Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Fumio Ota

【#912】People’s Lives Depend on National Security

Fumio Ota / 2022.04.27 (Wed)

April 25, 2022

The Ministry of Finance has put a brake on a growing call from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for increasing Japan’s defense spending. “Japan can exercise its defense capabilities only when people’s lives, economy and finance are stable,” a MOF official said at a meeting of a finance minister’s advisory panel on April 20, according to press reports.

As a former member of Self-Defense Forces (SDF) having worked for national security for years, I would like to assert that if Japan plunges into a similar situation as Ukraine due to absence of security guarantee, people’s lives or economy will fail to stand.

Defense spending at 2% of GDP demonstrates Japan’s national will

Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who developed close relationship with then U.S. President Donald Trump, recalls that he was asked frequently by Trump why Japan’s defense spending relative to gross domestic product (GDP) was the lowest among major developed countries.

At a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington in April 2021, then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed to enhance Japan’s defense capabilities.

Given the above, it may be natural for Japan to realize a goal of defense spending at 2% of GDP as pursued by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries to demonstrate to the United States as its ally and the international community its national will to confront Russian threats that have emerged through the war in Ukraine as well as existing threats from China and North Korea.

However, even several former defense ministers including Taro Kono are trying to block substantial defense spending increase, insisting that Japan should accumulate what are required for its defense rather than setting a goal of defense spending at 2% of GDP.

No bullet under defense budget shortages

The SDF has allocated limited defense budget to procure tanks, destroyers, fighter aircraft and other major military hardware as visible deterrence, failing to sufficiently spend on invisible areas such as war-sustaining capabilities, endurance and research and development (R&D).

Our only fault is that we have no bullet to fire in rare firing opportunities, an SDF member lamented in a comic ‘senryu’ poem in a manner to mock the situation in which a low priority is given to ammunition procurement. When foreign defense attaches visited an Air Self-Defense Force base, one of them said that the ASDF was excellent enough to hide shelters for fighter aircraft as he saw no shelter. In fact, no funding was given for constructing shelters that are naturally constructed in most countries. It follows that fighter aircraft there may be destroyed immediately if the base comes under a surprise ballistic missile attack.

Furthermore, defense R&D budget in Japan is half the South Korean level. While the Ground Self-Defense Force has some reserve personnel necessary for sustaining a war, the Maritime or Air Self-Defense Force has almost no such personnel.

If defense budget is increased to 2% of GDP, improvements will be made in such areas that are invisible but indispensable for fighting.

Fumio Ota is a councilor and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. He is a retired Vice Admiral of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.