island chain / Wiki Commons

Some compromises are inevitable. The GSDF helicopters don’t have foldable blades and therefore will be cumbersome to operate aboard ship; radios and electronic gear will have to be weatherized to withstand the humidity and salt air at sea. But the JSDF can make do.

None of these ideas are particularly new. The GSDF has been taking part in annual amphibious warfare exercises with Marines in California since 2007, and a GSDF platoon trained with a Marine expeditionary unit off Guam in August and September of this year. Japan’s 2013 defense budget provides money to buy four amphibious assault ships and for planning a surveillance garrison on Yonaguni Island (where a flotilla of Chinese warships was spotted earlier this month), at the far end of the Nansei chain. Many ideas listed here are included in a memo circulated between U.S. and Japanese defense planners by Newsham last year.

One hopes this is all academic. China believes it has a legitimate claim over the Diaoyu Islands (known as the Senkaku in Japan), where it has been sparring with Japan on and off for nearly two years. But it’s hard to see where China could realistically benefit from occupying those islands, or any others that inarguably belong to Japan. And the 15,000 Marines on Okinawa and powerful U.S. 7th Fleet at Yokosuka have got to be a deterrent, regardless of how many Japanese forces are, or are not, in the region.

Still, miscalculations happen, don’t they?

A few years ago, a group of foreign military officers visited a GSDF unit in Kyushu that was responsible for protecting the southern region of Japan. The delegation quickly discovered that the unit had no plans, procedures or doctrine for operating in the Nansei Islands and had no means of getting there. A briefing officer candidly admitted that in an emergency, his first step would be to call the maritime or air self-defense forces and ask if they had any ships or planes available.

With a few modest steps now, a phone call like that might never have to be made.

35 comments
whale987
whale987

Kirk, this is far from objective journalistic reporting. You have essentially outlined strategic, aggressive military plans which is completely outside your realm of reporting, experience and knowledge.  TIME should be ashamed to have you as a contributor. I wonder if you're getting some nice perks and kickbacks over there in Japan.

I recommend you read Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

or watch his Ted talk here:

http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence.html

We have moved into an era where developed nations find it more beneficial to engage in economic trade, which in game theory is a win-win, than to conquer and plunder by brute force and military means. Your suggestion would be a setback to the betterment of humankind. 

RudySentosa
RudySentosa

Please dont forget the attrocities of the Japanese Imperial soldiers outside China. More than 21,000 community leaders were assasinated in Western Borneo, Indonesia (then Dutch Indies). Japan never really acknowledges this crime, but the locals never never forget.http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/11/30/history%E2%80%99s-long-shadows.htmlhttp://gonjank-ganjink.blogspot.ca/2010/11/bloody-mandor-west-borneo.htmlNow the right-wing military ultra-nationalist is rising in Japan, supported by the US government, for whatever reason. QUO VADIS USA?

ArielBelow
ArielBelow

what Sandra answered I'm impressed that a single mom can profit $8772 in four weeks on the computer. did you look at this link Mac29.com

mikedean12
mikedean12

The japanese people make me sick, they killed millions of Chinese people in world war 2 for game and had competitions on how many they could kill and they also raped almost a million women from 8 to 70 years old and threw chinese babies in the air and speared them for fun, they are disgraced nation already and one of the main reasons china has not forgiven them for these tragedies is that in Japan wont teach there student about this massacre and are hiding there shame. Yes i know China isnt a good country either but still i think they deserve this island from japan, now the other islands claimed by the philliphines should not be owned by china.

vkmo
vkmo

Notably both Obama and Romney are silent about this Sino-Japaneseconfrontation. US is committed to Japan's defense. Presumably Secretary of StateHillary is following this closely. Defense department has cross hairs on Chineseships near the island. Notably -Japan is an island nation, while China has beenland bound, but in 2012 has started claiming vast swaths of Oceans and islands.It is terrorizing all non-nuclear neighbors. Will Japan go nuclear to fight offChina?

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

Riling up China over the  uninhabited Senkaku/Diayou islands has already cost Japan. China has moved domestically against Japan corporations, with a resulting significant decrease in Japan exports to China at a time of financial distress in Japan. Obviously the US isn't going to war with China over these barren islands near China,. China knows it and will take some pleasure in showing up the US military weakness with all the US political China-bashing going on currently.

Ivan
Ivan

China is a global pain

MattSmith
MattSmith

Interesting map you've provided there of the Nansei islands, why aren't the Senkaku islands marked on the map for reference? One might look at the map and mistakenly conclude they fall into that neat annotated line of islands, when in fact they lie to the north of the Okinawa trough.

Your proposal, modest or otherwise, would certainly bring fresh air onto this smoldering fire, but I don't think that's what's needed. Fortunately, cooler heads than yours are indeed prevailing. Japan has the upper hand now, it owns the status quo and doesn't need troops on the ground to maintain it. It's China's move, if they have serious plans for the region then a few hundred troops on the Senkakus won't make much of a difference militarily, it'll be the U.S. and Japanese navies that do the heavy lifting.

But before we all go running around claiming the sky is falling let's remember this whole episode blew up because the 80 year-old (now ex) governor of Tokyo wanted to buy the islands and develop them. It was a provocative proposal that forced China's hand, it wasn't a proactive move on their part.

The whole incident has tilted the national mood to the right here in Japan, and given the ex-governor's recent entry into national politics it doesn't take an especially cynical mind to connect the dots.  

BingJou
BingJou

The proposal is odd. The islands are in dispute. Putting troops on the disputed islands will not alter or diminish the dispute. In fact I think it is a provocation to put your troops on a disputed territory. Once you send in the troop, you must consider the reaction of the offended party. Kirk Spitzer talks about Japan and China. There are similar disputes between 1) China & Philippines, 2) Philippines & Taiwan, 3) South Korea & Japan, 4) South Korea & China, 5) Vietnam & China, and 6) Taiwan & Japan as well as several other territorial disputes.

 Why is it in our interest to support Japan with our 7th fleet and Marine in a territorial dispute between Japan and China? If we support Japan, what would we do if South Korea and Japan both send troops to the same island in dispute? I don't see how this proposal will help parry an armed conflict. It is a little bit simple-minded, like I got this seat first and don't care if you might have a ticket to the same seat. If you don't like it, move me by force or concede. Spitzer is so certain that China will have no recourse left but conceding. Even though it may be true from a short-term perspective, there may be a long-ertm consequence.

EricHarter
EricHarter

This is a realistic proposal, the Islands are owned by Japan as Tibet is "owned" by China, that is the reality of the situation, Japan should have a military option prepared at all times for land grabbers like the peoples republic.

Danyz
Danyz

Put Japanese troops, ships, and planes in the region and keep them there? This is your Rx for peace in the region? Actual fighting in these disputed areas was avoided precisely because they were not militarized. Sorry Kirk, interesting article but geopolitics is not your forte - unless you plan on applying for a position in a possible Romney administration. In that case, the more off the wall the better.  

jyl60564
jyl60564

Kirk, I am not sure how much histroy you learned and political experience you have. You article feels like from a text book.

First of all no one is backing up Japanese claim to the islands. U.S. position is clear that we do not take side. Japanese foreign minister just visited UK, France and Germany seeking support. None! He has empty hands. Second, our congress must approve fighting for Japan, even it is under the treaty. The treaty said they must go to the UN first, although there can be nothing from UN. Do you think American public would like to lose thousands of American lives for Japanese?   Third, historically, the islands should be belonged to Taiwan, not China not Japan. 

dmaggard07
dmaggard07

Japan should let Taiwan take control of these islands, then let the two Chinas sort it out.  Best I can tell, the islands really should have been given back to China along with Taiwan at the end of World War II.

Blueposter
Blueposter

Kirk, you are writing from a perspective assuming that the islands are Japanese. This is faulty journalism. You seriously need to go back and learn the history of the region. And no, I'm not Chinese nor do I have any interest in siding with either country.

chenopod
chenopod

I am not sure I get the reference. The use of the phrase "A Modest Proposal" is always a reference to Swift. It is too famous a work for the phrase to ever be decoupled. I don't see the satire here. It must be too subtle for me. . .

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

And the Marines can't lose against China -- they would have the Osprey.

news report:The Osprey is key to the department’s plans for the Asia-Pacific region, Panetta said during his Pentagon briefing with Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto. “It will enable Marines to fly faster and farther from Okinawa to remote islands in Japan.  This is a one-of-a-kind platform.”

MiddletonRobert
MiddletonRobert

I quit working at shoprite and now I make $35h - $80h...how? I'm working online! My work didn't exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new… after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn't be happier. Heres what I do, Zoo33,C0M

CharlesCuster
CharlesCuster

Kirk, are you insane? You obviously have no sense of international politics and diplomacy, nor any appreciation of the history and impact of the island dispute. For real? You want to see WW3?

dh19440113
dh19440113

If you look at the map the island is closer to mainland china than the main island of Japan. The island's ownership is far from inarguable, considered the fact that Japan signed over all of their territorial gain after WW2. The U.S administrative transfer of the island to japan was shady. It should have been returned to Taiwan, the historic owner of the islands pre 1895.

EricHarter
EricHarter

@Don_Bacon The status quo means little to the PRC, Tibet made that mistake & now it is a memory.

The Chinese military has proven soft and primitive in the past and a few thousand soldiers with fortified positions would make quite a difference.

Blueposter
Blueposter

@EricHarter The islands are not owned by Japan as Tibet is a part of China. Where are you getting these ideas?

EricHarter
EricHarter

@Danyz Yes appearing strong repels aggression and maintains peace, cowering as you piss your pants and hoping it all works out is how you get annexed or bullied outright, Hitler absolutely LOVED people like you.

Sorry Danyz, Geo-politics aren't YOUR forte.

EricHarter
EricHarter

@jyl60564 Taiwan is little more than an illegal fascist puppet government, even though I strongly dislike the PRC Taiwan may as well not exist as a state it is so irrelevant against a juggernaut like the PRC.

Secondly a nation doesn't need support in backing its claims up, period.

Right of ownership is theirs and they should maintain it like any sovereign state.

Blueposter
Blueposter

@dmaggard07 How could Japan "let" Taiwan control these islands? From Japan's point of view, Taiwan IS China. Japan doesn't even recognize Taiwanese citizenship. Also, don't forget that Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China are all riled up over these islands. It's just that the US media mostly focuses on  the Japan and China tension.

EricHarter
EricHarter

@Blueposter If the Islands report in to the Japanese government, and have citizens of said nation, they are in fact Japanese.

History is irrelevant, California is "historically" Mexican but right of conquest changes things, doesn't it?

chenopod
chenopod

@Blueposter I don't know the history of the region, so I don't have a side. Could this article be satire? I didn't get it, but he used the phrase "A Modest Proposal" in the title intentionally, and you do know the history, maybe it is satire and was really over my head.

mikedean12
mikedean12

China could blow up Japan in merely minutes if it had to they have NUCLEAR WEAPONS, and NUCLEAR SUBS that cant be detected but China does not want war at these times but if they wanted to it would be devastating and JAPAN knows it.  yes the US might retaliate and beat  china but it would be too late for JAPAN  it would be in ruins. I think Japan should apologies to china for ww2 and stop visiting war criminals shrines and teach the japanese people about there shame in WW2 they should be like Germany and own up to wrongful doings and teaches there students about there shame in WW2.

Blueposter
Blueposter

@EricHarter @Blueposter So you admit that the disputed island between Japan and Korea is actually Korean because the Korean military is on it?

Blueposter
Blueposter

@chenopod @Blueposter No, I don't think this article is satire. The fact that the reporter lives in Tokyo may be why he's partial towards Japan, hence referring to the islands only as Senkaku (without "/Daioyu"). And even though I may be familiar with Asian history, this article went over my head too (most likely due to the reporter's blatant partiality=absurdity).

JohnAhearn
JohnAhearn

@mikedean12 @EricHarter Mikedean is it? You sure it isn't Maodean? Japan has defeated China in every military conflict they've had. So you should quit being a "dumbass" and learn your history. If China nuked Japan, the US would turn China into the biggest bowl of chop suey you could ever imagine. The only thing that exceeds China's greed is its delusions of granduer!

mikedean12
mikedean12

@EricHarter @mikedean12  60 years ago is not that long ago and if they were proud of there grand parents they would not need to hide there shame from there kids and do you even know what NORAD is it protects north American air space not Japans smart ass, and it would take a while for US to be able to get a Nuke in range of china, Well Japanese people should honor there grandparents that fought but not the ones who've been convicted of crimes against humanity such as rape of 8 year old girls. i assume your going to reply to this since i take you as a smart ass and make stuff up that you have no idea about and every one has a right to there opinion but please get your facts right,  and china has alot more power in world as you think, if they converted all there USA dollars into Euros USA would fall in to an economic crisis, china is the second most powerful country in the world and has second largest economy if they were so easy to take out it would of been done along time ago and this why china breaks a lot economic trade rules and gets away with because people are scared of them. and it also has powerful allies such as Russia, Pakistan, NK, and more and not too mention Pakistan also is a nuclear power.

EricHarter
EricHarter

@mikedean12 Any nuclear assault on Japan would result in NORAD turning China into a smoldering crater, and you can be assured that is the sole reason Japan hasn't been bullied into occupation already.

As for war crimes, that was 60 years ago and frankly if I were Japanese I would pay honor to my grandparents or parents whenever the hell I pleased as well.

chenopod
chenopod

@Blueposter @chenopod I think you are probably right. It seems like the writer doesn't have a background in English (what I know) or history (what you know)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,105 other followers