The fiscal year 2012 supplementary budget approved today by the Abe
cabinet also included spending on defense. MOD requested 212 billion yen
($2.4 billion) to spend on telecommunications equipment, base
renovations, and missile defense capabilities. The Japan Coast Guard,
part of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism,
also requested funds for six additional patrol ships.
Isn't this shocking? No. Relatively speaking, Japan has
successfully limited growth in its defense spending over the past
decade. Compare for example the growth in annual defense spending by its
neighbors. China's defense budget is estimated to have grown by more
than 10 percent annually, and South Korea's defense spending has grown
from 5 to 10 percent annually. Japan's decision to up its defense
spending may be a surprise, but it is long overdue.
Did the Abe cabinet decide to purchase an aircraft carrier? No.
(At least, not yet.) This question came from a Chinese journalist, and
refers to the request for a helicopter equipped destroyer in next year's
budget. Not quite an aircraft carrier, at least of the variety that
China just deployed or those that the U.S. Navy maintains. But there is plenty in the new MOD request
to signal Japan's concern over its southwestern waters. In addition to
the new destroyer, the MOD request includes a submarine, two P-1
reconnaissance aircraft, upgrades to E-767 early warning planes, and
other measures devised to up its intelligence, surveillance, and
Is this evidence of a rise in Japanese militarism? Hardly.
There is a serious debate among policymakers as to whether this is
actually sufficient to deal with the growing challenges Japan could face
in the years ahead. Prime Minister Abe's new government is widely seen
as more hawkish, and thus the interpretation of this budget's meaning
differs widely. Martin Fackler's NYT piece early in the week sees this as the new prime minister's effort "to bolster Japan's declining influence," while a WSJ article
views this week's announcements in Tokyo as "paltry" and instead
admonishes Japan's new prime minister "to get serious about defense, and
fast." Expect this conversation to continue as the specifics of Japan's
defense policy develop.
Will Prime Minister Abe use this new defense budget to beef up Japan's southwestern (including Senkaku Islands) defenses?
Yes, indeed. His predecessor, Yoshihiko Noda, already began that
process in October last year when he outlined an enhanced budget (17
billion yen, or $190 million) for Japan's coast guard. New patrol ships
with upgraded image transmissions systems for their helicopters are
already under procurement, with an expected deployment in 2015. In the
meantime, older vessels will be extended in service until the newer
ships come online. The 11th Regional Fleet based in Naha, Okinawa, has
been enhanced to cope with a 24/7 patrol schedule now needed to respond
to the increase in Chinese patrols in and around the Senkaku Islands.
Moreover, Japan's coast guard will need even more resources if it is to
continue to match the growing deployments of Chinese vessels.