Last week, Japan approved a new national security strategy, one of the country’s largest defence shake-ups since World War II. This is a marked shift from the country’s pacifist approach, which has dominated its political discourse for decades, writes Asad Mirza
After Germany, Japan becomes the second country to overhaul its military in the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war and increasing Chinese belligerence.
It seems as if the war indirectly and the Chinese belligerence in the region directly has forced another country to give up its long-standing stand of being a non-military nation.
Pacifist Japan has said it would soon start a once-unthinkable $320 billion military build-up that would arm it with missiles capable of striking China and ready it for a sustained conflict as regional tensions and Russia’s Ukraine invasion stoke war fears, globally.
Last week, Japan approved a new national security strategy, one of the country’s largest defence shake-ups since World War II. This is a marked shift from the country’s pacifist approach, which has dominated its political discourse for decades.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government worries that Russia has set a precedent that will encourage China to attack Taiwan, threatening nearby Japanese islands, disrupting supplies of advanced semi-conductors, and putting a potential stranglehold on sea lanes that supply Middle East oil.
The newly released National Security Paper spells out that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a serious violation of laws that forbid the use of force and has shaken the foundations of the international order, and the strategic challenge posed by China is the biggest Japan has ever faced.
In its sweeping five-year plan and revamped national security strategy, the Japanese government said on 16th December, that it would also stockpile spare parts and other munitions, reinforce logistics, develop cyber-warfare capabilities, and cooperate more closely with the United States and other like-minded nations to deter threats to the established international order.
Neighbouring South Korea issued a strong protest against Japan’s territorial claim over disputed islands made in a national security paper, while cautiously responding to Tokyo’s plans for an unprecedented military build-up.
South Korea’s foreign ministry has demanded an immediate removal of the territorial claims from Japan’s national strategy documents, saying in a statement that the move did nothing to help “building a future-oriented relationship” between the two countries, and it hoped the implementation of Japan’s new security policy will be transparent and contribute to regional peace and stability while continuing to uphold the spirit of is pacifist constitution.
On his part, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol who took office in May has tried to improve ties with Tokyo, which have been marred by the territorial row over the islands and historic disputes stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea.
However, President Yoon, had said in an interview in November that it was understandable for Japan to boost its defence spending given the growing threat from North Korea’s ballistic missile programme.
Meanwhile. China has said said that hyping up the threat posed by Beijing to back its military build-up “is doomed to fail.” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin has said that Japan’s new defence policy ignores facts, deviates from its commitment to China-Japan relations and the common understandings between the two countries, and groundlessly discredits China’s defence building and normal military activities. China resolutely opposes this and has made serious demarches to the Japanese side through diplomatic channels.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has praised Japan’s new national security and defence strategies, saying they will also support the US-Japan alliance.
Sullivan also praised the Japanese Prime Minister commitment to international peace, nuclear non-proliferation, and his leadership, including support for Ukraine.
The reason for US to welcome the Japanese decision stems from the prism, which it uses to view China. US sees China as “the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective”.
Washington has positioned the next decade — the same period covered by Japan’s three new security documents — as a critical period.
Japan becomes 3rd-biggest military spender
Unthinkable under past administrations, the rapid arming of Japan, which already hosts US forces, including a carrier strike group and a Marine expeditionary force, has the backing of most voters, according to opinion polls. Some surveys put support as high as 70 per cent of voters.
Kishida’s plan will double defence outlays to about 2 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) over the next five years, and increase the defence ministry’s share to about one-10th of all public spending.
It will also make Japan the world’s third-biggest military spender after the US and China, based on current budgets.
The five-year spending roadmap did not come with a detailed plan for how Kishida’s administration would pay for it, as ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers continue to discuss whether to raise taxes or borrow money.
Having seen Russia’s and Ukraine’s enormous expenditure of munitions and material, the Japanese government is focused on buying munitions, spare parts, and other equipment that the Japanese forces will need if a conflict breaks out in the next few years. In addition, Japan will acquire new capabilities, such as long-range missiles that can strike enemy missiles on the launchpad, and it will invest in future high-tech capabilities in realms such as cyber and space. In toto, Japan’s armed forces will fast become much more formidable in the near future.
In fact, Japan becomes the second country after Germany to give up its post-WW II stance on being a military power, in the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war. But the notable point is that in both cases the US has welcomed the decision of both the governments, as it will translate in big business for its armaments industry.
In reality the Japanese decision may lead to an end to the ear of non-alignment and efforts to establish world peace sans armaments.
(Asad Mirza is a political commentator and media consultant based in New Delhi.)