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Japan set to double military budget and redefine its military’s role

Written by: (Contributed) on 28 October 2021


The recently planned military budget increase by the Japanese government has little to do with their defence and security provision. Two related matters have to be considered to explain the significance of the military budget increase: it is yet another example of US-led regional foreign policy which includes their preparation for likely limited war with China in coming years; the budget increase also marks the successful completion of a Pentagon military plan initially implemented in the earliest part of the millennium, over two decades ago, composed of three distinct phases.

In mid-October Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced plans to double the existing military budget as part of an election platform to woo right-wing nationalists. (1)

The national election is scheduled for 31 October and the present $50 billion budget is now set to rise to $100 billion. (2) The planned budget will include the Japanese military gaining aircraft carriers, submarines, stealth-fighters, drones, amphibious landing vessels, missile defence systems and surveillance satellites. (3)

The move by the Kishida government is aimed at placing Japan nearer the top of the global list of countries by military expenditure: the US is currently head with $1981 billion, second is China with $252 billion, Japan is currently in ninth position. (4)

The move is also marked by being the culmination of a US military plan started in 2020 with an announcement Asia was in the forefront of Pentagon planning; it was stated at the official commencement of the plan that 'it is now a common assumption among national security thinkers that the area from Baghdad to Tokyo will be the main location of US military competition for the next several decades'. (5) The present US-led Cold War can be dated from the beginning of the military plan. The military plan also included the so-called 're-interpretation' of Japan's pacifist constitution. (6)

For the ensuing decade and a half, the US pushed Japan into a more pro-active role as the northern hub for regional 'US interests'. The second phase was formally announced by then President Obama in 2015 with the diplomatic statement that Japan would 'extend the reach of Japan's military – now limited to its own defence – allowing it to act when the US or countries US forces are defending are threatened'. (7) The second phase, subsequently included Japan's military taking an active role in US-led war-games with the 2018 Malabar exercise, around Guam, and other regional military exercises. The role of Japan was actively played down by US-led regional allies in fear of a public reaction, although it was eventually acknowledged that 'the co-operation is in line with a more muscular security policy … whereby it wants … to loosen the restraints of Japan's pacifist postwar constitution and dovetails with Washington's 'pivot' toward Asia'. (8)

The inevitable public reaction to Japan's return to its militaristic past and war-time atrocities, subsequently took the form of a protest by academics and others who accused the government of 'pushing to a put a gloss of Japan's war-time history'. (9) Japan's right-wing government, at that time, and the present Kishida administration, appear curiously blind and deaf to any opposition from those who oppose their return to militarism.  

The initial military plan, which included a global transformation of defence and security, also involved the US stationing electronic warfare systems in strategic locations, the majority of which were in the Indo-Pacific. (10) It was not coincidental to note US military facilities on Diego Garcia and Guam, which swing on an arc from Pine Gap in central Australia, were updated as hubs for military operations in conjunction with Darwin Harbour in northern Australia as a support centre. (11)
The second phase, furthermore, included the US extending regional alliances and re-opening military facilities, often left dormant from the end of the Vietnam War four decades earlier. (12) In a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity, marked by President Obama touring the region, it was announced 'at every stop on his tour … Obama has emphasised the idea that the US government is committed to helping its allies in the face of external threats'. (13)

The notion of allies being confronted with 'external threats' was central to the decision taken by the Pentagon, at the time, to transform their Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) with an estimated 1,600 intelligence collectors in positions around the world specifically to establish 'a spy service focused on emerging threats and more closely aligned with the CIA'. (14)

The third and final phase, however, began in 2021 with the planned military budget increase in Japan; it has been marked with a rapid escalation of diplomatic tensions and preparation for a limited war with China. It has followed a line established in a US Congressional report which recommended 'in preparing for a potential conflict with China … further relying upon traditional allies, including Japan and Australia'. (15) And another recent study of the matter concluded the threat of a limited war now runs at 46 per cent for the next decade, making it very likely; while the threat of all-out war remained at only 12 per cent. (16) It is highly relevant to note commentary about the planned military budget increase included a statement that the advanced weaponry to be acquired by Japan's military 'was crucial to 21st century warfare'. (17) Elsewhere there are other references about the role of Australia:

                                      We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     Japanese to double defence spending, Australian, 15 October 2021.
2.     Japan doubles its defence budget, Editorial, The Australian, 21 October 2021.
3.     Australian, op.cit., 15 October 2021.
4.     Wikipedia/Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, List of countries by military expenditures, 2020.  
5.     Asia moves to the forefront of Pentagon planning, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 1-7 June 2000.
6.     Japan begins review of its pacifist constitution, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 27 January - 2 February 2000.
7.     Japan to extend military reach beyond self-defence, The Age (Melbourne), 29 April 2015.
8.     Tokyo eyes new South China Sea role, The Age (Melbourne), 12 March 2015.
9.     Academic blast efforts to revise war history, The Age (Melbourne), 11 February 2015.
10.   See: US seeks new Asia defences, The Wall Street Journal, 24-26 August 2012.
11.   US intensifies military presence in Indo-Pacific, The Global Times (Beijing), 24 July 2018.
12.   US eyes return to south-east Asian bases, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 June 2012, and; US signs defence deal in Asia, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 2 May 2014.
13.   Guardian Weekly, op.cit., 2 May 2014.
14.   Pentagon plays the spy game, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 7 December 2012.
15.   Study: US no longer dominant power in the Pacific, Paul D. Shinkman, Information Clearing House, 22 August 2019.
16.   Risk of all-out war between China and US 'as high as 12pc', Australian, 14 October 2021.
17.   Editorial, Australian, op.cit., 21 October 2021.


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