Japan's Defence Budget Hike under Kishida: Possibilities and Challenges

Increasing the defence budget is a usual thing for any state to do unless it is a country with a pacifist constitution and a dovish leader doing it. Japan has constantly been increasing its defence budget since 2012, a year when the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) under Shinzo Abe came back to power after three years of being in the opposition. It appeared natural since then-Prime Minister Abe was seen as a hawkish leader with a bolder approach to security issues.

It sparked renewed attention as the proposal to increase Japan’s defence budget continued. It even reached a new peak under the current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who comes from a traditionally dovish faction Kochikai. Approaching the 2021 General Election, LDP stated in its manifesto that it will increase Japan’s defence budget from 1 per cent to 2 per cent of Japan’s GDP by the 2027 fiscal year. Kishida also shocked Japan’s political scene as he suggested a public tax increase to fund the defence budget hike.

It is natural to understand that an increased budget is key to accelerating Japan’s security posture amidst the severe regional environment. More flexibility in budget use will allow Japan to improve existing technologies and boost its defence capabilities by adding more weaponries. These improved infrastructures could help Japan to execute its security strategies more effectively.

Despite the urgency, this constant defence budget increase leads to controversies and renewed debate at home and abroad on LDP’s motivation behind it.

Despite the urgency, this constant defence budget increase leads to controversies and renewed debate at home and abroad on LDP’s motivation behind it. This article breaks down why the party is pushing for it and what challenges might come in way. This article sees that LDP, as the ruling party, wants to boost Japan’s deterrence and is responsible for protecting Japanese people’s lives. However, the Kishida government needs to mitigate the risk of declining public approval and opposing force from Japan’s neighbours.

Importance of LDP’s Role in Defence Budget Hike

Many often see a state’s actions solely relying on the leader’s vision. However, in most democracies, the leader’s power is limited and shared with other government branches, such as the legislative. As Japan fits this characteristic, it is important to highlight the importance of a ¬†political party in decision-making. Japan is a democratic country in which the power is separated between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It means that the prime minister’s initiative only could be carried out as long as the parliament passed the legislation to base it.

The defence budget case is a no different case in Japan. The proposal to increase the defence spending needs to be approved by the parliament to boost Japan’s security posture. For that purpose, it is important for LDP to be stable and powerful enough to centralise its power in the parliament to pass any proposals, including defence-related ones. For that reason, a unified voice is necessary to be achieved through an internal panel within the LDP. For example, a tax panel within LDP have agreed to increase the tax to fund the defence, despite the delay in implementation due to rejection from some lawmakers.

The party was able to continue Japan’s defence fortification agenda by increasing the defence budget since Abe’s faction remains the majority and most powerful within the LDP, even after Abe’s resignation and death. Despite not belonging to Abe’s faction, the faction endorsed Kishida during the party presidential election. This explains Kishida’s strong support and vision of Japan’s military build-up despite being famously known as dovish and left-leaning.

Building Counterattack Capabilities amidst Mounting Contingencies in Northeast Asia

Japan constantly sees itself in a severe security environment, mainly concerning North Korea’s nuclear project and China’s assertiveness. However, the tension escalated unprecedently in 2022, mainly due to the war in Ukraine and North Korea’s ballistic missile test crossing Japanese territory. This pushed the Japanese government to take a drastic approach to respond.

Japan sees Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might also happen in Northeast Asia, as the late Shinzo Abe stated in an interview in July 2022 that Taiwan could be the next Ukraine. A survey conducted by Nikkei Inc. and TV Tokyo stated that 77 per cent of respondents were worried that the Ukraine conflict would have a “spillover effect” on Taiwan.

North Korea has frequently been testing its ballistic missiles, but for the first time in five years, it was deployed over Japan’s territory. The missile test in early October 2022 was highly provocative and escalated the tension as it was possible for the missile to fall in the densely populated Tohoku region. This unprecedented event broke out when Japan was relatively in a vulnerable position, unable to quickly fortify counterattack capabilities and deterrence due to a limited budget for defence expenditure. For this reason, Haguda Kocihi, LDP Policy Chief, during his visit to Taipei, stated that it is necessary to increase military spending. The increased defence expenditures are to be allocated to purchase counterstrike missiles allowing Japan to retaliate against any direct attacks and improving deterrence.

Challenges

Any actions towards more active military and security roles are never easy for Japan due to domestic and international challenges. Domestically, LDP and any other ruling party need to balance public approval and political ambition when it comes to security issues. Public approval and popularity are key to maintaining the majority power in parliament, which is necessary to pass any budget plan. In 2022, Kishida Cabinet approval struggled quite significantly due to several unprecedented events, such as LDP members’ ties to Unification Church, Abe’s state funeral, cabinet members’ resignation and hiking inflation. Should Kishida wants to continue the agenda to push for 2 per cent of the GDP defence budget, he needs to maintain public support for his cabinet.

Internationally, Japan needs to pacify its neighbours’ anxiety about Japan’s returning to invasive military power as it was during World War II. China, North Korea, and Russia have expressed criticism towards Japan’s budget defence increase and proposal to procure counterattack ability, picturing them as a provocation. At one point, President Yoon of South Korea understood that Japan’s increasing defence budget was a response to North Korea and was in favour of closer security cooperation with Japan. However, Japan still needs to intensify its communication with all of its neighbours, so its intention to improve regional stability is not misunderstood.

Rafyoga Jehan Pratama Irsadanar

Rafyoga Jehan Pratama Irsadanar is a Monbukagakusho Scholar and PhD student at the Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies, Kobe University, Japan. His research interest is Japan's security and foreign policy in Indo-Pacific, focusing primarily on Southeast Asia.

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