Japan on December 16, 2022 announced the beginning of a $320 billion military build-up to ready its forces for a sustained conflict. This means that in five years, it would spend $320 billion on the development of its forces. To meet the target, Japan’s defence budget will be raised to 2 percent of gross domestic product. Japan’s ministry of defence has asked for $43 billion for the 2023 financial year, just crossing the 1 per cent cap, self-imposed in 1976.
By 2027, the annual defence allocation is estimated at $86 billion, making Japan the third largest military spender in the world after the United States and China. Japan is now the ninth largest military spender in the world. Under the new national security strategy, an increased budget will be spent on stockpiling missiles, spare parts and munition, expanding logistics capacity and developing counter-strike, preemptive strike and cyber warfare capabilities.
The national security strategy and the once-unthinkable military build-up are prompted by triangular security pressure from Russia, China and North Korea where China is the epicenter of Japan’s wariness. Japan regards the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a bad precedent in the world order and suspects China could be encouraged to attack Taiwan. In the event of a war over Taiwan, Japan is at full risk of being sucked into American proxy wars where sustainment will be crucial.
According to the retired Japanese air force general Toshimichi Nagaiwa, ‘The Ukraine war has shown us the necessity of being able to sustain a fight, and that is something Japan has not so far been prepared for. Japan is making a late start, it is like we are 200 metres behind in a 400-metre sprint.’ North Korea’s missile tests at unprecedented frequency in 2022 and the possible underground nuclear test are another frontier Japan is concerned about.
Japan worries that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would threaten its nearby island territories, disrupt supplies of advanced semiconductors and put a potential stranglehold on sea lanes that supply crucial oil from the Middle East. Japan also views that China’s current external stance and military activities are challenges to peace and security in the region.
Japan’s wariness is exacerbated by North Korea firing missiles over the mainland and landing into its EEZ off its east coast. Japan’s prime minister called the national security strategy an ‘answer to various security challenges that we face.’ Admiral Yoji Koda, a former commander of Japan’s naval fleet, lauded the government’s plan as ‘setting a new heading for Japan’ and hopes ‘the Self-Defence Forces will be a real, world-class effective force.’
After the Second World War, Japan gave up its right to wage a war and the means to do so under the US-drafted constitution. It was allowed to operate forces up to 1,000 kilometre from the coast in self-defence. After the 1990–1991 Gulf War, Japan modified its constitution keeping the anti-militarist character to deploy naval ships beyond 1,000 kilometre. In April 1991, Japan, since its desperate days of the Second World War, has deployed a convoy of minesweepers to join a multinational force clearing mines in the Persian Gulf. Since then the Japanese naval ships have been operating in the international waters and undertook non-combat missions such as anti-piracy patrol in the Red Sea. Japan now sends logistics to Ukraine supporting the US policy against Russia.
There has been no immediate formal response from Beijing, Japan’s principal adversary in the region or Russia with whom Japan has dispute over Kuril Islands. However, the Chinese embassy in Japan issued a statement calling Japan’s concern for security challenges from China as baseless. North Korea reacting in verboseness described Japan’s military new national security strategy as ‘wrong and dangerous choice’, ‘new aggression policy’, ‘unjust and excessive ambition’, etc and will continue to show North Korea’s concern and displeasure with practical action. North Korea’s verbiage went further lambasting the United States for ‘exalting and instigating Japan’s rearmament and re-invasion plan’, adding that Washington had no right to raise issue with Pyongyang’s efforts to bolster its own defences.
The United States has been pressuring Japan for some time to increase its defence spending to share the cost of the Asia-Pacific security bill. Therefore, the United States has good reasons to welcome Japan’s increased military spending. On the other hand, Japan’s allies Taiwan and Australia having common concern at China’s growing influence in the region and the South Pacific will welcome Japan’s new national security strategy. Taiwan’s president earlier expected a greater defence cooperation with Japan much to the anger of China. The military build-up will strengthen Japan’s security preparedness making the already complex web of geopolitics more strained.
Besides the politico-military dimension, there is an economic facet in the security strategy, ie sourcing the fund with or without raising tax and yielding economic benefit from defence expenditure. To implement the new national security strategy, an immediate challenge of Kishida’s administration is financing the plan. His proposal to increase tax backfired.
Japanese forces use US-made military hardware and will continue to do so. The national security strategy will widen its acquisition programme from the US sources. Japan wants ship-launched US Tomahawk cruise missiles to be part of its new deterrent force. Other potential military hardware on the procurement list over the next five years include interceptor missiles for ballistic missile defence, attack and reconnaissance drones, satellite communications equipment, Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters, helicopters, submarines, warships and heavy-lift transport jets and more will be added to the list.
New acquisitions, especially cybersecurity across the Pacific, will strengthen man-machine interface and widen the scope of interoperability between US forces and Japan’s SDF. In the context of developing geopolitics, there is a concern simmering about possible ‘entrapment into American proxy wars and increasing economic involvement in the US military-industrial complex, the system by which the defence sector encourages arms spending and war.’ An increased defence spending will also boost Japan’s own defence industry such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries which is expected to lead the development of three long range missiles.
Japan has set the massive military build-up plan keeping the constitution’s anti-militarist Article 9 unchanged. From a military perspective, the militarisation continued through the post war period within the framework of the Self-Defence Forces. Although the timing and rationale behind the new security strategy are significant, ‘yet almost half the Japanese public are against revising Article 9 and do not seek expansion or entanglement in American wars.’
Mohammad Abdur Razzak is a retired commodore of the Bangladesh navy, is a security analyst.