Kishida aims to strengthen defense and fight against bureaucratic sectionalism

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, center, addresses an advisory group in Tokyo on October 20.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has set himself several goals to strengthen Japan’s deterrent capability. One of these goals is to increase the defense budget over the next five years to meet the North Atlantic Treaty Organization target of 2% of gross domestic product. Historically, Japan has limited its defense spending to less than 1% of GDP. The budget increase to 2% will mark a historic shift in Japanese defense policy. No significant objections to this goal exist within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, although there is debate about how Japan will achieve this.

Kishida aims to meet Japan’s 2% target by introducing a new definition of defense spending under the “NATO standard” of accounting. This means that the national defense budget would include some already existing items that Japan does not currently count in defense spending, such as the Japan Coast Guard budget and the science and technology budgets of other ministries and agencies. Some members of the PLD fear that the new concept will artificially increase the defense budget. However, these members probably don’t understand Kishida’s real motive in introducing the concept.

On September 30, at the first meeting of a group of experts to discuss Japan’s national defense capabilities in depth, Kishida stressed, “We must break bureaucratic sectionalism and consider strengthening the overall defense system, including the use of research and development in the public and private sectors and public infrastructure where possible.

At the panel’s second meeting on October 20, Kishida asked government departments and agencies to consider a new framework in which budgets related to research projects and public infrastructure would be counted as defense-related expenditures.

The key concept here is to “break bureaucratic sectionalism”. The JCG and the Maritime Self-Defense Force should strengthen their collaboration to handle the situation in the Senkaku Islands, where many Chinese ships are intruding into Japanese territorial waters around the islands. Discord between the JCG and the MSDF hampered the operations of both for years. However, the time has come when the JCG can no longer be seen simply as an arm of law enforcement unfit to participate in a Senkaku contingency. A JCG officer recently told me that there are many things the JCG must do when a contingency arises. And an MSDF officer recently told me that the MSDF supports strengthening the JCG. He also hopes that the defense budget and the JCG budget will increase, which is why he strongly supports the concept of a unified defense-related budget.

Kishida has also set his sights on research and development spending. The entire government budget for science and technology exceeds 4 trillion yen per year. The Ministry of Defense receives only 4%, while the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology receives 49%. Experts point out that there are many areas in the budgets of other departments that would overlap with defence. But so far, no significant collaboration exists between the research and development projects of these ministries and the field of defence.

The main reason is avoidance on the part of bureaucracy and academia, both of which fear any association with memories of Japan’s pre-war buildup in the early 20th century. At that time, military authorities forced academics to cooperate in the development of weapons.

But 77 years have now passed since the end of the war. The situation surrounding research and development has changed dramatically. In recent years, “dual-use” technology with military and civilian applications has become more prominent. Major countries, including the United States and China, are now consolidating dual-use research and development under a whole-of-government approach. Japan must do the same.

Of course, the government’s fiscal situation affects these proposed reforms. Japan’s gross government debt, including central and local government debt, to GDP ratio is not only higher than any other major advanced country, it is the highest in the world. Therefore, the government must carefully craft the budget to be as effective as possible.

Kishida understands this situation well. At the September 30 panel meeting, the Prime Minister noted that “even in an emergency, we must prevent the credibility of our nation and the lives of our citizens from being compromised.” A nation usually needs to issue government bonds in the foreign market when it goes to war. Japan did this during the Russo-Japanese War. Yet obtaining financial resources to increase the defense budget will not be easy.

If Kishida decides to raise tax rates, he will surely face backlash from voters. To boost the defense budget, the government must probe the sentiment of its citizens. Kishida credited himself with the “ability to listen” to the audience. Now Kishida must demonstrate his ability to persuade the public of the need to defend Japan and what it will take to do so. Japan’s future depends on every citizen’s serious reflection on these pressing issues.

A close aide told Kishida, “If you succeed in strengthening Japanese defense capabilities, including obtaining counterattack capabilities, that will be your legacy.” Kishida agreed. The government will revise three defense documents, including the national security strategy, by the end of this year. The documents establish the size of the defense budget and the content of the nation’s defense capability. The PLD and Komeito, its ruling coalition partner, have started talks on the issue. At the September 30 meeting, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada stressed, “We have little time left. We must act immediately and achieve a drastic reinforcement of our defense capabilities within five years. The next two months will be critical in determining the long-term direction of Japanese security policy.

Of course, the government’s fiscal situation affects these proposed reforms. Japan’s gross government debt, including central and local government debt, to GDP ratio is not only higher than any other major advanced country, it is the highest in the world. Therefore, the government must carefully craft the budget to be as effective as possible.

Kishida understands this situation well. At the September 30 panel meeting, the Prime Minister noted that “even in an emergency, we must prevent the credibility of our nation and the lives of our citizens from being compromised.” A nation usually needs to issue government bonds in the foreign market when it goes to war. Japan did this during the Russo-Japanese War. Yet obtaining financial resources to increase the defense budget will not be easy.

If Kishida decides to raise tax rates, he will surely face backlash from voters. To boost the defense budget, the government must probe the sentiment of its citizens. Kishida credited himself with the “ability to listen” to the audience. Now Kishida must demonstrate his ability to persuade the public of the need to defend Japan and what it will take to do so. Japan’s future depends on every citizen’s serious reflection on these pressing issues.

A close aide told Kishida, “If you succeed in strengthening Japanese defense capabilities, including obtaining counterattack capabilities, that will be your legacy.” Kishida agreed. The government will revise three defense documents, including the national security strategy, by the end of this year. The documents establish the size of the defense budget and the content of the nation’s defense capability. The PLD and Komeito, its ruling coalition partner, have started talks on the issue. At the September 30 meeting, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada stressed, “We have little time left. We must act immediately and achieve a drastic reinforcement of our defense capabilities within five years. The next two months will be critical in determining the long-term direction of Japanese security policy.

Political Pulse appears every Saturday.




Michitaka Kaiya

Kaiya is an editor in the political news department of the Yomiuri Shimbun.


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