Sunday, February 03, 2008

Something for the Squids

Since the CDR is on extended hiatus, and it appears that SJS is going to be going to be EMCON Bravo for awhile, I figured I'd step up to the plate.

There was a particularly interesting article in the most recent issue of International Security regarding the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) and its transformation from a backwater life saving service to a near peer security force, complementing the JMSDF. Unfortunately, since the full text is not available, you won't be able to read the whole thing for yourself (unless you've got a subscription), so I'll be quoting liberally.

The basic gist of the article is that the JCG has, beginning in the late '80s and really accelerating in the late '90s and '00s, transformed itself from a relatively minor life saving service into a second navy with significant blue water security responsibilities, arguably eclipsing the JMSDF in some respects. This transformation was undertaken in concert with a larger Japanese strategy to increase their international security presence. Indeed, the JCG has often served as a tool at the forefront of this effort, even to the point where in an era where deploying JMSDF tankers has been a point of contention, the JCG has gotten away with firing on and sinking the vessel of another nation on the high seas.

In the interest of brevity, I'm going to assume everyone has a basic knowledge of the history of the Japanese effort to increase their security presence beyond the post-WWII pacifist stance inherent in their Constitution. If you do need some background, check out these two wiki articles.

So, how did the JCG get to this point?
One answer is that the JCG has tried to remodel itself on the United States Coast Guard. The USCG, originally the Revenue Cutter Service established in 1790, is "simultaneously and at all times both an armed force of the United States and a law enforcement agency." Although administratively located in the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Pentagon, U.S. coast guardsmen are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and receive the same pay and allowances as members of the other uniformed services.


The USCG has participated in every major U.S. war, starting with the 1797 conflict with France. It has been considered the fifth branch of the U.S. armed forces for 200 years, and it has always been tasked with roles and missions "in any maritime region in which [U.S.] interests may be at risk, including international waters." Toward that end, it has been deployed with carrier battle groups to the Persian Gulf and beyond, where USCG are used for interdiction and smuggling surveillance. They also are required to use interoperable communications systems and must avoid unnecessary duplication of equipment and facilities. The USCG operates nearly 100 surface ships and close to 200 aircraft. As more than one analyst has pointed out, its "only comparable 'peer group'" is the naval forces of other nations. For example, the USCG has 300 more ships than the entire Canadian Navy.
The article goes on to discuss the USCG's budget wars and Deepwater program woes. I was a little disappointed that it did not delve into the new Martime Strategy at all, but it appears that the piece was written before the MS was released, so it's understandable that wasn't covered. That explains the USCG model, but to what degree did the JCG follow it?
Impressed with how USCG advocates had reframed its roles and missions, JCG officials and Japan's defense establishment embarked on a similar, if lower-key, initiative. Although the JCG still has a long way to go to achieve an equivalent status as a fully modernized and militarized service branch-with 13,000 personnel, it is barely one-quarter the size of the MSDF-the nascent transformation of the JCG into a de facto fourth branch of the Japanese military may be the most significant and least heralded Japanese military development since the end of the Cold War. The Japan Coast Guard Law was revised by the Diet in October 2001, at the same time that the more prominent antiterrorism legislation authorized the dispatch of MSDF ships to Diego Garcia, a U.S. naval support facility in the Indian Ocean. Unlike the naval dispatch legislation, which was limited to the supply of fuel for U.S. and British operations in Afghanistan, the Coast Guard Law was amended to allow the outright use of force to prevent maritime intrusion and to protect the Japanese homeland. Seizing the same opportunity presented by the September 11 terrorist attacks as Washington, Tokyo moved quickly to enhance the functions of its Coast Guard.

A second clause was added to the JCG's enabling legislation: "In situations where the crew of the vessel refuses to comply with repeated calls to stop, when they resist the captain or vice captain's enforcement of his duties, or when they try to flee, the director-general of the Japan Coast Guard, based on the vessel's appearance, its navigational patterns, suspicious behavior by the crew, and information gathered concerning other surrounding situations, can authorize the use of weapons against the vessel for the purpose of stopping the vessel, within reason and, when all of the following stipulations apply, the captain or the vice captain can then use force, within reason, against the vessel if he determines that there is no other way to stop it." There are four "following stipulations" in the new clause: (1) the ship must be a foreign ship that is taking action other than what is allowed by article 19 of the United Nations Law of the Seas Treaty within Japanese waters; (2) there must be the possibility of repeated offense of the illegal activity if the vessel is not stopped; (3) when it cannot be denied that the crew of the vessel is taking action that would help facilitate a crime that under Japanese law would amount to more than a three-year jail sentence; and (4) when it is determined that searching the vessel would lead to the gathering of information that could preempt the occurrence of a major crime.

David Leheny calls this revision of the Coast Guard Law "the canary in the coal mine," a prototype testing the acceptance of further expansion of Japanese military roles and missions. This, because of the new law delivered powers to the JCG that exceed those enjoyed by the MSDF. Although the MSDF has its own Special Boarding Unit, it is denied authority to fire on enemy ships unless fired on first. The JCG, on the other hand, is now allowed by law to initiate armed conflict with a "suspicious ship" under conditions that are vaguely defined and easily justifiable in retrospect. Local commanders are now authorized to use force under the conditions of "justifiable defense" and during an "emergency." Warning shots, if ignored, can be followed by disabling fire targeted on the offending vessel's crew.
The article then describes the incident I alluded to earlier: a JCG cutter fired warning shots on a suspicious North Korean vessel, eventually firing to disable. The North Korean vessel halted, but then resumed steaming before the JCG Special Security Team would arrive. The JCG vessel attempted to board, resulting in an exchange of small arms fire. The North Korean vessel then fired on the JCG vessel with a rocket launcher, prompting the JCG vessel to open fire with its cannon, sinking the North Korean ship. As I stated earlier, for any Coast Guard this would be a big deal, but it is especially a major incident in a nation where simply deploying the tankers of the Navy has resulted in a Constitutional crisis. For whatever reason, the opposition in Japan, both in the ruling coalition and outside of it have been leery of increased defense spending but have been accepting of increased funding of the JCG under the aliases of "maritime safety and international cooperation."

Moving on to equipment, the JCG has a sizable fleet, but like most coast guard vessels, its ships lack the defenses, weapons, and sensor suites necessary for modern naval combat. They are more than acceptable for long range patrolling and interdiction of unarmed merchant vessels, but would not stand a chance against any sort of modern naval vessel. Similarly, the JCG's air fleet, while potent in search and surveillance, lacks any sort of weapons capability. In summary, the JCG's capabilities in relation to the MSDF are similar to the relationship between most coast guards and navies: the JCG compliments but does not by any means replace the MSDF.

What does this mean for Japanese defense policy? The JCG, due to its apparent lack of an overt military nature, is a much more useful tool. Due to Japan's historical aggressiveness, regional players like China and South Korea are rather reluctant to get involved with the JSDF in any sort of multi-lateral defense agreement or interaction. However, they do not extend this reluctance to the JCG. As a result, the JCG has become the lead agency on maritime relations between Japan and other major players in the western Pacific. In addition, this lack of a military nature has allowed Japan to get away with selling weapons to nations of regional importance like Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines by doing it through the JCG to the respective nation's coast guard, even going so far in the case of Indonesia and Malaysia to set up the nation's coast guard in order to avoid the appearance of selling arms to a foreign military. Also, the JCG's apparent lack of aggressiveness has allowed it to serve as a trip wire with regard to disputed possessions. Where a MSDF vessel would be uncomfortably provocative, a JCG ship is able to ably defend Japanese claims without triggering a larger incident.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the JCG is able to act, as stated earlier, as a "canary in the coal mine" with regard to Japanese defense policy. It is able to help aid in the gradual expansion of Japanese defense policy, acclimating the public to the concept of a more aggressive Japan without the shock of it being done by a military oriented force.

As a preview of what is to come, compare this Japanese effort to the USAF's current "position" on anything. Maybe it's inherent to the maritime services, but this makes two that are kicking our ass right now. Coherent, logical policy that builds on top of previous policy over 20+ years as opposed to reflexive budget demands. Some food for thought...