Japan, U.S. to adopt cyber-defense guidelines

TOKYO — The Japanese and U.S. governments will incorporate a policy on how to respond to cyberattacks in the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines, a move aimed at countering a possible attack by China, according to Japanese government sources.

Under the new policy, the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military would jointly respond if Japan’s defense computer system came under a cyberattack.

The Japanese and U.S. governments plan to agree on the re-revision of the guidelines at a meeting of the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee, also known as a two-plus-two meeting of foreign and defense ministers, scheduled on Thursday in Tokyo. The Subcommittee for Defense Cooperation is expected to have concrete discussions on the matter for more than a year.

The current guidelines define cooperation between the two countries in three situations — peacetime, when Japan comes under armed attack and when there is an emergency around Japan that could seriously affect the country’s peace and security. The guidelines do not refer to cyberattacks.

However, there have recently been an increasing number of cyberattacks against the Japanese and U.S. governments, and there is a high risk that the communication and command systems of the SDF and the U.S. military stationed in Japan may come under such attacks.

Therefore, according to the sources, the Japanese and U.S. governments judged it is necessary to define bilateral cooperation in dealing with cyberattacks in the guidelines.

Specifically, the two countries will discuss how to communicate and cooperate during peacetime and how to respond to a possible cyberattack against their missile defense or radar systems prior to attacks using ordinary weapons such as missiles and airplanes, the sources said.

Cyberspace is the fifth field of military operations along with ground, sea, air and space. Developing a defense system to cope with cyberattacks is an urgent task for Japan.

However, the Japanese government sets strict requirements for initiating the right to self-defense under the current interpretation of the Constitution. Therefore, legal limits are unclear as to how vigorous a counterattack Japan could undertake as part of its right to self-defense if the country comes under a cyberattack that does not involve weapons.

A panel concerning the redefinition of a legal basis for security, which is an advisory body to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is currently discussing legal issues related to countering cyberattacks. The Japanese government will discuss with the U.S. government the revision of the guidelines based on outcomes of the panel’s discussions.

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