By Ichioka Toyohiro
Prime Minister Kishida Fumio tapped former Minister of Defense Hamada Yasukazu for defense chief to oversee the strengthening of Japan’s defense capabilities when he reshuffled his cabinet as well as the executive lineup of the Liberal Democratic Party on Aug. 10. With regards to increasing defense outlays, Hamada clearly drew a line at joining impetuous discussions that focus on increasing the allocation of money. Kishida’s pick of Hamada demonstrates that the prime minister hopes to avoid a situation where there are no brakes on defense spending. Within the party, however, Policy Research Council Chairperson Hagiuda Koichi is seeking to allocate in the budget a large sum of money to fulfil the will of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who had advocated the need to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities in short order. A battle between the government and the LDP is expected to intensify down the road.
Hamada served as minister of defense in the administration led by Aso Taro from 2008 to 2009. He has also served key posts within the party, such as chairperson of the Diet Affairs Committee. According to a senior MOD official, he is regarded by lawmakers in the defense lobby as “advisor.”
With the National Security Strategy and two other defense-related documents slated for revision by the year end, the government is expected to hold discussions with the Komeito Party, which is wary of strengthening defense capabilities. And the topic of an increase in defense spending is also expected to be deliberated in the upcoming Diet session as some members in the opposition camp are against the idea. Kishida entrusts Hamada to handle these challenges due to his vast experience and the confidence that others place in him.
Japan has kept defense spending within about 1% of its gross domestic product (GDP). After the budgets for fiscal 2023 are compiled at the end of the year, how much defense spending will be increased and the timing for the increase will become major points of contention during Diet debate.
In the previous Diet session, Kishida noted that “we will drastically reinforce our defense capabilities within five years.” But with regards to the extent of the increase in defense spending, he emphasized that “we will hold concrete and realistic discussions on the level of the increase in defense spending necessary to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people.”
Kishida takes the position of “increasing defense spending as needed.” Hamada holds a similar view, as he once said “how to build stronger defense capabilities is more important than how much money should be spent.” In this regard, he and Kishida are on the same page. It appears that in selecting a new defense minister the prime minister might have taken into consideration whether candidates shared with him a similar position on defense spending.
Meanwhile, Hagiuda, the closest aide of Abe, articulated at a press conference on Aug. 10 that [the party] will “expedite the implementation” of the promise that the party made during the Upper House campaign to increase defense spending to more than 2% of GDP to strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities. He held those in the prime minister’s circle in check by saying, “I will follow the example of the prime minister by demonstrating the ability to listen and will make a decision by coordinating [party members].”
Kishida appointed former Minister of Defense Kishi Nobuo, the younger brother of Abe, as special advisor to the prime minister on national security. Kishida and Hamada will pose a challenge to the fulfilment of Abe’s will while also keeping an eye on how to source money to increase defense spending. (Abridged)