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Politics & Security

EDITORIAL | Heed Kishida Expert Panel’s Call for Drastic Defense Boost

The expert defense panel recommendations seek to give Japan a defense boost with the capability to deter, block, and repel invasion by other countries.

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Prime Minister Kishida receives a report from Kenichiro Sasae, chairman of the Advisory Panel on Defense Strengthening, at the PM's office on November 22.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's expert defense panel gathered on Tuesday, November 22. Calling for a drastic defense boost, the panel presented its report calling for drastically strengthening defense capabilities

Japan finds itself in a harsh security environment. Moreover, there have been transformations in the way wars are fought. For Japan's security, improvements the defense boost must take place within the next five years, the report says. 

We heartily endorse the panel's conclusions. 

The Advisory Panel to Comprehensively Discuss Defense Capabilities as National Strength is made up of 10 independent security experts. Kenichiro Sasae, a former ambassador to the United States, chairs the group. 

Clearly the panel had some neighbors of Japan in mind in its report. It calls for defense planners to "focus on threat-specific capabilities." And for Japan to "build a defense force capable of deterring, blocking, or repelling invasion by other countries."

This is a call for a shift to a threat-response defense posture. The recommendation deserves praise from the standpoint of effectively protecting the nation.

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Budget Limits Defense of Japan

Ever since the administration of Takeo Miki (1974-1976), Japan's defense spending has been constrained by a de facto ceiling of 1% of gross national product or gross domestic product. 

Such a limited scale of defense spending prevents the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) from being able to respond effectively to threats from nearby nations. That, in turn, has caused us to become excessively dependent on the United States. 

It is extremely important that we deepen cooperation within the Japan-US alliance. This is especially true in terms of security, including the nuclear deterrence. 

Nonetheless, the national strength of the United States has been declining in relative terms. And it is preoccupied with assisting Ukraine. 

For that reason, Japan must make greater efforts to defend itself. Otherwise, it will not be trusted by the US and other friendly countries. And it will not be able to assemble adequate support in the event of an emergency.

defense panel defense boost
PM Kishida at the second meeting of the Advisory Panel to Comprehensively Discuss Defense Capabilities as National Strength at the Prime Minister’s Office on October 20, 2022 (from the website of the Prime Minister's Office of Japan)

Expert Panel Policy Recommendations

The expert panel report calls for Japan to possess a counterstrike capability. It says Japan must stockpile ammunition. And take other steps to improve its realistic ability to engage in a sustained conflict.

It also recommends the appointment of permanent joint chiefs of staff.  In addition, it calls for reinforcing the development of Japan's defense sector. 

The report proposes the concept of a "comprehensive defense system." This would serve to eliminate vertical stovepiping by various ministries and agencies. It also calls for the development of ports and airports that would also contribute to defense, the promotion of research and development, and other measures to protect the Japanese people.

We need to urgently act on all these recommendations. 

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Carrying Out the Defense Boost

The Kishida administration will be completing revision of the National Security Strategy and two other key national security documents by the end of 2022. These will determine the scale of the FY2023 budget and defense spending for the next five years. 

The government needs to implement the recommendations of the expert panel and adopt policies to strengthen Japan's defense capabilities. However, the question is whether sufficient defense funding can be secured to back up the plan. 

It is only natural that the budget for the Japan Coast Guard, which is the law enforcement agency responsible for responding to "gray zone" situations, should be increased. But using that increase as an excuse for watering down the overall budget for the SDF would run counter to the goal of increasing the nation's deterrence capabilities. 

Senkaku defense panel defense boost
The largest Chinese Coast Guard vessel yet, equipped with a 76mm gun, was caught navigating the contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture in November 2022. (provided by the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters)

Real, Imminent Emergencies

Giving careful thought to where the needed funds will come from is an important function of the government. Nonetheless, giving full consideration to the seriousness of a potential Taiwan contingency is crucial. 

Such an emergency would inevitably be a Japan contingency, and might directly lead to Japan's first war in the postwar era. We would like to see adequate defense spending allocated.

It is strange that the report does not even once mention the words "China," "Taiwan" or "North Korea." These omissions mean that the seriousness of the security environment around Japan is not adequately conveyed to the Japanese people.

It is important for Prime Minister Kishida to speak directly to the public about why this drastic increase in defense capabilities is so necessary.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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