Amid China’s military rise and the continued threat from North Korea, new Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera has vowed to bolster Japan’s defensive capabilities by reviewing its strategies, increasing the defense budget and revising the guidelines in place with the United States.
Onodera said in a recent group interview that his ministry will review the National Defense Program Guidelines and Midterm Defense Program to strengthen the Self-Defense Forces’ deterrence.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who aims to restore and enhance the Japan-U.S. alliance, instructed Onodera to revise the guidelines in tandem with U.S. defense strategies unveiled in 2011, which put a greater focus on Asia.
“The number of our forces has decreased, while everybody is fully occupied in dealing with the threat from North Korea and protecting the Senkaku Islands,” Onodera said. “We have to review how best we can protect the lives of Japanese nationals and our territories, even when we have to engage in disaster-response at the same time.”
The National Defense Program Guidelines complied in 2010 by the Democratic Party of Japan spell out the nation’s defense capabilities for 10 years starting in fiscal 2011. The Midterm Defense Program covers Japan’s equipment capabilities for the five-year period from fiscal 2011.
One of the focuses of the review will be the dynamic defense concept, which was introduced to achieve flexible and effective use of the SDF against various unspecified contingencies, especially from China and North Korea.
“Personally, I am not sure if dynamic defense helps enhance Japan’s deterrence capability,” said Onodera, a security expert in the LDP who spent time as a visiting research fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in the U.S.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, led by Abe, pledged to increase defense spending, which has been dropping for the past 10 years. The defense budget for fiscal 2012 totaled about ¥4.6 trillion, which is less than 1 percent of gross domestic product.
“I understand we have to spend money to reboot Japan’s economy, but I hear increasing demands (from the public) to protect our territories,” said Onodera, a known hawk on territorial issues. “We will try to earmark a sufficient budget for that.”
One of the most difficult tasks Onodera faces is how to proceed with the long-stalled relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture. Opposition against the plan has been fierce for well over a decade but intensified especially after former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party of Japan reneged on his vow to kick the facility out of Okinawa. Anger against the U.S. military among Okinawan residents has also grown in response to the deployment of the controversial MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft and crimes laid to U.S. service members.
Having served as senior vice minister for foreign affairs in 2007 in Abe’s previous administration, and as parliamentary secretary at the Foreign Ministry in 2004 under then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Onodera said the LDP supports the plan to move the facility to the Henoko district in the city of Nago, also in Okinawa. The agreement was inked long ago between Tokyo and Washington under a previous LDP-New Komeito coalition government.
“The situation (now) is quite different from before. I will start by listening to the Okinawan people carefully,” said Onodera.