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Editorial: Defense spending hike without any debate puts Japan on precarious course

Calls to boost Japan's defense budget are increasing mainly from within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The demands come against the backdrop of concerns that military tensions could rise in East Asia following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

    The LDP has suggested a drastic increase in defense spending to counter China and North Korea, which have embarked on a line of military expansion. It is calling for the budget to be raised within five years, envisaging spending to account for at least 2% of gross domestic product.

    Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told U.S. President Joe Biden that Japan was determined to "secure (a) substantial increase" in its defense budget.

    Certainly, it is necessary to improve defense capabilities to correspond to the changing security environment. But there is a need for calm debate that takes into consideration factors including consistency with Japan's defense-only policy and the priority of such a move among various other policies.

    Particularly problematic is the fact that a numerical target to increase spending has been set in advance. The suggestion by the LDP calls for a budget level in line with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, without specifying where the money will be used, such as on equipment.

    Japanese defense capabilities are limited in the first place to the "minimum necessary level" in line with war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. Careful discussion on how the people of Japan can be protected within that framework is necessary.

    Furthermore, the question of where funds for the budget increase will come from cannot be avoided.

    In the initial budget for fiscal 2022, defense spending reached its highest level for the eighth year in a row, with the amount including the supplementary budget for the previous fiscal year topping 6 trillion yen (about $46.2 billion) for the first time. But even then, the "1% of GDP" target functioned as a brake in limiting spending.

    Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the LDP has sought to double spending to 2%, and said that it can be financed through government bonds. But we recall that during World War II, wartime bonds were issued wantonly, leading to unchecked military expansion -- serving as a lesson for Japan after the war.

    Moreover, the government's long-term accumulated debt topped 1,000 trillion yen (about $7.7 trillion) by the end of fiscal 2021. Issuing more bonds could further increase the burden of debt on future generations.

    Security is not merely a matter of defense capabilities, but requires multilayered efforts extending to the diplomatic and economic fields. A climate where many issues are left unaddressed and defense spending takes a life of its own puts Japan on a precarious path.

    In next month's House of Councillors election, security issues in the wake of the situation in Ukraine will form one point of contention. How is the current situation in East Asia perceived and what kinds of defense improvements is Japan considering? The prime minister should provide the public with clear answers.

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