Japan's Ministry of Defense has sought a record high budget of roughly 5.26 trillion yen ($48.3 billion) for fiscal 2018 -- 2.5 percent more than the initial budget for fiscal 2017. It is the sixth year in a row for the figure to increase.
The ministry is said to have made the request in response to the harsher security environment surrounding the country, in light of North Korea's repeated launches of ballistic missiles and China's maritime military advancements.
Indeed, Japan has a responsibility to maintain its defense capabilities without neglecting vigilance toward increasing threats. But at the same time it faces limitations. It must consider, for example, the scope of allocations within the entire national budget and the cost-effectiveness of measures, in addition to strict adherence to self-defense when equipping itself. Officials must make an effort to maintain balance and variation.
Japan's defense budget decreased annually between fiscal 2003 and 2012, but under the current Abe administration it has increased for five straight years from fiscal 2013.
Under current financial conditions, with pressure on the government to curb social security spending, it is impermissible to allow the defense budget alone to expand freely. Spending reform is an issue that the government as a whole must tackle. This should be kept in mind when procuring equipment and allocating personnel. Yet there remain many doubts regarding defense spending.
The "Global Hawk" surveillance drone that Japan plans to purchase from the United States is one example. Due to increasing production costs on the U.S. side, the estimated procurement cost for Japan has risen by over 20 percent. This major surge in cost lacks transparency. Rather than simply bowing to the U.S. asking price, Japan should seek negotiations on compressing expenses.
A centerpiece of the coming defense budget is ballistic missile defense. Japan plans to newly introduce U.S.-made land-based batteries to prepare itself with three stages of missile interception. The government stresses that such equipment is compatible with a defense-only policy. However, the full price of such equipment, estimated to be around 80 billion yen per battery, has not been announced, with officials merely saying it will be fixed by the end of the year. Two batteries would be required to cover the whole of the Japanese archipelago.
Moreover, while missile defense is expensive, it would not be possible to shoot down all incoming missiles if many were launched simultaneously. Therefore, such systems cannot completely shut out the threat of missile attacks.
If North Korea produces more missiles and its technology improves, and Japan goes ahead with countermeasures to block this, then it could lead to an arms race.
About 40 percent of Japan's defense budget goes toward personnel expenses. It is important for Japan to send personnel during disasters and to respond to U.N. peacekeeping operations, but there is probably room for the country to reconsider the strength of its Self-Defense Forces, which currently stands at about 150,000 personnel.
Deciding on priorities, working toward optimization, and constantly reviewing the need for and effectiveness of each item in the budget will produce an appropriate level of defense capability.