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Commentary: Kishida, LDP blurring campaign issue

By Yora Masao, senior writer


What should be Japan’s defense posture during Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine? It is natural for political parties to compete in presenting their visions for defense in the ongoing Upper House election campaign.


But is it true that national defense has really become a major election campaign issue? I doubt it. The vision presented by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is nothing but ambiguous.


Its campaign platform says: “With an eye to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s defense spending target as a share of gross domestic product (more than 2% of GDP), we will achieve the budget level needed to drastically strengthen our defense capabilities within five years starting from next fiscal year.”


On the other hand, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio repeatedly says, “I’ve never said that the government should set a numerical target (of 2%)” and says that the details will be fleshed out before a new National Security Strategy document is compiled by the year end.


Meanwhile, Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) representative Izumi Kenta argues: “What (Prime Minister Kishida) says is significantly different from the LDP election platform. His stance will be closer to ours if [he does not seek] to set a priority on the size of defense spending.”


The CDPJ says in its campaign platform: “We will increase defense capabilities in a steady fashion.” The difference between the CDPJ’s position and that of the LDP is indeed hard to understand.


The tricky part of the LDP policy platform is the phrase “with an eye to.”


It was former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo who started the defense spending debate and demanded Japan increase its defense spending to “2% of its GDP” by using NATO as an example. So many people in the party favor this idea that Kishida can’t ignore it. 


[Kishida may have thought that] if the numerical target is included in the campaign platform, this would surely set off the criticism that there “has yet to be debate on what defense equipment is needed.” The use of the phrase “with an eye to” could help Abe save face, and Kishida could use the phrase as an excuse and claim that “there is no formal decision on the 2% target.”


In a nutshell, the “with an eye to” phrase was the product of compromise.


According to the 2% scenario, the nation’s defense spending would double, which would mean an additional 5 trillion yen needs to be secured. The LDP does not want to say this explicitly because it fears saying so “would send a shock wave across the nation.” This is another example of the dishonesty of the LDP.


However much Kishida stresses that he will make the “final decision,” there is no doubt that Abe will have a greater say in the Kishida government. This is called a “dual structure of power,” and this is what the public must see with its eyes wide open.


If the LDP wins the Upper House election, Kishida will move to increase defense spending by cutting other budgets or issuing government bonds. Even if Kishida’s reputation falls because of this, Abe will not take responsibility. I’m indeed worried about what will happen next.


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