Japan’s main ruling Liberal Democratic Party is urging the government to boost what it calls “counterattack capability” as part of efforts to bolster national defense.
The move comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but is not without controversy given Japan’s post-war defense policy.
The PLD’s Security Affairs Committee submitted a series of proposals to Prime Minister Kishida Fumio on April 27. The focal point is a call to strengthen the defense capability to retaliate against an enemy in the event of a missile attack on Japan.
The proposal is in line with the government’s plan to revise its national security strategy for the first time by the end of the year. This key document lays out the country’s basic defense policy compiled in 2013. Two other key defense strategies are also to be revised at the same time.
The LDP’s proposal says the security environment surrounding Japan has become severe at an “accelerating rate.” It identifies China as a “serious threat” and North Korea developing missiles and nuclear weapons as a “more serious and imminent threat”. He describes Russia as a “realistic threat”, pointing to its invasion of Ukraine.
It says missile interception has become increasingly difficult due to rapid advances in technology and that improving “counterattack capability” would have a deterrent effect. He goes on to say that such attacks should be directed not only against enemy missile bases, but also against command centers and control systems.
The term “counterattack capability” was developed after some debate. Government officials use the term “enemy base strike capability”. But he has been criticized on the grounds that the words could be misinterpreted to suggest Japan could carry out a preemptive strike – something the government says is not constitutionally permitted.
Under its post-war Constitution, Japan maintained a strictly defense-oriented policy. Even possessing the abilities to attack other military bases was limited.
Former defense minister and chairman of the commission, Onodera Itsunori, told reporters: “In describing our ability to defend this country, the word ‘counterattack’ is the easiest way to describe it to people here. and abroad.”
Constitution of the defense budget
Lawmakers are also calling for Japan’s defense budget to be increased to significantly boost defense capabilities within five years.
The proposal noted that NATO required member countries to have a defense spending target of at least 2% of GDP.
Japan’s target for fiscal year 2022 is below 1% of GDP. Legislators seem to be pressing the government to increase the budget to NATO level. If the figure were to reach 2%, the budget would exceed 10 trillion yen a year, or more than $75 billion.
But some opposition lawmakers fear such a move would violate the country’s defense-only policy.
“The discussion is going too far, taking advantage of the situation in Ukraine,” said Ogawa Junya, chairman of the political research committee of the biggest opposition, the Democratic Constitutional Party. “The plan could endanger people by provoking neighboring countries,” he added.
The PLD’s junior partner in the coalition, Komeito, is reluctant to increase the defense budget immediately.
“We welcome changing the term ‘enemy base attack capability’ in the sense that it doesn’t sound like we could conduct a preemptive strike,” Vice Representative Kitagawa Kazuo said. But the party maintains that it is important to address the huge need for social security and education spending.
Full-fledged talks in the Diet are expected to begin after Upper House elections scheduled for this summer. The result could herald a major shift in Japan’s defense policy.