Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led government will adopt new national defense program guidelines by year’s end, replacing those drafted by his predecessor administration, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, amid China’s accelerating moves to modernize its military.
The LDP administration will also scrap the medium-term defense program under the current National Defense Program Guidelines, which were adopted by the DPJ-led government in 2010.
The Chinese military’s buildup, its lack of transparency and stepped up naval activities are a “matter of common concern” in the region, Abe told a plenary session of the House of Councilors in late January, suggesting the new defense plan will treat China as a potential enemy.
The government will review the existing defense program guidelines against the backdrop of Chinese vessels’ repeated incursions into Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkakus and a Chinese aircraft’s violation of Japanese airspace above the islets in December. China disputes Japan’s control of the East China Sea chain.
The current guidelines, which include a cut of 1,000 Ground Self-Defense Force troops, have been described by the LDP as a “restructuring plan” for the Self-Defense Forces.
Among its campaign pledges for the Lower House election in December, the LDP said it would increase the SDF’s ranks, equipment and budget to enable it to defend Japan’s territorial land and sea “unyieldingly.”
After the end of the Cold War, the number of GSDF troops was cut in stages to 180,000, then to 160,000 and finally to 155,000 under LDP administrations.
Under the national budget for fiscal 2013, which starts April 1, the Abe government authorized the first personnel increase for the SDF in eight years, but it will be allowed to add only 287 new members in total. The Defense Ministry said it needs an additional 18,000 SDF members. It hopes the Abe administration will include the number in the new defense program guidelines.
Another focal point of the new guidelines will be how the concept of “dynamic defense capability” is treated. The current guidelines adopted the concept, which emphasizes quick and flexible responses to emergency situations, instead of “fundamental defense,” which calls for deploying SDF troops evenly over the country.
The concept of dynamic defense “stuck in my throat,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said at a news conference after taking up the post. Parliamentary Vice Defense Minister Masahisa Sato, a former GSDF officer, also questioned the concept, saying, “There can be no defense capacity that is not dynamic.”
But a senior ministry official involved in the preparation of the current guidelines stressed that moves toward dynamic defense capacity are a “common trend in the world.”
The concept does match the Abe administration’s stance on national defense by shifting priority from Cold War security strategies to the protection of Japan’s southwestern territory. In fact, Onodera said recently that the description of the concept does not matter “as long as the force strength and equipment of the SDF are maintained and mobilized effectively.”
The basic framework of the concept is therefore likely to remain in the new defense program guidelines. The government plans to prepare an interim report on the new national defense guidelines by the end of June.