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Editorial: Swelling purchases of US weapons at asking prices raises questions

  • December 20, 2017
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

As the Japanese government scrambles to introduce ultrahigh-end defense equipment from the United States, questions have arisen over whether the government is making enough of an effort to convince taxpayers when their understanding is imperative for such big purchases.

The government decided to introduce land-based Aegis Ashore missile interceptor batteries in order to counter ballistic missiles launched by North Korea. A battery will be installed at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s exercise areas in the city of Akita and in the Yamaguchi Prefecture city of Hagi for possible operation from fiscal 2023.


However, local residents in the two cities have voiced deep misgivings, saying that instead of helping defend the country, the batteries may be the targets of attacks. The government should provide these people with sufficient explanations to ease their anxieties.


It is only natural for a government to equip a country with defense systems necessary to protect the safety of its people. However, a colossal amount of money is required to introduce cutting-edge defense equipment. The introduction of the two Aegis Ashore systems is expected to cost a total of 200 billion yen — or even more.


The twin batteries are set to be introduced under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) arrangement, where deals are directly made between the Japanese and U.S. governments.


Under the FMS program, which is authorized by the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, the United States sells state-of-the-art weapons, ammunitions and other military equipment to its allies and friends. The countries purchasing those items must accept the conditions set by Washington, such as the estimated price, advance payment in principle and the delivery schedule.


While the program allows for the acquisition of the most advanced equipment, it leaves Japan at the mercy of U.S. asking prices due to a lack of competition normally generated by the presence of mediating trading houses.


Japan’s defense spending has been on a steep rise since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power in 2012. Specifically, the total amount of purchases through the FMS program soared roughly 4.5 times from that during the five-year period before 2012.


The U.S. government is said to favor FMS contracts over license agreements that enable production in partner countries. In addition, the Abe administration is rushing to introduce cutting-edge defense equipment to counter China’s maritime advancement and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs — even at the cost of heavy outlays.


U.S. President Donald Trump has been eager to pitch “Made in America” weapons to allied nations. At this rate, there may well be a chance that FMS deals keep snowballing in volume.


As Prime Minister Abe has highlighted the need to beef up Japan’s defense capabilities, if purchases under FMS contracts keep swelling, the country’s defense spending could be left to balloon.


Japan has been suffering from fiscal constraints while facing the need to strike a balance between defense outlays and social security expenditures. Reckless spending on FMS contracts could also raise concerns over a possible contraction in Self-Defense Forces’ personnel costs and equipment inventory.


Unless measures are taken to ensure sufficient information disclosure and transparent price negotiations, defense equipment purchases via FMS would in no way gain the Japanese public’s understanding.

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