According to Ken Jimbo (Keio University) over at the Center for US-Korea Policy, deterrence failed against North Korea in 2010. The sinking of the Cheonan and the Yeonpyeong artillery strikes call for serious questions to be raised about the efficacy of the conventional deterrence on the peninsula not just for the US and South Korea, but for Japan too:

Map of Korean PeninsulaThe apparent failure of deterrence on the Korean peninsula in 2010 has had a significant impact on Japanese perceptions of basic and extended deterrence and raises important questions regarding the role of U.S. security alliances in Northeast Asia.  First, there is the question of whether North Korea believes that an increased level of aggression against Japan might also go without significant repercussions and costs.  Although the thresholds are high for North Korea to conduct missile attacks or vigorous guerilla activities against Japan, the Japanese government should pay greater attention to provocative behavior such as low-level and asymmetrical maritime assaults.  Second, U.S. extended deterrence to Japan and South Korea should be equally strengthened in order to increase the cost of North Korean aggression.  Bilateral security cooperation between Japan and South Korea should be given more importance since both countries share mutual interests in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance activities.  Third, U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral cooperation must be upgraded to enhance the impact and credibility of U.S. deterrence in the region.  The three countries must take concrete actions in line with the joint plans outlined in the foreign ministers’ statement of December 2010 in order to build a renewed and sustainable foundation for trilateral cooperation on North Korea and other regional challenges.  This effort must also include joint steps to strengthen coordination with China as a rising regional power based on the common goal of Northeast Asian peace and stability.

North Korea has long been used as a pretext for building up future readiness against China, but the recent planned shift in posture towards Okinawa has pushed beyond the pretext. Should Japan be spending more time considering the North Korean threat? No. While in the past that was useful for building counter-infiltration and insurgency forces, it seems highly unlikely that North Korea will focus on Japan with the DMZ and control of the sea being tightened by US and ROK forces on the peninsula. That said, Jimbo’s second and third points ring true, particularly to keep up the forward-thinking with regards to a stronger China. Better trilateral ties are essential not only to show a united front against North Korea for deterrence, but also to bring about the framework of greater regional security cooperation… assuming Japan and South Korea can overcome their territorial and historical memory disputes.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch