Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, in its budget request for fiscal year 2023, expects to double its defence spending over five years from the current 5.4 trillion yen to 11 trillion yen in 2028. That is, by 2028, the military budget of the Land of the Rising Sun will exceed $80 billion. Spending on such a scale could move Japan from ninth to third place in the world in terms of defence spending (after the US and China), and this despite the fact that the “pacifist” constitution has not yet been changed.
Why would a country that has “renounced the use of armed force as a means of settling international disputes…” (to quote the ninth so-called “peaceful” article of the Japanese Constitution in force since May 3, 1947) spend so much money on the army? The Russian-Ukrainian crisis, the rising tensions around Taiwan and North Korea’s continued missile tests are all reasons for the drastic increase in defence spending.
Calls for changing the “peace” article of the constitution have been made since the beginning of the 21st century, so we can say that Japan is systematically moving towards remilitarization. According to the laws of the Land of the Rising Sun, to change the constitution the country must have the support of two-thirds of MPs in both houses of parliament and then submit the amendments to a public vote. Until recently, there were no clear regulations for holding a referendum, making constitutional revision virtually impossible. In 2021, the parliament legislated the rules for the referendum, thereby opening the way for changing the basic law and further militarising Japan.
What has the morrow in store for us?
Speaking of the draft military budget for fiscal year 2023, it is worth noting that it originally envisaged a very modest increase to ¥5.5 trillion. But Japan’s defence ministry is now considering the prospect of purchasing new weapons: advanced missiles and air defence systems capable of intercepting rockets launched from China and North Korea, including hypersonic missiles. In addition, drones are to be adopted. Japan is seeking to expand its arsenal to 1,000 rockets that could be launched from ships and planes and hit targets in North Korea and China. Funding would also be used to jointly develop a new-generation fighter aircraft with the UK. In addition, a significant increase in the salaries of Japanese military personnel is under consideration.
That said, the risks of a direct invasion of the Japanese islands by a neighbour are practically nil. In principle, Japan could be attacked by Russia, China or North Korea. However, neither the former nor the latter is ready for that. Russia is now solving its own problems in Ukraine and is likely to continue to do so for a long time, China is trying hard to avoid a war, hoping to dominate the world and replace the United States with a powerful economy, while North Korea intimidates the world with its nuclear weapons precisely because it is terrified of foreign intervention.
The new center of power
The policy of militarization should therefore be regarded as a deliberate choice by Japan’s political elite, which wants to make the country a key player in the region and then in the world. And although on the one hand it is impossible to speak of Japan’s political independence, because on politico-military and strategic issues Tokyo completely relies on Washington’s position. But on the other hand, the Japanese people’s historical memory of the former greatness of the Japanese empire that conquered half of Southeast Asia is still too alive and relevant. Therefore, Japan’s militarization may have its roots in Tokyo’s desire to become a stronger and more relevant player on the world stage once more. And there is now every reason to believe that the country of rising militarism is moving systematically towards that goal.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Alan Callow is a freelance journalist based in the Philippines. He has experience in covering the Asia Pacific region.