It is the most drastic change in Japan’s security strategy since the country adopted an anti-war constitution after World War II.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government announced Friday that his country will double its military spending over the next five years, equip itself with the necessary defense means to attack enemy military bases, and increase its capabilities for cyber warfare.
Among the justifications offered to explain these measures, reference was made to the threat posed by China and North Korea.
“Unfortunately, in the vicinity of our country, there are countries carrying out activities such as increasing nuclear capacity, rapid buildup of military power, and a unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force,” Kishida said.
Missiles and millions
The Japanese prime minister told reporters that his country’s defense budget will be increased to 2% of GDP by 2027.
Although formally its character is defensive, the Japanese forces are increasingly better armed.
“In the next five years, to fundamentally strengthen our defense capabilities, we will implement a defense development program worth 43 trillion yen (US$314 billion),” he said.
That amount is equivalent to the annual GDP of a country like Chile.
In addition, Tokyo will acquire long-range US missiles capable of reaching other countries’ launch sites if they decide to attack Japan.
A national security strategy document approved by the Japanese cabinet and quoted by the AFP news agency described China as “the biggest strategic challenge to ensure peace and stability in Japan.”
The text noted that Beijing has not ruled out the use of force to assert control over Taiwan.
The Chinese embassy in Japan responded by accusing Tokyo of making false claims about its military activities.
There are also concerns in Japan about North Korea’s missile capability.
Pyongyang has fired more than 50 missiles in the past three months, including a ballistic missile at Japan in October, the first time in five years.
An earlier national security document, approved in 2013, described China and Russia as Japan’s strategic partners.
However, this time, in addition to the accusations about Beijing, Moscow is criticized, stating that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a “serious violation of the laws that prohibit the use of force” that has “shaken the foundations of the international order”.
Pushing the limits of defense
Since the end of World War II, Japan’s military capabilities have been kept deliberately contained.
Although gaining support, the idea of Japan increasing its military spending still faces significant opposition.
The Constitution of that country, promulgated in 1947, establishes in its article 9 that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as the sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of solving international disputes.”
In practice, this has meant that Japan’s military forces have limited their capabilities to self-defense, although the notion of what this implies has been reinterpreted and adapted to changes in the international context.
One of the great changes in this regard occurred in 2014 when the government of Shinzo Abe promoted a reinterpretation of the constitutional norm related to the defense of the country.
“Abe’s cabinet approved a reinterpretation of Article 9 which said that the Japanese Self Defense Forces – if necessary for Japan’s security and survival – could use force on behalf of other nations such as the United States or Australia, for example. It was a very carefully worded reinterpretation,” Sheila Smith, senior researcher for Asia Pacific studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (a Washington-based think tank).
Then, in 2015, a new law was drafted based on that reinterpretation. Thus, the Self Defense Forces gained the ability to use force in support of other countries if it was necessary for Japan’s security.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), to which Abe belonged and now led by Kishida, has for years been proposing to make some adjustments to the constitutional text to adapt it to a more difficult regional security environment.
Although there is no consensus on the substance or details, polls indicate that a majority of the country’s public opinion now supports some kind of expansion of the country’s military capabilities.
The percentage of 2% of GDP for defense spending proposed by Kishida coincides with the target set in 2006 by NATO members, Japan’s Western allies.
Although many NATO countries are still short of that target, Germany hopes to reach it in the next few years and the UK has surpassed it and now aims to reach 3% by 2030.