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Japan’s fiscal woes make discussions on nuclear deterrence urgently necessary

  • March 12, 2022
  • , Nikkei , p. 19
  • JMH Translation

By “Penjiri”


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought about a major shift in Japan’s debate over security. President Vladimir Putin did not listen to the United States and other countries and decided to change the status quo by force. Putin will not hesitate to threaten the use of nuclear weapons. There are suspicions that China, another autocratic state and a nuclear power, will take similar actions in Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.


There is no doubt that Japan’s defense spending, currently at about 5 trillion yen, will increase over the medium to long term. To date, Japan’s defense budget has been kept within 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP). The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s goal of “2% or more” serves as a guideline for Japan as well. If Japan’s GDP does not grow, the defense budget is projected to increase by about 5 trillion yen.


Such a level of increase will create difficulties for Japan, which suffers from poor fiscal health. The scale of Japan’s general account budget is over 100 trillion yen, of which over 70 trillion yen constitutes fixed expenditures such as social security, government bonds, and allocations for local governments. Although the remaining 30 trillion yen can be more flexibly managed, would it be appropriate to cut public works spending despite problems with aging infrastructure, or educational expenses, which are indispensable for reducing disparity? Aggressive spending in new future-oriented industries is also called for.


In other words, the cost-effectiveness of defense spending will be called into question more than ever. The public will not feel safe just because the government introduces expensive and high-performance American equipment such as Aegis ships and stealth fighters. A good example is the missile defense system that Japan and the U.S. have been focusing on. It is said that one of the interceptor missiles launched by Aegis ships costs billions of yen, yet they have difficulty shooting down the new missiles developed by Russia and North Korea. On the other hand, China’s defense spending continues to increase every year and is currently at about 26 trillion yen, based on publicized figures. The difference between China’s and Japan’s spending is likely to grow in the future.


This is the reason why there are calls for enhancing deterrence through nuclear sharing and the ability to attack enemy bases. Nuclear sharing is a scheme to deploy American nuclear weapons in Japan to jointly operate them. This scheme is adopted by some NATO non-nuclear countries such as Germany. It has been pointed out that the scheme could dispel some anxiety over the “nuclear umbrella,” such as doubts as to whether “the U.S. will protect Tokyo at the expense of New York.”


As the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack during wartime, we should maintain our ideal of pursuing a world without nuclear weapons. On the other hand, a defense network that uses people’s tax money cannot be “all show and no substance.” Discussions without constraints are necessary at a time when the reality surrounding Japan is so pressing.

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