On August 6th, the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) ran a feature on the latest Japanese helicopter destroyer, the Izumo (DDH-183). CIMSEC contributor Miha Hribernik observed that the Izumo, which is supposedly capable of carrying an aviation squadron and boasts a 814 feet-long (248 meters) STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) flight deck, is “sure to cause concern in China…[since the launching of the ship] presents a potent addition to the operational capabilities and strategic reach of the JMSDF.”


Aircraft carrier classification and comparison according to globalsecurity.org

According to Business Insider, the launching of the helicopter destroyer “came in” shortly after China’s recent statement that it is in “no rush [to sign the proposed Code of Conduct] since [Southeast Asian nations involved] harbor unrealistic expectations.” Japan’s territorial row involving Diaoyu/Senkaku coupled with threats emanating from the DPRK (Democratic Republic of Korea) might have triggered increased defense spending. However, the two aims of Japan’s burgeoning defense spending, pre-emptive strike capabilities and the creation of an amphibious assault unit similar to the United States Marine Corps, have made its East Asian neighbors uneasy. As for America’s reaction, Zachary Keck believes that while it is “unclear” how the Obama Administration will respond to Japan’s pre-emptive attack on its “adversary’s bases,” the Obama Administration could become “vocal” should Japan act upon its “threats to review [its] past apologies.”

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe poses inside the cockpit of a T-4 training jet plane of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force's (JASDF) Blue Impulse flight team at the JASDF base in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi prefecture, in this photo taken by Kyodo May 12, 2013 and released on May 16, 2013. Mandatory Credit REUTERS/Kyodo

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe poses inside the cockpit of a T-4 training jet plane of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s (JASDF) Blue Impulse flight team at the JASDF base in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi prefecture, in this photo taken by Kyodo May 12, 2013 and released on May 16, 2013. Mandatory Credit REUTERS/Kyodo

In light of the fact that the ROK (Republic of Korea), China and Japan are seeking to boost their naval capabilities in recent years, some now fear that East Asian countries may have entered into a “regional naval competition.” One explanation for the naval race, as recent territorial rows and controversies over Japan’s wartime atrocities demonstrate, is that the ongoing tension in East Asia remains rooted in historical grievances. Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto’s remark in May that wartime brothels were “necessary…to maintain military discipline” coupled with the photo of Shinzo Abe inside the cockpit of a T-4 trainer with the number 731 stenciled on its fuselage seemed to evoke among the Chinese and Koreans memories of Japan’s imperial aggression during the Pacific War. Indeed, Japan’s seemingly strident militarist overtone may have worsened the extant historical enmity among the three major East Asian countries.

To the historical grievances must be added another dimension—the fierce competition for energy resources. According to the National Geographic, “how much oil and natural gas is at stake, in either the South China or the East China Sea, is unclear [since] territorial disputes have prevented any reliable survey.” Nonetheless, its efforts to “guarantee access to resources” will indubitably enhance its ability to “to shape international events according to a new definition of self-interest, one matching its status.” As regards the territorial row over Dokdo/Takeshima, some aver that contradictory claims are based on “sequence of centuries-old records and half-told versions of more recent history.” To the extent that natural resources may be concerned, the Dokdo/Takeshima islets, although “poor in fresh water necessary to sustain human life,” are “abundant in fish.” Furthermore, the island is said to “contain natural gas reserves estimated at 600 million tons.” It can be argued, therefore, that in the Dokdo/Takeshima dispute, as with that of Senkaku/Diaoyu, energy security will retain “great salience” in the years, if not decades, to come.

However, one major factor that may explain the exacerbating the East Asian arms race is the recent sequestration cuts within the Department of Defense which may make it more difficult for the United States to “manage its alliances and strategic partnerships in the region.” Keck argues that a new geostrategic environment whereby the United States increasingly desires to see its East Asian allies “shoulder more of the burden for regional security” may the create the perception that the United States presence in the region has diminished despite its commitment to the “pivot to Asia” strategy.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that peace in the region can be successfully maintained without the continued American presence in the region. While it may be true that “rational trust-building” diplomatic measures among East Asian states may somewhat temper the extant tension in East Asia, at present, the basis for mutual trust among East Asian states remains flimsy at best. For this reason, the United States must learn to “lead from behind” in East Asia by demonstrating its diplomatic prowess. To that end, the United States must seek cooperation with China in order to achieve stability on the Korean peninsula and to temper the tension over Senkaku/Diaoyu. With respect to Japan and the ROK, the United States can work to defuse tension over the competing claims to the Dokdo/Takeshima islets. One way in which the United States can defuse the naval race would be to help form a combined fleet whereby the United States Navy, together with its sister East Asian navies, “may share their unique resources and cultures to develop flexible responses against future threats.”

In short, the ongoing naval race, as represented through the launching of the Izumo, is an outcome of deep-seated historical enmity and rivalries over increasingly scarce energy resources. While some may dismiss the possibility of a regional war, slight miscalculation among East Asian state actors may indeed spiral out of control and lead to a lethal war.

Notwithstanding the substantive defense budget cuts which could hamper flexible strategic responses, the United States nevertheless has a role to play to ensure peace in East Asia. “Leading from behind” to tame the ongoing East Asian naval race just may be the most cost effective way in which to exercise influence in the region.

Posted by Jeong Lee in Foreign Policy, Hard Power, Marine Corps, Navy
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  • Is there any indication the IZUMO has provision for arresting gear?

    • Takayuki Nishi

      There is no such indication. Also, if a ski jump were added, Izumo would sink bow first because she already has a heavy sonar under the bow. “22DDH” in the diagram means “helicopter-carrying destroyer laid down by the Japanese FY2010 budget,” which was approved by the Democratic-Social Democratic coalition government in 2009. Therefore, it does not make sense to explain Izumo’s launch in terms of the international environment after 2009. Izumo should have been named Mizuho, after the Social Democratic Party’s leader who approved the budget.

      • BSmitty

        Yes, I think everyone is making too much of a deal over Izumo’s launch. Izumo seems like a modest extension of the DDH concept, and NOT a true fixed-wing carrier.

      • vtbikerider

        It’s easy to sell the idea to someone who doesn’t know/understand what a DDH is that this is an “aircraft carrier” because it has a flat deck and an island. The PRC can show that image, gloss over the true definition and to the lay person “it’s an aircraft carrier…”

        Logically– her design makes much more sense than the other attempts at a DDH type ship like the Moskva class.

      • The real question is, what will follow these two ships? Will there be more big deck aviation ships? These two and the two similar but smaller DDHs that preceded them fill the organizational niches DDHs have filled in Japan’s four escort groups for the last several decades. Building more big decks would be a departure. I would not be surprised to see them build some LHDs to support their growing amphibious capability.

  • RightCowLeftCoast

    As maritime nations in makes sense for nations that relay heavily on ocean based trade to want the ability to defend their sea lanes of communication for commerce purposes. China is concerned about its neighbors and wants to control waters within its neighboring seas and thus guaranteeing its ability to trade with countries beyond its local are. However, due to its want to control the waters it adversely impacts its neighbors who also are interested in the potential resources in those waters which China claims as theirs.
    Therefore, Japan with what appears to them as an aggressive and resurgent China is increasing its forces to defend its territorial claims and also to ensure that its sea lanes of communication are not cut off. And unlike the Philippines, it has the financial resources to increase its forces.
    Although all nations are saying their build up of forces are defensive, other nations may see those forces as being potentially offensive, and thus want at least parity, if not superiority, to what they see as potentially offensive neighbors. Therefore, it comes down to how a nation interprets the actions of other nations.

    • Jeong Lee

      I agree. See my comment above.

  • Jeong Lee

    I sincerely thank everyone here for comments. Now, whether or not the Izumo–a helicopter destroyer–is a STOBAR, VSTOL, or CATOBAR type “aircraft carrier” is besides the point. The reason why Japan fielding this class of destroyers may upset Japan’s neighbor is because its neighbors are afraid of what it is CAPABLE of becoming, and not necessarily what it really is.

    Now, if you were to ask me if Japan harbors resurgent imperial tendencies, I would have to disagree. I believe that given its ongoing territorial rows involving Dokdo/Tashima and Diaoyu/Senkaku, and the fact that it perceives American influence and might in East Asia as diminishing, that it simply wants to look out for its interests. Like I said above, however, there is only so much the East Asian states can do to adopt “trust-building” measures. Ultimately, it boils down to the United States playing the role of a disinterested conflict mediator. But then again, given America’s past record as a major power in the region with major stakes in the affairs of Northeast Asia, this role may or may not be effective.

    • vtbikerider

      Of course the irony here is the Chinese are decrying Japanese naval expansion while at the same time putting a full deck carrier out, several new warships and flocks of missile craft. Of course they’re part of a not too subtle strategy of intimidation, and ultimately control/denial of the area of the area around them.

      Japan harboring imperial advantages these days just doesn’t jell. They may be extending themselves into more deployments afar but their ships seem to be strictly defensive rather than offensive minded.


      “resurgent imperial tendencies” that you referred meant building the bulwark against Soviet Communism and making sure that it would not pervade all over the Asian continent for Japan. It was not really WANT-LAND aggressions which was misinterpretted by Westerners…

  • Jeong Lee

    Hello, everyone. I sincerely appreciate your input–positive and negative. That said, I have a follow-up article which will be published via RealClearDefense which examines what may be fueling the feverish East Asian naval race.

    • grandpabluewater

      Oh no you don’t.
      I see you closed comment on you last post after leaving me a bon mot which was not in the least appreciative of my input. So, it’s on.

      Suggesting that disagreeing with your thesis is disrespectful, and that I quit pestering you with disagreement is patroniziing. You are not my senior in rank, I no longer have any outside the retired list. I have long since earned the right to question anyone here’s opinions and provide my own. Debate, if you can. You are no one’s superior in this forum.
      Your last sentence in your second to last paragraph is insulting and demonstrates your arrogance and lack of practical experience.
      Not that I mind. The glove is thrown, let the joust begin, Sonny.

      • Jeong Lee

        I don’t have time for obnoxious trolls like yourself. You think that just because you put in time in the fleet that it gives you the license to call me a “Sonny?”

        You’re right I am arrogant. I have every right to be.

      • grandpabluewater

        No I don’t think that I can call you “Sonny” because I “put some time in the fleet”. I do so because you clearly need a sea daddy, and i AM experienced enough in the real world and the real ocean to know better than you. I suppose a career is some time. Man and boy, USN and MSC….decades.

        Convince me I haven’t wrung more sea water out of my socks than you have sailed over…by your ideas and your reasons for holding them.

        This is a blog. Defend your ideas on their merits with facts, not assertions; and not because you think you are somehow better. You aren’t. Here, its about the ideas and the debate. It. is. not. about. you.

        I’m no troll, I’m quite capable of being a gadfly, I rather enjoy it. I do disagree with some of your ideas. You don’t like to be disagreed with. Tough.

        Now stop with the ” I appreciate your input” posturing, and “stop pestering me” complaints, and “stupid and inflexible” personal attacks. I’m far from stupid, and inflexible only on principles validated by a lifetime of experience and centuries of history.

        Ask URR or Diogenes in NJ or Byron… or Admin. I’ve got a rep here;… you are building one…

        So…how do you prefer to be addressed? Folks around here call me Gramps. You would already know that if you weren’t a newcomer in these parts.

        En garde.

      • Jeong Lee

        I’d appreciate it if you stop calling me by your patronizing and derrogatory name, “Gramps.” For all I know, you could be masquerading as a navy vet, when you aren’t. I don’t know you and I will tell you that as long as one is civil, I will reciprocate.

      • Jeong Lee

        And one more thing, I did spew out facts after another to prove why threats lie at home and not necessarily at broad.

      • robert_k

        Any scholar will tell you that having your work refuted by an expert in the field should be taken as a compliment. You should be a little more grateful and a whole lot more humble when gramps or any
        military professional takes time to impart a bit of wisdom onto a “freelance blogger” (code for unemployed grad student trying to make a name for himself). You lack the credibility to be arrogant while among actual practitioners.

        Good luck in your future endeavors….

      • Jeong Lee

        Hey, I welcome any ideas as long as the readers aren’t obnoxious trolls. You should see that I am polite to those who politely disagree with me.

        As for being an “unemployed freelancer”–which I find insulting and reeking of condescension–I have a daytime job and have had experience being published by journals of repute. You need not have served to be knowledgeable about defense. After all, that is why we have many academics and think tankers who are not veterans but have studied such subject matters at graduate level or have covered them as journalists.

        That said, you have the right to be critical with me, but not resort to condescending ad hominem attacks.

        Thanks to both of you who did not deign to comment on the East Asian naval race–the subject of this writing–but instead, have resorted to unstable, and emotional personal attacks without knowing me in person.

      • grandpabluewater

        Well, there now. We are making progress.

        You are a bonafide academic or journalist who is unaffiliated at the moment and you think graduate courses or”covering” a story about military affairs makes you “knowlegeable”. You have no tolerance for nicknames and quite sensitive. You hate disagreement and believe yourself to have every right to be arrogant.

        Are you a Ph D. and if so, in what?. Would you like to be addressed as “Dr. Lee”?
        Now, did I get this right, you say the threats are internal, and any external ones are therefore minor enough to be handled by “deft diplomacy” and clever use of a very small residual military force which is creatively used? A more european sort of outfit?

        Now, as you know, I might not agree. But you seem more open to a discussion now, so I don’t wish to misunderstand you…..

        Is your basic point that the desireable move for the USA for the area from the Eastern Russian Maritimes to well south of Indonesia is to just go away?

        A little rhetorical “think piece” for your entertainment. What is the origin of the term
        “free lance”? How is that not analogous to your situation? Why, in this company, would not the title be positive recognition of inclusion?

        Awaiting your courteous response…..

      • Jeong Lee

        British or coalition type arrangements like the ISAF or UNISOM in Somalia back in 93 or 94. But without the United States necessarily “leading” the effort. Just because we come under the command of a coalition command, it does not necessarily mean that we surrender our sovereignty or autonomy of command.

        It made sense to command coalition forces when we were on top of things, but post-sequestration, we do not necessarily have to, nor can we afford to do so.

      • grandpabluewater

        When conducting Combined Operations with a force of allies, it it fundamental, or to use a term the Army is fonder of than the Naval Services – Doctrinal, that command will be apportioned as the strength of the individual ally’s contribution in terms of forces, funding or expertise contributes to the force. The supreme commander will need to be particularly skilled at obtaining, building and enforcing working togather. The principle is harmonious cooperation – or to use the misphonicly rendered original chinese expression….Gung ho.

        No disagreement there.

      • Jeong Lee

        The ones who could do so were, let’s see…. Tony Zinni, Dennis Blair, Jim Mattis, Ham Carter and maybe James Stavridis.