Japan’s Aggressive Military Buildup, Explained

Japan’s Aggressive Military Buildup, Explained

Japan’s Aggressive Military Buildup, Explained

U.S. officials this week affirmed their commitment to Japan’s plans to rapidly increase defense spending amid growing tensions with China and North Korea after decades of limited investment after World War II. But despite backing from the United States and other allies, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s plan to turn Japan’s Self-Defense Forces into a fighting force to counter threats from their neighbors will depend on the willingness of the Japanese to pay – and the personnel – the surge.

Japan’s new security posture will increase the country’s military budget by 56%, from approximately 27.47 billion yen to approximately 43 billion yen (an increase of approximately $215-336 million). Historically, Japan has kept security spending low due to its constitutional commitment to avoiding war, but the country has a defense budget and has maintained the Japan Self-Defense Forces since 1954.

US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with their Japanese counterparts last week, setting in motion the new postures outlined in Japan’s new strategy. “We are modernizing our military alliance, building on Japan’s historic increase in defense spending and the new national security strategy,” Biden said during his meeting with Kishida on Friday, telling reporters that the United States are “fully, deeply, completely committed to the covenant”. ”

Blinken, at a press conference Wednesday with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, Austin, and Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu, pledged that Japan, under the new security plan, would “assume new roles” in the Indo-Pacific region and would “foster even closer cooperation with the United States and our mutual partners,” although Blinken did not specify what those new roles would be.

Kishida cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a warning of the threat that Japan and other East Asian countries face from an increasingly militarized China – and also used the Ukraine’s success on the battlefield and to gain support from international partners to explain Japan’s latest military posture.

Despite this week’s fanfare and the commitment of the United States and other partners to Japanese military expansion, doubts remain as to whether Kishida can convince the Japanese people to agree to commit both capital financial and human resources that its intensification proposal would require.

American and Japanese leaders have tried for years to increase Japan’s defense spending; the United States under Trump has pushed NATO allies in particular to increase defense spending to the 2% required by NATO member defense spending protocols. Japan has long had close ties to NATO, although it is not a member state; Kishida attended a summit of NATO allies in June, the first Japanese leader to do so. But increased spending and coordination doesn’t necessarily mean a stronger army, and the “victory towers” as one pundit put it, around the announcement overshadowed the difficulty Kishida and Japan will face pulling the proposed expansion.

Japan’s historic military investment, cropped

No doubt Kishida’s plan to increase defense spending is important, but presenting Japan’s new posture as a 180 degree turn from pacifism is a mistake. Japan has its defense forces, and its defense budget has increased every year for the past nine years; for 2023, Kishida’s government approved a budget increase of 26.3%, bringing proposed defense spending to 6.82 trillion yen, or $51.4 billion.

Already in 2023, the government plans to buy eight F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighters and eight F-35B Lightning multirole fighter jets, part of a much larger set of F-35s it will about to acquire in the United States. Japan will also continue development of a sixth-generation fighter with the Italian and British armies, purchase 500 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States as it develops its own counterattack missile capabilities, as well as increase the domestic production of missiles, including a hypersonic. model.

But as Tom Phuong Le, associate professor of politics at Pomona College, told Vox, the new stance places more emphasis on acquiring technology and weapons systems rather than recruiting people to serve. . Particularly in a cultural context where people often have good jobs by the time they graduate from college and no family or cultural ties to military service, “what is the incentive to join the military and deal with Russia, China and North Korea when you can have a fairly comfortable job in the normal economy? »

There is no doubt that the security environment has become more dangerous, both in East Asia and elsewhere. Between China opposing Taiwan, North Korea testing missiles and nuclear warheads, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many nations, including Japan, have reason to worry. of the future and the possibility of conflict.

These concerns have created a conducive environment for proposed policy changes that “the elites have been pursuing for some time now,” according to Phillip Lipscy, director of the Center for the Study of Global Japan at the University of Toronto. “The Japanese public’s desire to go along with a tougher defense has probably changed, or at least leaders perceived that public sentiment has changed in part because of the war in Ukraine.”

But, as Mochizuki explained, the circumstances in which Japan would be drawn into a direct conflict with North Korea or China are very limited; “North Korea is not going to attack out of the blue,” he said, and China’s threat to Japan is not a direct attack. “The threat is […] a military conflict over the Taiwan Strait and because of Japan’s geographic proximity, because of the U.S.-Japan alliance, and because U.S. military assets in Japan are considered essential for any kind of viable U.S. military intervention in the Taiwan crisis – because of this, if there is any conflict in Taiwan, there is a high probability that China will attack Japanese territory.

Political reality in Japan complicates Kishida’s plan

Kishida’s plan to increase defense spending means he will likely have to raise taxes – a difficult prospect given Japan’s aging population, the care of which requires an ever-increasing share of resources. Japan’s public debt to GDP ratio is already the highest of any G7 country since 1998; the rising debt burden could weigh on the Japanese economy.

Kishida himself is unpopular, marred by scandal over the alleged association of his late predecessor Shinzo Abe and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) with the Unification Church, Phuong Le and Mochizuki told Vox. Revelations of ties between the Church, which many in Japan see as an extortionist cult, and the government after Abe’s assassination in July torpedoed Kishida’s popularity. If he decided to hold an election before his proposed tax hikes, as he said in late December he probably would, it could essentially be a referendum on that proposal. If this happens, “there are many Japanese who say [Kishida’s] not going to last very long,” Mochizuki told Vox.

As Mochizuki explained, “Kishida himself is quite moderate, and he comes from the faction known as Kochikai, which has been more moderate on defense issues, much more open to stable relations with China. , and his foreign minister, Hayashi, has the same views. However, Kishida’s unpopularity has pushed him and Hayashi towards the more hawkish elements of the LDP. “He basically accepted the defensive side of things “, said Mochizuki.

“What Kishida tried to do was get Biden to kiss him,” Mochizuki said.

This political environment, combined with pressure from the United States and legitimate regional threats “makes it more likely that Japan will take bigger steps,” as Phuong Le put it. And although U.S. officials demonstrated strong commitment to the U.S.-Japan alliance this week, Kishida’s government’s plans to realistically implement proposed changes have failed, Phuong Le said.

“Both sides don’t talk about it because they don’t have solutions.”

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