Editorial: Undebated defense spending hike puts Japan on a precarious path

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Calls to increase Japan’s defense budget are growing mainly within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The demands come amid fears that military tensions could escalate in East Asia following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The LDP has suggested a drastic increase in defense spending to counter China and North Korea, which have embarked on a line of military expansion. He asks that the budget be increased within five years, by considering expenditure representing at least 2% of the gross domestic product.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has told US President Joe Biden that Japan is determined to “get (a) substantial increase” in its defense budget.

Certainly, there is a need to improve defense capabilities to match the changing security environment. But it is necessary to have a calm debate that takes into account factors such as consistency with Japanese defense policy only and the priority of such a decision among various other policies.

The fact that a quantified target for increased spending has been set in advance is particularly problematic. The LDP’s suggestion calls for a budget level in line with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, without specifying where the money will be used, such as for equipment.

Japanese defense capabilities are limited in the first place to the “minimum necessary level” in accordance with Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution which renounces war. A thorough discussion on how the Japanese people can be protected within this framework is necessary.

Furthermore, the question of where the funds for the increase in the budget will come from cannot be avoided.

In the initial fiscal year 2022 budget, defense spending reached its highest level for the eighth consecutive year, with the amount including the previous fiscal year’s supplementary budget exceeding 6 trillion yen (approximately) for the first time. $46.2 billion). But even then, the “1% of GDP” target functioned as a brake on spending restraint.

Former LDP Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sought to double spending to 2% and said it could be funded by government bonds. But let us remember that during World War II, war bonds were issued wantonly, leading to unchecked military expansion – serving as a lesson to Japan after the war.

Additionally, the government’s accumulated long-term debt topped 1 trillion yen (about $7.7 trillion) by the end of fiscal 2021. Issuing more bonds could further increase the burden of debt on future generations.

Security is not just a matter of defense capabilities, but requires multi-level efforts spanning the diplomatic and economic realms. A climate where many problems go unresolved and defense spending takes on a life of its own puts Japan on a precarious path.

In next month’s House of Councilors elections, security issues following the situation in Ukraine will be a point of contention. How is the current situation in East Asia perceived and what kinds of defense upgrades is Japan considering? The Prime Minister should provide the public with clear answers.

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