On July 22 this year, the Japanese Ministry of Defense published a concise (English-language) version of the annual Defense White Paper update. The 500-plus page original usually appears later. However, the concise version already mentioned provides an indication of the innovations in the assessment of Japan’s political and military environment over the past year, as well as the nature of the national leadership’s response to them.
In general, one can record a reproduction of the main points noted by the NEO a year ago. In particular, nothing radical has happened in terms of defense funding, despite repeated declarations by the country’s leadership, including Prime Minister F. Kishida, of the intention to double defense spending over the next five years. This would eventually bring them to 2% of GDP, while Japan’s defense budget has been in the 1% range for the past few decades.
In the current fiscal year 2022 (which begins in Japan on April 1), the 1% figure will not be exceeded either. In total, ¥5.4 trillion is earmarked for defense (including costs related to the US military contingent, which is within 5% of Japan’s total military expenditure). The same figure was used for the national GDP in 2021. It is also worth taking into account the fact that the yen has sharply weakened against the dollar from ¥115 to one dollar in January-February this year (when the budget for 2022 was being prepared) to almost ¥140 in mid-July.
The various aspects of the negative impact of the collapsing yen on the Japanese defense ministry’s capabilities at least include the fact that the weapons systems it procures involve a large proportion of end products and components from US companies. Tokyo simply cannot afford to forgo such “cooperation” with its key ally (which, by the way, its own defense industry has long sought). After all, such products represent relatively few things that the United States can offer Japan in a bilateral trade that is extremely lucrative for the latter. That is, the notorious factor of the “American occupation” is also allegedly “totally irrelevant” in this case (as in some aspects of Japanese foreign policy).
As for the aforementioned plans to double military spending over five years, an annual increase of 15-20% is required to achieve this goal. Again, this is not the case this year. As for the next one, the statement made by the Secretary-General of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, T. Motegi, on July 27 shows that the government is only going to ask parliament for a ten per cent increase in the defense budget. It is possible that the probability of some kind of problems in the economy is being taken into account, which in these times of “increasing global turbulence” cannot be ruled out. The above mentioned yen is already reacting to it to a not insignificant extent today.
This should be borne in mind when one hears more and more “intense” defense rhetoric recently from both Prime Minister F. Kishida and Minister of Defense N. Kishi.
The document under discussion is preceded by an introductory article by the latter, whose assessment of the emerging world situation is reflected in the very first (trivial) sentences: “The international community is currently facing its greatest trial since WWII. It is not an exaggeration to say that we have entered a new period of crisis in the twenty-first century.”
The content of these general theses is revealed in the form of various consequences of the “Russian aggression against Ukraine which shocked the world”, which, according to N. Kishi, “shook the very foundation of the international order based on universal values.” Furthermore, the event did not only affect Europe, but also proved to be a “challenge to the global power balance.” What worries N. Kishi most is that something similar may happen in the Indo-Pacific region, where “China continues to unilaterally change or attempt to change the status quo by coercion in the East China Sea and South China Sea.”
Japan’s ability to counter these and other “challenges” is helped by the fact that the country is fortunate to “have many likeminded partners.” The key one is, of course, Washington, whose military and political alliance is described as “unshakeable”. Australia is also mentioned as a “likeminded partner”, both on its own and as a member of the trilateral AUKUS format, which also includes the US and the United Kingdom. However, Japan is not yet a member. Further reference is made to Japan’s membership of the Quad format, which also includes the same US and Australia as well as India. It should be noted that so far the above configuration does not contain any definite military component and there is no indication as to why it would appear in the near future. In this respect, N. Kishi’s words about the prospect of a “further deepening” of the Quad look rather ambiguous.
The absence of the Republic of Korea not only from Japan’s list of “likeminded partners” but also from the Japanese defense minister’s introductory text was also noteworthy. This can only mean that despite the high-profile statements in recent months from both sides about the desire to improve bilateral relations, as well as the long-standing efforts of Washington (which is in alliance with both Japan and the ROK separately), there seems to be no significant positive movement so far.
It is also worth noting that a group of experts formed by the government is currently working on a new edition of the National Security Strategy, which will replace a similar document of 2013, which was then the first in Japan’s post-war period. The very fact that it appeared was an important stage in a years-long process of rethinking the country’s position on the world stage, as well as aligning its military building strategy with it. The new NSS will undoubtedly reflect the changes that have accumulated since then, both in the space surrounding Japan and in all aspects of defense issues.
To a certain extent, the document under discussion also reflects these developments. This is particularly true for the military and technical equipment of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, a qualitatively new phase of which can be seen throughout the text of the document under discussion. In particular, there is a photo of a prototype device based on new physical principles that is being developed to solve the problem of defense against attack by hypersonic aircraft. Earlier, one could read expert opinion that Japan was ahead of the US in such developments and now the two countries are joining forces based precisely on Japanese achievements.
But, apparently, work is underway in the area of attacking hypersonic vehicles as well. This is evidenced by the announcement of a test launch of a hypersonic missile by the (formally civilian) Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Commentators on the new Defense White Paper unanimously note the first clear-cut Japanese involvement in the escalating Taiwan issue. Whereas previously the situation around the island was described as “a matter of concern”, it has now been made clear that an emergency situation around Taiwan would mean an emergency situation for Japan as well.
Finally, it is regrettable to note that the content of the document discussed here fits into the overall alarming context of developments in the Indo-Pacific region as a whole.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.