Japan’s Defense Ministry seeks $40 billion budget with eyes on Russia and China

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Japan’s Defense Ministry called for a $40 billion budget on Wednesday, pointing to the war in Ukraine and warning that the world is facing its “toughest challenges” since World War II.

Japan’s defense spending has risen nearly every year for the past decade, but pressure has increased following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and growing Chinese pressure on Taiwan.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has promised sweeping improvements and its Ministry of Defense unveiled a wish list including armed drones and hypersonic missile research.

“The international community is facing a period of the most difficult challenges since the Second World War. The existing order faces serious challenges as the world enters a new era of crisis,” the ministry warned in its request.

“What happens in Europe can happen in the Indo-Pacific region,” he added, using another term for the Asia-Pacific region.

It said it was seeking 5.59 trillion yen ($40 billion) for the fiscal year beginning in April 2023 – a record but a modest increase from last year’s request of 5.48 trillion.

However, the final figure – which is not expected until the government finalizes several defense policies, including a five-year spending plan – is expected to be higher.

Defense officials declined to speculate on the final budget, but nationalist members of Kishida’s ruling party want defense spending to reach 2% of GDP within five years, or about 10 trillion yen (72 billions of dollars).

That could make Japan the third biggest military spender after the United States and China, rivaling India and overtaking Britain and Russia.

“A vulnerable country now”

The Japanese military is not officially recognized in the country’s postwar constitution, and its expenditures are limited to nominally defensive capabilities.

The defense budget traditionally hovers around 1% of GDP, but Nozomu Yoshitomia former Army major general who now teaches defense policy at Nihon University, said he needed to rise.

“Japan is now a vulnerable country, directly exposed to a powerful China,” he said. AFP.

“It seems quite natural for Japan to increase its defense budget.”

Toshiyuki Itōa professor at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology and a retired vice admiral of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, said it might be difficult to raise military spending to 2% of GDP.

“It’s hard to imagine that it will go directly to another five trillion yen,” he said. AFP.

He said an additional two trillion yen per year was a more realistic goal and would provide much-needed funds to improve salaries and supplies for Japanese troops.

“We need to invest in people and routine maintenance,” he said. AFP.

Kishida has not yet committed to a specific target, saying increases will be weighed against tax revenue and spending priorities.

Any increase in military spending will put more pressure on the Japanese government, which is already grappling with huge costs associated with an aging and shrinking population.

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