Japan: The Reluctant Cyberpower Asie.Visions, No. 91, March 2017
Japan’s cyberdefenses remain underdeveloped compared to the country’s great reliance on information and communications technology. Despite Japan’s initial slow response to the security challenges emerging from cyberspace, this paper posits that cybersecurity under the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has moved to the core of the country’s national security policy. The 2020 Olympics Games are a major catalyst for this.
Over the last two years the Japanese government has indeed laid the structural and legal foundations for becoming a serious player in cyberspace. That effort, however, remains underfunded and is slowed by overly complicated intergovernmental coordination processes and stovepiping within the government.
While Japan remains a reluctant cyberpower with a decidedly defensive outlook and a particularly change-resistant bureaucracy, plagued by vertical compartmentalization, recent initiatives and policies have made it clear that the country is moving in the direction of potentially becoming one of Asia’s more advanced cyberpowers in the not-too-distant future.
This paper first outlines an analytical framework used to evaluate Japan’s current standing and progress as a cyberpower: from whole of government (WoG) to whole of nation (WoN) and whole of system (WoS). The following three sections discuss in detail the evolutionary stages in the development of Japan’s national cybersecurity strategy. The last section deals with the Japan Self-Defense Forces’ changing role in cyberspace and how it is slowly embracing a more militarized response to state-sponsored cyberthreats.
The administration of Prime Minister Abe has been careful not to abandon the Japan Self-Defense Forces’ defensive posture in cyberspace and has not indicated that it will develop offensive cyberwar capabilities. This, however, may change should the new US administration abandon the United States’ historic solid defense commitment to Japan. In that respect, Japan’s deepening of engagement with like-minded countries will assume even greater importance over the next four years.