Military actions between states tend to lead to outright war. Actions by proxies on behalf of one state against another, on the other hand, tend to insulate the actor against direct blame, no matter how ill-concealed the control is. Think Pakistan vs. India, for example, and the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

What if a foreign government decided to, instead of invading Japanese territory outright, simply create “activists” (actually, trained intelligence and military personnel) to stage a proxy invasion of an uninhabited–or lightly inhabited–island? The activists would, not surprisingly, have the open agenda of integrating the seized territory into the sponsoring country. The sponsor would deny all knowledge, despite the obviousness of the situation, and would organize a global propaganda campaign on behalf of the activists and the larger territorial claim.

Generally speaking, with the exception of the air defense missiles on Miyakojima, smaller islands in Japan are pretty much undefended. This is particularly true in the case of the otherwise uninhabited islands that enlarge Japan’s Economic Exclusion Zone. Both the Maritime Self Defense Force and the Japan Coast Guard patrol the area from bases in Kyushu and Okinawa, but there is little or no permanent military presence on most of the islands.

An adversary wanting to claim one of these islands would not need an outright military invasion force. A force of “activists” capable of landing, subduing the local police force, and intimidating the local population would be all that would be necessary to secure the island. 200 “activists” trained in repressive measures could easily subdue a population of 1,800 lacking firearms.

The question is, would Japan stop a passenger ship–or even a trawler–determined to reach one of its hundreds of minor islands, its decks heavy with “activists” petitioning for the territory “to be returned to their rightful owner”? Minjinyu 5179 was stopped only 15 kilometers from Kubashima.

It’s quite possible those “activists” will probably make it to shore. And then Japan will be faced with an awfully sticky problem.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch