RISING JAPANESE DEFENCE SPENDING LOOKS BEYOND PACIFIC STANCE
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
23 Apr 14. The need for greater territory and island protection were the principle components behind the Japanese government announcement to spend an increased 23.97 trillion yen ($239bn) on defence over the next five years. Japan’s decision to raise the level of defence spending is hardly surprising given a rising number of threats and current state of relationships with China, Russia and other South East Asia nations including South Korea. But does the increased level of spending on defence signal too that although Japan carries a still high level of air and maritime defence capability that its government could be preparing the nation to finally ditch the pacifist stance written into law since Japan surrendered to the allies in 1945?
In a speech to the DAVOS World Economic Forum in January Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe compared the tensions between China and Japan to the rivalry that existed between German and British empires a hundred years ago. He used the same speech to condemn China’s military build-up for destabilising the region warning of “inadvertent conflict” and that as things looked then there was no “explicit roadmap” to resolve the current dispute. Not that Japan has ever been close to either of its big neighbours, China and Russia but it does now seem that chances of a diplomatic solution to the five disputed unoccupied islands which the Japanese have long controlled but which Chinese government are now claiming are very slim.
For decades Japan’s defence policy has been shaped around the nation having undertaken at the end of WW2 to essentially reject war and, along with Germany and Italy, commit within the respective constitutions that to prepare for war of aggression is unconstitutional. But while Japan isn’t alone in having agreed post war constitution that rejects war it is the only one of the defeated powers that abolished militarism and forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means to settle international disputes.
But while Article 9 of the Japanese constitution prevents the nations well prepared ‘Japanese Self-Defense Force’ (JSDF) from engaging in any form of combat operation or training with other nations it does not prevent Japan from holding substantial levels of capability albeit spending less than one third the amount on defence that China currently does. In terms of constitutional revision time may not necessarily be a healer and Article 9 is likely to remain on the statute until either Japan is very seriously threatened or that a decision is taken to re-write a significant part of the constitution that has been there ever since the nation surrendered to the Americans in 1945. Until that day eventually occurs we may assume that the Abe Government will retain the exceptionally strong links with the US on all matters defense but we should not ignore the increasingly loud noises from Prime Minister Abe that there is a growing desire to dump the pacifist stance albeit that as far as I can see there is no overriding desire yet visible that voters share the same belief.
Nevertheless, Japan is in no mood to be bullied by China, Russia or anyone else come to that. China may, just as Russia has done in the past be testing Japanese metal to see how far they can go but with few friends in the South East Asia region there is little doubt that Japan feels vulnerable. With President Obama in Tokyo today for talks with the Japanese government on a range of trade and other issues the current round of Chinese diplomacy and the future intentions in respect of acquiring additional defence equipment will be high on the agenda.
When the Government led by Shinzo Abe announced the raised five-year defense budget plan spend there was confirmation of an intention to acquire more military fast jets ove