Japan is seeking record defense outlays of about 5.48 trillion yen (roughly $50 billion) for the upcoming fiscal year, up 2.6% from the initial budget for this fiscal year. Japan's defense expenditures show no sign of decreasing.
Expenses related to the realignment of the U.S. military in Japan and repair costs for Japan's primary F-15 fighter are not specified, on the grounds that they are now being negotiated with the United States. Such costs will be included in the budget to be compiled at the end of this year.
The defense budget has increased for nine consecutive years, since the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In the end, it may exceed the standard 1% of Japan's gross domestic product (GDP) next fiscal year.
The government is responsible for improving defense capabilities in response to the changing security environment, but there are budget constraints. Priorities need to be set for the spending to lead to effective deterrence.
The main pillar of the budgetary request is to strengthen Japan's defense infrastructure with an eye on maritime expansion by China, which is continuing a rapid military buildup, and growing tension in the Taiwan Strait. Following Amami Oshima and Miyakojima in the Nansei Islands, missile units will be deployed on Ishigaki Island, almost the closest of Japan's islands to Taiwan. Two transport vessels will be built to swiftly deliver ammunition and fuel.
The need to strengthen the defense capabilities of the islands is understandable, but diplomatic efforts to ease tensions with neighboring countries should be conducted at the same time.
It is concerning that the bill for expensive equipment paid for in installments over multiple years has reached a record high. The hefty outlays are to procure state-of-the-art stealth fighters, and interceptor missiles to be mounted on Aegis ships, directly from the United States via the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Unlike usual commercial transactions, Japan must meet price and delivery date conditions set by the U.S.
The cost of building a ship to replace the abandoned plan for the land-based "Aegis Ashore" interceptor missile system was not included in the budget request apparently because policy on its operation has not been decided. The installation and operational costs should be disclosed immediately.
Japan's fiscal situation is worsening further due to measures taken against the coronavirus pandemic. If expensive equipment is to be acquired, it is essential to examine its validity in terms of cost-effectiveness. Public understanding is indispensable for the development of defense capabilities. Increasing the defense budget without a transparent explanation or discussion is unacceptable.