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Politics & Security

Shinzo Abe: Measly Defense Budget Hike Will Make Japan a Laughingstock

“Being able to exercise the right of collective self-defense means nothing more than avoiding getting dragged into a war,” he said at a recent symposium.

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Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaking at a symposium titled “The Taiwan Strait Crisis and Japan’s Security” sponsored by the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies (JFSS) on April 21, 2022.

On April 21, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) delivered a speech in Tokyo at a symposium titled “The Taiwan Strait Crisis and Japan’s Security.” The symposium was hosted by Japan Forum for Strategic Studies (JFSS) and sponsored by the Sankei Shimbun

The following is an abridged version of his speech. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Ukraine and Taiwan have several things in common. One is that the military balance is heavily tilted to the opposing country. Another is that both have allies. Having no allies means not having another country willing to fight together with you. 

If the opposing country is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, that, unfortunately, means that the Council will not function. 

How about the differences? Ukraine is recognized by the world as an independent country and is a member of the United Nations, but Taiwan, unfortunately, is not recognized by most countries as an independent country. Nor is it a member of the UN. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a clear violation of international law. But if China were to invade Taiwan, there is a high risk that it would not be deemed a unilateral violation of international law if China claims it had acted to ensure territorial integrity. 

On top of that, there is a huge difference in the economic power of China and Russia. Will the many countries that condemn Russia be able to condemn China in the same way? Asian and African countries may have second thoughts.

In such a situation, it is important to ask what Japan should do to prevent China from using force.

There is a great military imbalance not only between Taiwan and China, but also between Japan and China. That means Japan itself also needs to make efforts. I hope that the proposal of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for revising the three key defense documents will include an increase in defense spending by 2% of GDP within five years.

The LDP is a very open party, so people discuss all sorts of things. I happened to be the first to say 2%. I won’t say who, but a certain person disagreed.

Former PM Shinzo Abe.

This person said, “Instead of starting with a target figure, we must use a bottom-up approach.” These were hardly the words of a politician. They sounded like something an assistant to the budget examiner of the Ministry of Finance would say. 

Does that mean this person would be happy with 5% if spending happens to accumulate to a 5% increase? The state must communicate its intentions. 

All NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) member nations, without a single exception, have agreed to increase their defense spending by 2%. Each country, according to its size, is committed to shouldering the burden of creating peace and stability. Naturally, Japan should shoulder part of the burden as well.

Japan has asked the United States and many other countries for more military commitments. In response, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands have sent naval vessels [to the Indo-Pacific].

The world will be astounded if Japan, despite saying that global cooperation is necessary for regional peace and stability, announces that it would be increasing its defense budget by only a negligible amount. Without a doubt, Japan would become a laughingstock.

There is much to consider for the defense budget. From machine guns to SM-3s [which intercept ballistic missiles], the amount of ammunition is far from enough. This poses a major problem for Japan’s combat sustainability. 

The budget for maintaining and servicing naval ships and fighter aircraft is inadequate. Aging military buildings need to be rebuilt. Funding for the research and development of cutting-edge technologies in the space, cyber, and electromagnetic domains is also important.

The total defense spending for the current fiscal year, including the supplementary and main budgets, was ¥6.17 trillion JPY ($47.98 billion USD). The direction we must take is to consider ¥6.17 trillion JPY ($ 47.5 million USD) as the initial budget and at least increase the budget from there. I strongly hope that the Ministry of Defense will clearly request this when submitting its budget request this summer.

A group photo during an extraordinary NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24, 2022, to which Japan was an invited guest. (Michael Kappeler/DPA via AP, Pool)

There is also a need to strengthen relations with the United States. With the establishment of the Peace and Security Preservation laws by the Abe administration, the Japan-US alliance became an alliance in which both countries help each other for the protection of Japan.

At that time, some argued that if Japan could exercise the right of collective self-defense, Japan would be dragged into a war. Opposition parties were also against the legislation.

But the invasion of Ukraine revealed the opposite. If Ukraine had been a member of NATO, Russia would not have attacked it. The Baltic states are much smaller than Ukraine in both size and military strength, but Russia has not touched them because they are members of NATO. Being able to exercise the right of collective self-defense means nothing more than avoiding getting dragged into a war.

In order to improve the military balance, the US-Japan alliance, the US-Japan-Australia-India Quad, and like-minded countries that support the Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept should firmly demonstrate their commitment to the region. In this context, it is important to maintain a balance with China.

With regard to Taiwan, it may be time for the United States to reconsider its policy of “strategic ambiguity.” 

The United States has maintained an attitude of ambiguity regarding whether or not it will defend Taiwan in the event of an armed invasion by China. It has decided to deter China by making China think that the United States might defend Taiwan, while also putting a check on Taiwan’s independence groups by making them think that the United States might not defend Taiwan.

The United States was overwhelmingly strong when it made this decision. Its policy of strategic ambiguity prevented Taiwan from strongly asserting its independence, and China chose to prioritize a peaceful resolution. But the balance that had been established is changing drastically. The United States needs to review its stance on strategic ambiguity and make clear its commitment to Taiwan’s defense.

The online strategic dialogue between Japan, U.S. and Taiwan on July 29, 2021.

As long as Japan asks the United States to do this, it must respond together with the United States. Japan is fully capable of doing so because of the legal framework provided by the Peace and Security Preservation laws. In the event of a Taiwan Strait crisis, it would without a doubt be considered a situation that has an important influence on Japan’s peace and security under Japan’s Legislation for Peace and Security Preservation.

If there is an armed attack against the United States that threatens its survival, there is a possibility that Japan could exercise its right of collective self-defense. 

There have been discussions about the concept of enemy base attack capability. But there is absolutely no need to limit the discussion to military bases. 

Even with North Korea in mind, since it would not be possible to destroy all TELs (transporter erector launchers), Japan could target key regions instead. There are varying opinions on what should be considered “key.” But I won’t say any more about this.

It is absolutely essential for the Japan-US alliance that Japan possess and use strike capabilities.

Former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe.

For example, let’s say North Korea launches a missile and it lands in Japan. In order to prevent a second or third strike, Japan is supposed to ask the United States to retaliate. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida would call President Joe Biden and ask him to use strike capabilities.

President Biden would agree and instruct the commander of the US military base in Misawa to retaliate. When the F-16 fighter jets set off to drop bombs on North Korea, it would be natural for them to assume that Japan would be going with them.

But Mr. Kishida would say, “No, various circumstances prevent us from going.” 

[US side:] “You were the ones attacked, but you’re not going with us?”

[Japan:] “No, please go alone.”

This makes no sense. This will make the United States think, “You are the ones who were attacked, and yet the only ones putting themselves in danger for you are the young people of the United States.”

At that moment, the Japan-US alliance will face a crisis.

There is no need to change the basic framework of being dependent on the United States for main strike capabilities. But it is absolutely necessary for Japan to have minimum strike capabilities to maintain deterrence — that is, to maintain the power not to start a war.

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(Read the article in Japanese at this link.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun