Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Editorial: Calm, realistic debate on security needed ahead of election in Japan

With four months having passed since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, security policies are drawing attention in Japan ahead of the July 10 House of Councillors election.

    In polls conducted this spring by the Mainichi Shimbun and other news organizations, close to 90% of respondents said they felt "concerned" about Japan's security and a possible invasion of Taiwan by China. In the upper house race, security debate between the ruling and opposition parties has reached fever pitch.

    China, which has become the world's second-largest military power, is vying with the United States for supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region. It has made advances into the South China and East China seas, increasing friction with Japan and other neighboring countries.

    The fact that China has drawn nearer to Russia and that the countries have cranked up joint military activities close to Japan has fueled suspicions. And with North Korea additionally proceeding with the development of nuclear weapons and missiles, there is even an additional sense of crisis among Japanese defense officials that Tokyo may be forced to take up a three-pronged strategy.

    -- The danger of doubling defense spending

    With the postwar international order wavering, it is important to deepen national debate on diplomacy and security. However, the arguments of the ruling and opposition parties have not meshed, and remain superficial. A typical example of this is the back-and-forth over defense spending.

    Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has pledged to boost the country's defense capabilities with an eye to double defense spending to 2% of gross domestic product. This is based on the targets set by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

    NATO, however, is a military alliance formed by the United States and Europe for joint defense. Japan, as an archipelago, is in a completely different geographical situation from Europe, where many countries are connected by land. Furthermore, the consistency of such spending in terms of Japan's exclusively defense-oriented stance, which is the core of its defense policy, is questionable.

    The foundation of the Japan-U.S. alliance is the U.S. military playing the offensive role, or "spear," and Japan's Self-Defense Forces playing the defensive role, or "shield." The target for Japan's defense spending has been kept at 1% of GDP. This has been a political message to Japan and the rest of the world that is based on reflection on World War II, namely that "Japan will not become a military power."

    The LDP has also pledged to possess "counterstrike capabilities" under which it could strike an enemy base before a missile launch. But not only could this be deemed a preemptive attack banned under international law, it would also be a declaration to other countries that Japan has the capability to attack.

    If Japan, which has held itself up as a peaceful nation, were to shift away from its restrained defense policy, it could trigger consternation and alarm among other countries. Strengthening the nation's military capabilities could lead to countermeasures by other countries, and end up increasing the threat level, plunging the nation into a "security dilemma."

    Japan's defense budget has increased for 10 years in a row, topping 6 trillion yen (about $44.50 billion) this fiscal year in real terms. If spending were increased to 2% of GDP, it would make Japan's defense budget the third largest in the world after the United States and China.

    To cover this, Japan would need to secure additional financial resources of about 5 trillion yen (about $37.09 billion), or around 2% of consumption tax.

    There are only three options when it comes to raising these funds: increasing taxes, taking on more debt through the issuance of government bonds, and trimming spending on social security and other areas. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, however, has delayed such issues till after the upper house election, and has avoided providing a detailed explanation.

    -- Easing tensions through dialogue

    The LDP's inclusion of a target for increasing defense depending and reference to possessing counterstrike capabilities in its public pledge reflects the wishes of conservatives in the party including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe has even suggested that Japan should debate "nuclear sharing," under which the nation would manage and operate nuclear weapons in collaboration with the U.S.

    Prime Minister Kishida, on the other hand, stated in a party leaders' debate at the Japan National Press Club, "Defense spending is not based on numbers. We will build up what is necessary." Regarding nuclear sharing, he clearly stated, "The government will not discuss this." Both of these positions are rather similar to the stance taken by the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

    The gap between the prime minister's statements and the LDP pledges and positions stressed by Abe and others is making the debate even more confusing. The stance of calling for a decision from voters without stating in concrete terms what the party will do is irresponsible.

    With U.S. influence declining in Asia, it will probably be necessary to review defense capabilities in line with changes in the region. But such moves won't work without a diplomatic strategy to maintain order.

    What is needed is a method to prevent a situation like that in Ukraine from happening in East Asia. While taking the different political systems and interests of countries in Asia into consideration, efforts to build solidarity for the sake of regional stability are required.

    Japan must search for a path toward peaceful coexistence with China, with which it has deep economic ties. It should pour effort into holding summit-level dialogue to avoid a heightening of tensions.

    How can Japan's security be protected amid confrontation between the United States and China? And with this in mind, what kind of diplomacy and defense capabilities are needed? Calm and realistic debate in the upper house race is needed.

    Also in The Mainichi

    The Mainichi on social media