Discussions have entered the final phase on the review of the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) and the Mid-term Defense Program with the goal of completing the review within this year. The key issue is how to respond to growing threats in new areas, such as China’s arms buildup and threats in space and cyberspace. The final documents will indicate the new defense capabilities necessary to respond to changes in the security environment.
The NDPG spells out the general direction of the government’s reinforcement and operation of defense capabilities. The National Security Secretariat and the Defense Ministry take the lead in its compilation. It is ultimately adopted as an official document after approval by the cabinet. Five such documents have been drafted since 1976.
The current NDPG was drawn up in 2013. There has been a dramatic increase in China’s military power since then, while space and cyberspace, which have not been recognized as “battlefields” previously, have become important.
Therefore, it is now necessary to deploy forces dynamically across the Ground, Maritime, and Air Defense Force boundaries. The NDPG normally comes up with a new catchphrase for defense capabilities each time. Currently, the focus is on “building a dynamic joint defense force.” The keyword in the ongoing review will be “cross-domain,” meaning capability to respond across the areas of space and cyberspace, in addition to land, sea, and air.
The NDPG mostly consists of abstract expressions, but the “Annex Table” at the end of this document spells out the number of personnel and major equipment.
In terms of time span, the NDPG normally covers a 10-year period. Although only five years have passed since the last review, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced another review last year. The past two reviews were also undertaken ahead of schedule because of the change from a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) administration to a Democratic Party of Japan administration and back to an LDP administration.
On the other hand, the Mid-term Defense Program, which consists of concrete equipment procurement plans based on the NDPG’s “Annex Table,” covers a shorter period of five years. The current one was compiled in 2013 and covers the 2014-2018 period. The Mid-term Defense Program also requires the cabinet’s approval. It shows the total budget for five years and the number of major weapons to be purchased. It is sometimes called the “shopping list” among government officials.
A Mid-term Defense Program was first drafted in 1985. It serves to prevent a sharp increase in defense spending by setting the general budgetary limit.
The defense budget was set “not to exceed” 1% of GNP in 1976 under the Miki cabinet. The Yasuhiro Nakasone cabinet lifted this restriction, so the defense budget for FY1987-89 exceeded the 1% limit. At present, the defense budget is based on GDP. Although defense spending in recent years has tended to increase, the GDP has also expanded, so the budget has basically been able to stay within 1% of GDP.
The ruling parties working team of the LDP and Komeito is slated to hold its first meeting shortly. The government envisions approval of the two documents by the cabinet in mid-December. (Abridged)