Explained: Why pacifist Japan is doubling its military spending


This is a big change for Japan as the country’s post-World War II constitution limits it to nominally self-defensive capabilities. The new strategy is set to catapult Tokyo into the position of the world’s third-biggest military spender behind the United States and China

Japan has announced a more muscular military policy in a historic shift from its pacifist stance dictated by the post-World War constitution.

This development comes weeks after Prime Minister Fumio asked key ministers to secure enough funds to raise defence spending to two per cent of gross domestic product in five years.

Kishida during the meeting told finance minister Shunichi Suzuki and defence minister Yasukazu Hamada that the island country needs to urgently raise its defence budget by fiscal 2027.

Japan vowed to increase security spending to two per cent of GDP by 2027, reshape its military command, and acquire new missiles that can strike far-flung enemy launch sites.

But why is Japan doing so?

Why is Japan making this change?

Japan is doing so with an eye on China, North Korea and Russia.

The changes, spelled out in in three defence and security documents approved by the cabinet on Friday, describes Beijing as “the greatest strategic challenge ever to securing the peace and stability of Japan”, as well as a “serious concern” for Japan and the international community.

“Japan’s security environment is as severe and complex as it has ever been since the end of [the second world war],” the documents said as per Financial Times. “We will fundamentally reinforce defence capabilities as the last guarantee of national security.”

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a serious violation of laws that forbid the use of force and has shaken the foundations of the international order,” the strategy paper said.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a news conference he was “determined to remain resolute in our mission to protect and defend the nation and its people, at this turning point in history”.

“In our neighbouring countries and regions, the strengthening of nuclear missile capabilities, rapid military build-up and attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force have become even more pronounced.”

His government worries that Russia has set a precedent that will encourage China to attack Taiwan, threatening nearby Japanese islands, disrupting supplies of advanced semiconductors and putting a potential stranglehold on sea lanes that supply Middle East oil.

Professor Kuo Yu-Jen of Taiwan’s National Sun Yet-Sen University who specializes in Japan defence policy, told CNN that China’s military drills and firing missiles into Japan’s Special Economic Zone, was a ‘wake-up call.’

“It drew their attention and concern to how Taiwan’s security is relevant to Japan’s own security.”

Why is this a big deal?

Because Japan’s pacifist, US-drafted constitution does not officially recognise the military and limits it to nominally self-defensive capabilities.

In the aftermath of World War II, a small group of Americans drafted the constitution of a defeated Japan during one week in February 1946 in a ballroom at the top of the Daiichi Building in Tokyo.

Based on principles set out by General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in Japan, it said Japan should renounce its sovereign right to wage war or maintain armed forces.

The constitution took effect on 3 May, 1947.

Article 9 reads thus: “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Tetsuo Kotani, senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, told Financial Times, “One year ago, it would have been unthinkable for Japan to possess the capability to directly attack another country’s territory or to secure a budget to acquire such capability.”

Sea change under Abe

While Japan has for decades voluntarily set its military spending limit to 1 per cent of its GDP, the truth is that Tokyo has been slowly sliding away from its pacifist stance under former prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Remember, Abe surged back to power seven years ago pledging to bolster Japan’s defences in response to a growing threat from China and aiming to amend the pacifist constitution.

Under Abe, Japan has boosted defence spending by 10 per cent after years of decline, and expanded the military’s ability to project power abroad.

In a historic shift in 2014, Abe’s government reinterpreted the constitution to allow Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two.

As per CNN, Abe last December declared that “a Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency, and therefore an emergency for the Japan-US alliance.”

Abe further asked China’s Xi Jinping to “never make a misjudgment” on this.

What is Japan doing?

The biggest change in the National Security Strategy is possession of “counterstrike capability” that Japan calls “indispensable.”

Japan aims to achieve capabilities ”to disrupt and defeat invasions against its nation much earlier and at a further distance” within about 10 years.

The new target marks a significant increase from historic spending of around 1 per cent.

The five-year plan is slated to – based on current budgets – catapult Japan into the position of the world’s third-biggest military spender (behind the United States and China).

The counterstrike capacity will involve both upgrading existing Japanese weaponry but also buying US-made Tomahawk missiles, reportedly up to 500.

Other changes include the establishment of a permanent joint command for Japan’s armed forces as well as enhancement of its coastguard.

Core army troops in the southwestern islands will be doubled, and logistics strengthened “to enable the rapid deployment of troops from all over Japan” in an emergency,

Its language on relations with both China and Russia has hardened significantly.

The strategy document previously said Japan was seeking a “mutually beneficial strategic partnership” with Beijing, a phrase that has disappeared from this iteration.

Instead it suggests a “constructive and stable relationship” and better communication.

And while Japan’s strategy document once called for enhanced ties and cooperation with Russia, it now warns that Moscow’s military posturing in Asia and cooperation with China are “a strong security concern”.

China’s foreign ministry urged Japan on Friday to “reflect on its policies”.

“Japan disregards the facts, deviates from the common understandings between China and Japan and its commitment to bilateral relations, and discredits China,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.

However, the White House said the overhaul would “strengthen and modernise” Japan’s military alliance with the United States.

The strategy contained in the documents represents a major evolution of Japan’s military posture, according to Chris Hughes, professor of international politics and Japanese studies at the University of Warwick.

“The Japanese government will depict these changes as necessary, moderate and wholly in line with previous defence posture,” he told AFP.

Still, “they are going to, in the words often used by the (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party itself in policy documents, ‘radically strengthen’ Japan’s military power”, said Hughes, author of the book “Japan as a Global Military Power”.

Move divides public

Unfortunately, a sticking point remains – does the public back it and who will pay for it?

As per Japan Times, a recent Kyodo News poll of over 1,000 people found 53.6 per cent of respondents opposing the defence budget increase and just 39 per cent backing it.

Nearly two in three respondents (64.9 per cent) expressed their displeasure with the plan to raise taxes.

People were also divided on the counter-strike capabilities with 50.3 per cent for it and 42.6 per cent against.

Sixty-one per cent think such a capability could stoke tensions with neighbouring countries, while 33.9 per cent said it is not a concern.

With inputs from agencies

This article originally appeared on https://www.firstpost.com/ and was reproduced here with permission


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