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Editorial: Consideration for US continues to warp Japan's defense budget

Japan's defense spending continues to balloon, as shown by the government's recent approval of record draft defense budget appropriations for fiscal 2020 totaling over 5.31 trillion yen ($48.5 billion).

This figure, however, does not sufficiently represent the government's total defense spending, as another 428.7 billion yen has also been listed under the supplementary budget for fiscal 2019. In recent years, it has become a systematic practice to limit spending in the initial budget by boosting spending in the previous fiscal year's supplementary budget.

The reason this is happening is because Japan's contracts to purchase weapons from the United States through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program have surged under the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and that spending is weighing on each subsequent fiscal year's budget.

The supplementary budget, however, is supposed to be used for natural disasters and other such sudden events. There is no rational way explain how 177.3 billion yen in FMS has found its way into this fiscal year's supplementary budget.

Total defense spending combining the figures in the initial and supplementary budgets now stands at close to 5.7 trillion yen -- more than 1% of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP). If this practice continues in the future, then defense spending will continue to creep up and exceed 1% of GDP without sufficient debate.

It is clear that pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump for Japan to purchase weapons has played a part in this. Japan's budget for FMS contracts swelled to 701.3 billion yen in fiscal 2019, and another 471.3 billion yen has been earmarked for fiscal 2020.

A major factor in the FMS bulge in Japan's fiscal 2019 defense budget was Tokyo's spending on Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense batteries. Yet in spite of the hasty decision to introduce these batteries, there has been no decision on where to deploy them. In other words, the contract with the U.S. has gone ahead before settling even such basic issues.

Three Osprey military transport aircraft have already been delivered to Japan's Self-Defense Forces, but the Japanese government has hit a snag in finding a place to deploy them. Meanwhile, training is being carried out at a U.S. Marine base.

U.S.-made military equipment, which also includes a large purchase of F-35 fighter jets, has been introduced under the leadership of the prime minister's office. But the issue of how it will be used has been set aside for later consideration.

It takes time to develop and procure defense equipment. Japan is supposed to maintain a strategic and systematic defense capability looking a decade into the future, but excessive consideration for the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has warped that brief.

It is true that that the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region has grown tougher due to North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and missiles, and the emergence of China. The United States, which has strengthened its policy of putting itself first, is therefore likely to demand that its allies bear a heavier military burden.

The Trump administration now appears ready to demand that Japan significantly boost its spending to host U.S. military bases. But officials should realize that Japan's ad hoc responses to such demands are reaching their limit.

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