Will Japan make a German and reinforced defense budget?

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What I have learned from watching the Ukraine crisis unfold is that its President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is a world-class politician who uses every diplomatic and military option at his disposal to fight the Russian great power. The rise and fall of nations are at stake.

Can Japan meet Ukrainian standards?

In his video address to the National Diet on March 23, the Ukrainian president said, “Japan was the first Asian country to put pressure on Russia.” He may also have had in mind to hail Japanese legislators for the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. But do Diet members have the pride to attempt to meet such high expectations?

Another point that has been a valuable source of research material is that, with Germany in the lead, many European countries that had previously been seriously ill with the disease of pacifism ー no war at all costs ー began to shed their cloaks of hypocrisy.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shakes hands with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, flanked by U.S. President Joe Biden before a G7 summit in Brussels, March 24, 2022. Michael Kentendre/Pool via REUTERS

Germany’s dependence on Russia

Respect must be given to Germany in particular, a nation defeated in World War II like Japan. It instantly accomplished transformation into a “normal country,” a challenge that would likely have met with strong winds of opposition from neighboring countries in peacetime.

Comparing the situation before the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the one after, it was quite infuriating to see Germany’s behavior before the Russian invasion. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel broke a promise shared by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) under defense guidelines that each member would allocate 2% of its domestic product gross to defense spending.

“Nord Stream 2”, a new gas pipeline project that transports natural gas from Russia to Germany via the bottoms of the Baltic Sea, was completed at the end of 2021. However, US President Joe Biden, like his predecessor Donald Trump , opposed the project because it would increase dependence on Moscow for its energy supply and could jeopardize Germany’s security.

While in office, Merkel refused to give the green light to increasing defense spending or halting the pipeline project. During the Merkel era, Germany continued to lean economically towards China. It was only in its final stages that his administration began to oppose human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

While phasing out nuclear power, Germany had to import more fossil fuels – from Russia, via the Nord Stream pipeline.

Frustration with Germany, Hungary

As tensions rose in Ukraine, the backlash from Western nations intensified against German behavior, such as its plan to “send no more than 5,000 defensive helmets to Ukraine” to aid in the war effort.

Ross Douthat, columnist for the Liberal newspaper New York Timespossesses condemned Germany, noting that he often acts as a de facto ally of the Russians rather than a credible NATO ally. Tom Rogan, a national security writer for the Washington Examinera conservative American news site and weekly magazine, dismissed Germany on its feet, saying his hesitation to help in the Ukraine crisis raised “yet another concern about Germany’s credibility as a NATO ally”.

Compared to Japan, the United States and many European countries, which have surprisingly aligned themselves with each other to solve the Ukrainian problem, the actions of Germany and Hungary are clearly out of step. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, who has been a close friend of Vladimir Putin, expressed his intention to reject military support for Ukraine in remarks on March 25. Supporting Ukraine, he said, would be “against Hungary’s national interests”, according to the agency. France-Presse.

Can German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz inspire Japan to follow his example to become a normal country? – April 25, 2022. REUTERS / Michele Tantussi

Reversal of Chancellor Sholz

On February 27, three days after Russia invaded Ukraine, a special Sunday session of the Bundestag, Germany’s national parliament, was convened. Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivered a landmark speech after inviting the Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany to applause. The gist of his speech included:

  • increase Germany’s defense spending to reach the NATO target of 2% of GDP by 2024;
  • the implementation of direct arms assistance to Ukraine; and
  • build two liquefied natural gas import terminals as quickly as possible to reduce Germany’s dependence on Russian energy sources.

This amounts to the most dramatic shift in German policy since the 1990 reunification of East and West Germany. It should be noted that Chancellor Scholz belongs to the left wing of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP), which has been much less active on security issues than the Christian Democratic Union and its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CDU-CSU) .

Moreover, Chancellor Scholz’s government is a coalition with the Greens, which focus on environmental issues, and the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP), which has business support.

What should Japan do?

Germany’s military power is considered relatively inferior in terms of training compared to other major European powers. But the gap could be closed within four to five years, if the German government has the budgetary room for manoeuvre. It was none other than the threat from Russia that prompted this 180 degree change in German policy.

Japan’s national security conditions are hardly comparable to those of Germany. Berlin showed an immediate reaction after sensing the imminent big threat to Poland, with which Germany shares a border.

However, we must bear in mind that Germany, with the nightmare of Nazi Germany days lingering, was able to transform itself into a normal country, and from a light economic powerhouse into a well-rounded nation. This is mainly due to a series of errors in judgment by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the resulting changes in the geopolitical environment.

NATO, the European Union and the Group of Seven (G-7) have been revitalized like never before. Not only eternally neutral Switzerland, but also three Scandinavian countries announced that they would supply arms to Ukraine, thus successfully overcoming the limits of conventional self-centered pacifism.

The evolution of public opinion in Sweden and Finland indicates the sincere desire of their people to join NATO. Meanwhile, Poland, which used to cause problems within the EU, now plays a central role within the EU helping Ukraine.

What will Japan do on the threshold of a great opportunity to be a normal country? He lacks neither funds nor time to tackle the task. What is missing is Japan’s will to achieve this goal.

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(This was first published as an opinion piece by Seiron. Read it in Japanese on this link.)

Author: Tadae Takubo

Professor Takubo, Ph.D, is Professor Emeritus at Kyorin University.

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