Japan's Defense Ministry has requested a record 5.49 trillion yen (about $52 billion) budget for fiscal 2021, up 3.3% from the initial budget for the current fiscal year.
Amid the increasingly serious fiscal condition Japan faces due to coronavirus countermeasures, is the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga going to continue to give preferential treatment to defense spending?
As for the budget, including expenses related to realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, the Defense Ministry did not specify the requested amount but just listed the items. Therefore, the defense budget could further swell ahead of the year-end budget compilation.
The Defense Ministry also withheld from specifying the requested budget amount for an alternative plan to replace the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system, which the Japanese government earlier abandoned.
The Defense Ministry is looking into diverting the radars initially designed for use in the Aegis Ashore system and operating them aboard ships alongside interceptor missile launchers. However, technological verification for the plan has been insufficient and the solution could also require tremendous costs.
The government needs to stop and make a careful review of the matter, including whether the alternative solution is even necessary. It is also essential to hold open discussions on the issue in the Diet.
Under the previous administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the defense budget continued to rise for eight consecutive years, marking record highs every year since fiscal 2015.
Regarding the latest funding request, the Defense Ministry emphasized that it has raised its budget to enhance performance in the new spheres of outer space, cyberspace and electromagnetic spectrum.
In compliance with U.S. President Donald Trump's request, Japan has also purchased sophisticated U.S.-made equipment at a hefty price on the grounds of dealing with the changing security environment.
Behind the rise in the budget in the latest request lies drastic increases in the loan repayments for defense equipment including U.S.-manufactured F-35A stealth fighters and E-2D early warning aircraft that Japan made contracts for in the past.
Under the previous Abe administration, purchases of defense equipment from the United States under the latter's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program -- in which Japan makes direct contracts with the U.S. government -- spiked. Unlike common commercial dealings, competitive principles do not work for FMS deals and purchases are made at the U.S.'s asking price. Even after contracts have been signed, prices sometimes soar under the pretext of changing circumstances, to cite one of the many problems with the arrangement.
In recent years, the Japanese government has often moved up budgets for those payments to the previous fiscal year's supplementary budget. This is apparently aimed at dodging criticism by curbing the amount for those payments in the initial budget, but such a maneuver deviates from the original purpose of the supplementary budget. Unless the government makes its budget clear and transparent to the public, it will not be able to gain their understanding.
If the government does not constantly review budget priorities in line with the times and make efforts to slash the amounts, the national budget will be left inflating. The Japanese government must not create sanctuaries in the state budget.