‘Sticker shock’ awaits Defense Minister Kishi on promised spending

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Originally published by Japan Forward

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In an interview with Asia Nikkei on Wednesday, May 19, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said, “We will properly allocate the funding we need to protect our nation” without considering outlays in relation to GDP.

He also said “[Japan] must increase our defense capabilities at a radically different pace than in the past,” given the increasingly dangerous regional security environment.

This suggests that tight-fisted Japan will spend whatever it takes to get its defense in shape, and will not be bound by the informal “1% of GDP” limit that it has followed for many years.

But how much will Japan actually need to spend to reach a level that might be considered “adequate”?

Let’s think it through:

Japan currently spends over $51 billion USD a year on defense.

This might sound like a lot, and Japanese officials often boast that this is the ninth straight year Japan’s defense budget has increased. But before this run of nine straight increases, Japan had cut defense spending every year for a decade.

So, during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s eight years and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s one year, Japanese defense spending was climbing out of a “trough” – and has increased by maybe a little over 15%.  Compared with the defense budget nearly two decades ago, this isn’t much at all.

And the threats facing Japan (and the United States) these days in Asia have gone up by a lot more than 15%.

China is executing the biggest and fastest military buildup of any military since World War II (and maybe in history). The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) already presents Japanese (and U.S.) forces with a serious challenge.

Beijing claims Japan’s Senkaku Islands, which it insists are Chinese, and its naval and air forces have been turning up in the area with distressing frequency and in bigger numbers. China also claims all of Japan’s Ryukyu island chain.

Seoul also has longstanding territorial and historical grievances against Tokyo. And North Korea loathes Japan.

Looking north, Japan has territorial issues with Russia.

Stating the obvious, if the Americans weren’t around, things would be grim indeed for Tokyo.

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