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Editorial: Can Japan protect itself with defense budget that is “1% of GDP”?

The first Defense White Paper of the Reiwa Era has been released. For the first time ever, the white paper makes the assessment that North Korea “has already miniaturized nuclear weapons to fit ballistic missile warheads.”


It is very significant that that nuclear warheads can be loaded onto ballistic missiles directed at Japan. The report also states that “no concrete progress has yet been observed in North Korea’s dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction and missiles.” As the report states, North Korea poses a “serious and imminent threat.” In addition to missile defense, Japan needs to rush to enhance its long-distance cruise missile capabilities.


We can’t take our eyes off China, either.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that the Japan-China relationship “has completely returned to a normal track.”


The report, however, states the current reality that China is expanding and intensifying its military activities.


Japan’s defense budget for this fiscal year is about 5.2 trillion yen. China’s announced defense budget alone is approximately 20.2 trillion yen. It has ballooned about 48-fold over the past 30 years and about 2.5-fold in the past 10 years. China has engaged in “broad, rapid improvement” of its military power with a focus on its nuclear, missile, naval, and air forces. The Chinese Navy and Air Force have rapidly expanded their activities in the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan. The Chinese Navy has “made routine its activities” in the area surrounding the Senkaku Islands.


The Defense White Paper describes China as a “serious security concern,” but Japan should take the further step of identifying it as a threat and taking action.


In the chapter on security cooperation, Japan downgraded South Korea in its list of important security cooperation partners [other than the United States] to fourth from last year’s ranking of second. The chapter cites the incident in which an ROK Navy destroyer used its fire-control radar to illuminate a Maritime Self-Defense Force aircraft. Japan can’t let down its guard. The report should have mentioned and analyzed the anti-Japan activities in the chapter on military trends in the ROK.


The white paper emphasizes that “technological innovation is radically changing the nature of security.” Countries are hurrying to develop state-of-the-art technologies, including drones, artificial intelligence (AI), and the military use of new domains such as outer space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum.


The white paper explains Japan’s policy to enhance the capabilities of the SDF in new domains, but this may fail to live up to expectations. China, for example, is estimated to have a 30,000-member cyber force for cyber attacks. The SDF [Cyber Defense Group] has about 220 personnel in FY2019. Japan’s defense expenditure has only increased slightly in recent years. The reality is that it still does not exceed 1% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).


The report explains the harsh security environment and highlights the SDF’s initiatives, but Japan cannot ensure the safety of its people unless it can secure budget and personnel. Prime Minister Abe should make the decision to drastically increase Japan’s defense expenditure.

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