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Dr. James Holmes: The Naval Diplomat - 19FortyFive

Japan Matters if China Invades Taiwan

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Nikkei Asia recently interviewed retired marine general and assistant secretary of defense Wallace “Chip” Gregson (also a 19FortyFive contributor) on the subject of how Japan can best contribute during a cross-strait war between China and Taiwan. Chip held forth about the need for the Japan Self-Defense Forces to fight jointly, to buttress their ability to move among Japan’s nearly 7,000 islands to repel invaders, and to acquire counterstrike arms. Tokyo, in other words, should shrug off its post-1945, passive approach to national defense and assume a posture befitting Japan’s standing as a beneficent great power.

The money quote from the interview, though, was this: 

“The biggest contribution Japan can make to a Taiwan contingency is the rock solid protection of Japanese territory, while the U.S. does some of the other things.” 


If Japan possessed armaments and warriors adequate to protect itself, the U.S. armed forces wouldn’t need to. They could provide goods Japan can’t—such as extended nuclear deterrence, or sea-lane security far from Japanese shores—while concentrating on other endeavors that advance allied interests, such as safeguarding Taiwan. In fact, you could go further and make this a general rule. The Pentagon’s slogan governing outreach to allies and coalition partners would go something like this: to help the alliance, help yourself. 

Corollary: the United States should do its utmost to make its allies self-sufficient in national defense. By empowering them, it helps both its interests and the common cause—setting in motion a virtuous cycle. 

Think about it. Allies and partners able to defend themselves without relying overmuch on U.S. military muscle would liberate U.S. forces for expeditionary duty. Unencumbered by the need to guard the host nation’s territory, U.S. forces could apply themselves to beating back denizens of the wretched hive of scum and villainy—the Chinas and Russias of the world. So rather than content itself with fellowships it can dominate, Washington should emancipate allies from subservience to the United States. In so doing it would transmute the post-1945 system of hegemonic alliances into alliances of equals. 

Strategic debates among mutually deferential peers are healthier and more fruitful than one-sided debates between a hegemon and lesser allies. Furthermore, equal partnerships in which host nations were chiefly responsible for defending themselves would engage self-interest—the most elemental force in international relations. It’s easy to have skin in the game of self-preservation. 

Back to Japan. If Gen. Gregson gets his way—if Japan shoulders most of the burden of its defense while America provides the alliance’s striking arm—then U.S. forces will enjoy a sanctuary from which to prosecute combat operations in Taiwan’s vicinity. Sanctuary is oftentimes a pivotal ingredient of victory in a hard-run conflict. You try to create it for yourself while denying it to antagonists. 

Sanctuary means having secure bases from which to operate, or to fall back upon to repair battle damage or to replenish stores, fuel, and ammunition. Expeditionary forces bereft of such refuges find it hard to prevail in wartime. Which is why China has sluiced such resources into its anti-access and area-denial defenses—shore-based cruise, ballistic, and now hypersonic missiles backed up by air, surface, and subsurface forces—over the past quarter century. Fortress China now overshadows all potential U.S. military sanctuaries in the Western Pacific. 

Even the American redoubt of Guam would probably come under fire from People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ballistic missiles or missile-armed combat aircraft. Lest anyone miss the point, Chinese weaponeers, displaying their customary subtlety and guile, have dubbed the PLA Rocket Force’s DF-26 ballistic missile a “Guam killer.” The logic behind such weaponry is irrefutable. Deny U.S. forces sanctuary and you deny them logistical support. Deny them logistical support and they soon go away or find themselves idled. China wins either way. 

So Gregson has it right. More musclebound Japan Self-Defense Forces capable of defending the homeland on their own can restore some semblance of sanctuary in the Western Pacific, bolstering the alliance’s ability to vanquish cross-strait aggression. Japan guards the base while U.S. forces go abroad—sounds like an excellent division of labor.

In recent weeks Tokyo has vowed to double defense spending in the coming years, acquiring the wherewithal to assert itself on behalf of regional peace and security. It can’t happen fast enough. 

Dr. James R. Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and a Nonresident Fellow at the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation & Future Warfare, Marine Corps University. The views voiced here are his alone. 

Written By

James Holmes holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface-warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.”



  1. Commentar

    January 7, 2023 at 7:20 pm

    It is not japan that matters BUT her past actions that matter.

    Recall japan’s various wars in china. Including the forced handovers of chinese territories and reparations and mass killings. All actions illegal and unethical by a much smaller nation.

    In america in the 18th & 19th centuries, the well-armed and more numerous (who were pouring in relentlessly) white immigrants successfully put paid to the indian native, but it doesn’t mean japan could do the same with china.

    The white immigrants were christians in north america and they had the right to do what they want like the jihadists or islamists in syria.

    In east asia, buddhism doesn’t call or require anybody to convert others to your faith and thus no need to put someone else to the sword.

    But japan did. She tried to put china to the sword BUT didn’t succeed.

    Thus japan’s past actions need to be taken into account.

    China needs to set up a ‘special unit’ exclusively to nuke japan to radioactive ash should push evolves into shove IN THE NEXT ROUND or the next reckoning.

  2. Jeff

    January 7, 2023 at 8:24 pm

    Wow, the other commenter must be a Chinese bot.

    The thing that I got out the article is that countries should be able to provide their own safety. That would be nice if we instituted this in Europe. Let them handle the situation in Ukraine and we can then devote our efforts to stemming China.

  3. froike

    January 8, 2023 at 10:21 am

    Commentar…No one denies Japan’s past Sins. However, the same can be said for Germany and Russia. The Ethos and Mentality of Japan has changed. Japan is a valued Allie.
    We should encourage Japan to become Militarily Self Sufficient and they are well on the way. IF, God Forbid Red China invades Taiwan, Japan will be a major player in the conflict, as will Australia, The Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. They all have a part to play and are all potential targets of Red China. Red China is a major threat to Peace in Asia. They understand Military Strength and we must strive to ensure that all Countries in The Region are prepared to face this threat!

  4. David Chang

    January 8, 2023 at 11:35 am

    God bless people in the world.

    “U.S. forces could apply themselves to beating back denizes of the wretched hive of scum and villainy—the Chinas and Russias of the world.” That shouldn’t be the case.

    “The people of trusting Creator could apply themselves to beating back the unbeliever—E.U., China, Russia, Korea, Japan, Iran, New Zealand, Africa, and another in the world.”

    During the last U.S. presidential election, Democrats think that those who voted for the Republican Party were scumbags. Democratic voters especially believed that those who agreed to build a border wall were scumbags. However, Ten Commandments and the post-election facts prove that Democratic voters are wrong and building border walls is right, because immigrants who don’t obey Ten Commandments will help Communist Party to occupy America, just like the migration dispute at Poland-Belarus border. But people should not make the southern border of United States to be the Great Wall or the Maginot Line, lest we do the same sin: against God, but trust the wall.

    During World War II, America Democratic Party, mock Japan people as monkey in their war advertisements. The Japan Army believing socialism, think that China people, including people in Taiwan, are barbarians and scum. Adolf Hitler believe socialism, think some German citizens are scum.

    Since World War I, Democratic Party think themselves elite, just like Plato, Japan socialism Army, Nazi, and Communist Party. They think that their words are law, so all of them want to restore the monarchy with socialism, and pursuit evolution unscrupulously.

    Moreover, Clausewitz’s political thought is total war, which is what he call absolute war. He believes, in war, people must realize one person’s will and murder all people who against this one. He don’t trust justice by God. He think that the king is this one person and above God, so do Nazis, Communist Party, Asia countries, and the Democratic Party of United States.

    Clausewitz say:
    “Theory demands, therefore, that at the commencement of every war its character and main outline shall be defined according to what the political conditions and relations lead us to anticipate as probable. The more, that according to this probability its character approaches the form of absolute war, the more its outline embraces the mass of the belligerent states and draws them into the vortex, so much the more complete will be the relation of events to one another and the whole, but so much the more necessary it will also be not to take the first step without thinking what may be the last.”

    and he say:
    “In Germany, Prussia rose up the first, made the war a national cause, and without either money or credit, and with a population reduced one half, took the field with an army twice as strong as that of 1806…….Thus, therefore, the element of war, freed from all conventional restrictions, broke loose, with all its natural force. The cause was the participation of the people in this great affair of State, and this participation arose partly from the effects of the French Revolution on the internal affairs of countries, partly from the threatening attitude of the French towards all nations.”

    Democracy violence of the French Revolution is the policy of the Communist Manifesto. Nazis also learn to manipulate people and wage war by the French Revolution policy and the wrong thoughts of Darwin, Hobbes, and Hegel.

    However, Washington, and Lincoln believe that Creator is our Lord, both Washington and Lincoln acknowledge their sin, and ask people to obey Ten Commandments and repent to God. Earlier, Augustine ask people to make limited defense war and realize the justice by God.

    God bless America.

  5. Leidsegracht

    January 8, 2023 at 9:13 pm

    Japan’s ability to defend their homeland is more significant, complex and relevant to a defense of Taiwan than many think. Given the homeland includes a chain of islands extending 600 nm southward from Kyusuhu to within 60 nm of Taiwan. China no doubt views control of that chain as critical to not only their ability to take Taiwan but gain access to the greater Pacific ocean and possibly as a barrier to keeping the US Navy out of the South and East China Seas.

    While we’re at it let’s not forget that China’s aggression against Taiwan isn’t likely to be isolation. Look for North Korea to move against the South and for what it’s worth Russia’s Navy may sortie out of Vladivostok.

  6. Joe Fogel

    January 9, 2023 at 12:53 am

    I am a Christian. David was a great man who loved God and yet he fought many wars. God loves David. God blessed this country like no other. I will not think for even less than one second that I know the mind and will of God but as an 81 year old observer of the war I know the war to end all wars will be fought in the pacific. And wii without a doubt be against China and North Korean Countries . These two countries I believe have combined armament equal to the USA. .My opinion. And let us not forget the other country that is communist governed and has in my opinion more warheads and the means to deliver them anywhere in the world than the other three combined. I played football. I had fist fights. In either endeavor it was important, yea crucial in winning to strike first and strike hard. Do I dare say the USA should start WWIII. That war is inevitable, so yes I do.

  7. TrustbutVerify

    January 9, 2023 at 8:23 am

    Hmmmm…sounds kind of like what Trump was trying to do in getting European NATO members to live up to their defense spending obligations. Presciently as it turns out.

  8. Johnathan Galt

    January 9, 2023 at 12:33 pm

    Time for the US to formally recognize Taiwan as an independent nation, give it favored nation trading status, and become an ally.

  9. Michael Nunez

    January 9, 2023 at 5:49 pm

    Good and plain Common Sense to Arm Japan to the Teeth . It’s 2023 , it’s China that is the Threat . Japan can be the buffer/balance that can keep China in China . Their historical differences are not going away because China will not allow it . Japan must have the means to hurt China so bad War is not an Option. Japan 70 some years ago was what China is Today Asia’s Gang Green . It’s population was lead by the Busito Code pushed on them by Tojo Who intimidated their Emperor into War . Had Tojo been eliminated Japan never attacks the US . In China Xi Jinping has tens of thousands of ” Tojo’s ” around him . History is against China and its High-Time Arm Japan , Arm it so ” Peace is the Only Option ” … .

  10. Mark Matis

    January 9, 2023 at 5:49 pm

    Japan did nothing to China that the Chinese had not already done to their own citizens MANY TIMES OVER. Non-stop screeching about the “rape of Nanking” ignores the many times China had already done the same. And then there are the 100 million murdered by the Communist swill under Mousey Tongue!


  11. mrmusterstone

    January 9, 2023 at 8:05 pm

    Dr. Holmes, thank you for your appreciation of the situation. Points well taken but there is an elephant in the corner unaddressed and that is Taiwan’s lack of urgency to make the success of any amphibious invasion as… shall we say, as close to impossible to calculate as possible.

    A Chinese invasion of the island is not existential but optional. It is a fraught option for if it fails or becomes a knock-down-drag-out the political implications for the CCP would be dire.

    The impossibility of calculation for success is what will protect Taiwan.

    How are they doing? They just now extended their military training to one year!

  12. Wei J Pan

    January 10, 2023 at 8:54 pm

    If that thinking matters,China will have to flatten Japan out level before Taiwan ?

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