The Defense Ministry’s fiscal 2015 budgetary requests of ¥5.045 trillion are the largest ever and represent a 3.5 percent rise from the current year’s budgets — a third-straight year-on-year increase. The defense budget had long been on a declining trend after hitting a peak in fiscal 2002, but the trend was reversed when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power in December 2012.
Officials of the Abe administration and the ministry should consider whether just increasing the defense budget will improve Japan’s security situation.
The government traditionally pursued a policy of improving the nation’s defense capabilities “by exercising moderation.” But the Abe administration appears to have discarded this principle when it adopted a new defense-programs outline last December. The phrase was knocked out of this document.
It must be noted that the fiscal 2015 defense budget will be compiled in accordance with the defense-programs outline and the medium-term force buildup program covering a period of fiscal 2014 to 2018, a document which the Abe administration adopted also in December.
The Defense Ministry’s procurement policy clearly stresses measures aimed at China. Its budgetary requests include ¥19 billion to expand a base in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, for an amphibious mobile group of the Ground Self-Defense Force, which will be used for defense of remote islands, to build a facility also in Sasebo for a unit consisting of amphibious vehicles for use in landing operations and to prepare for deployment of Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft at Saga airport. The GSDF plans to purchase 17 Osprey aircraft and deploy all of them at Saga.
The budgetary requests also call for ¥35.4 billion to borrow and lease two large private-sector ferry ships for 16 years to improve the transport capacity of the Self-Defense Forces.
All these measures conform with the force buildup program’s call for improving the SDF capabilities to quickly deploy its units in remote islands of Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures during emergencies.
Highly problematic is the inclusion of a request for ¥5 million for “research” on the introduction of a new ship that can carry Osprey aircraft, amphibious vehicles and more than 1,000 troops for landing operations on remote islands. In short this would be an amphibious assault ship as used by the U.S. Navy. Procurement of such a ship means that the SDF will be able to project forces to distant places. Such a move is a sharp deviation from the traditional “defense-only defense” policy, the key principle of postwar Japan’s defense posture.
The request also calls for ¥95.9 billion for purchase of six F-35 stealth fighters as the Air Self-Defense Force’s next-generation fighters. This is also problematic because the aircraft is known for its design problems.
It would be too simplistic to assume that the more the government spends on defense, the safer Japan will become. Such an approach could invite reactions from those countries at which Japan’s defense efforts are aimed, leading them to increase their own defense spending to countervail Japan. This could result in a spiraling arms race in the region, thereby destabilizing the security environment surrounding Japan. One wonders whether Prime Minister Abe and Defense Ministry officials are aware of this risk.
It is imperative that Japan exercise self-restraint in its defense equipment procurement and realize the importance of diplomacy as a means to resolve disputes with other nations.
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