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Being ‘offensive’ in the digital era

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One word you will hear a lot more in foreign policy and national security debates is “offensive.” There will be dire warnings about the dangers of passivity in an era of ubiquitous information and instantaneous communication, and exhortations of the need to dictate the pace of events. Expect to be told that we “cannot let the other side take the offensive.”

While there is a new reality to threats in the digital era, we must pay close attention to how the word “offensive” is being used. Today, it has two very distinct meanings that apply in very different contexts, and it is dangerous to confuse the two. One use may raise eyebrows, but the other should not. As Japan begins critical discussions on national security, clarity and concision are essential. There is far too much at stake to indulge in sloppy logic or language.

The first use of the word “offensive” is the most obvious. It refers to anticipating an opponent’s behavior and pre-emptively moving to blunt its impact — going on the offense means acting first. It is a clear contrast to a defensive posture that allows an adversary to take the initiative.

The term is already being used in Japan as the country debates a pre-emptive strike capability, which is sometimes called an “offensive strike” option. This phrasing has special power in a country that, as the Defense Ministry insists, has an “exclusively defense-oriented policy as its basic strategy of defense.” Again, to be clear, it may be controversial but this capability is legal domestically and internationally (in the proper circumstances) and only makes sense as part of a mix of offensive and defensive options undertaken in cooperation with the United States as an........

© The Japan Times