Japan signals major boost to defence budget
AFTER 11 years of decline, Japan’s 2013 defence budget rose this year by 0.7 per cent to US$47 billion (4.68 trillion yen). It is conducting a review of its long-term defence policy guidelines that will set the course for the nation’s defence strategy for the next decade.
The defence ministry has requested a budget of US$49 billion (4.8 trillion yen) for the next fiscal year, up three per cent from the current year’s budget.
The first defence white paper of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, published in July 2013, stressed the need for a further strengthening of ties with the US.
But it also stressed the degree to which Japan anticipates greater threats to its national security that require enhanced military capabilities, particularly the tense territorial dispute with China, and North Korea’s increasing belligerence.
The paper uses a more vigilant tone than in previous years, highlighting two new areas that could change the nature of the role of the Japanese military as purely a self defence force.
These are the development of Japan’s ability to launch preemptive attacks on enemy bases abroad and the creation of an amphibious force similar to the US Marine Corps.
The ongoing islands conflict with China and the nuclear threat from North Korea have framed Japan’s political debate on defence in recent years. But these are visible triggers rather than the real drivers for the military build-up.
In the bigger picture, Tokyo’s defence planners face a possible change of balance of power in the Pacific region and the risks and uncertainties that come with it.
The strategic alliance between the US and Japan remains the basis of security in the Asia Pacific, with Japan as the cornerstone of US power in the region. Around 36,000 US military personnel are stationed in Japan and another 5,500 American civilians employed there by the Pentagon.
The US Seventh Fleet is based in Yokosuka, about 30 km south of Tokyo. There are 130 US Air Force fighters stationed in Japan.
But there is concern among defence planners in Japan that the US will reduce rather than expand its military presence in Japan in spite of the pivot pf troops towards Asia by US President Barack Obama's administration.
There is great concern in Washington about the dispute between Japan and China over the uninhabited Senkaku islands (Diaoyu in Mandarin) in the South China Sea. The US has not explicitly guaranteed to support Japanese forces in the case of any clashes over the islands.
China has embarked on a massive military build-up in recent years. Under the new leadership of President Xi Jinping, who was inaugurated in 2012, it has made the build-up a clear priority.
Mr Xi has taken personal control of China’s military response to the territorial islands dispute with Japan, and has launched a campaign to enhance the armed forces’ capability to ‘fight and win wars’.
Mr Xi appears to have embraced the hawkish worldview long outlined by generals who think the US is in decline and China will become the dominant military power in Asia Pacific by mid century.
The implications for China’s defence policies are profound, and appear to be forcing its neighbours, particularly Japan, to respond.
Tokyo’s planned increase in military spending is a signal to China that it is aware of the situation but remains ‘cool-headed’ about it.
The focus of the defence ministry is now on Japan’s naval and amphibious capabilities. Major programmes such as the recently-launched Izumo-class helicopter destroyer are keeping the Japanese defence industry alive.
Japan’s defence industry is a multi-tier pyramid system of contractors and sub-contractors. The sector’s total annual revenue is about US$21 billion (2 trillion yen.
In principle, the export of military equipment is banned by the country’s parliament. But Japan does plan to participate in the international development and production of the next generation F-35 fighter jet.
It argues that the weapons export ban will not be violated in this case because as all Japanese companies involved in the programme would be subject to US government oversight and all countries buying the plane and its components would have been shown to comply with the United Nations Charter.