A New Day in the Land of the Rising Sun

As the island nation of Japan eyes potential threats from China and Russia, they have announced plans for their most significant military build-up since World War II. According to DW News, the Japanese government says they will double defense spending, thus bringing it up to the NATO standard of 2% of their GDP. This is a significant move away from their “self-defense only” posture imposed upon them by the Allies as a condition of surrender at the end of the second world war. In fairness, they do live in a dangerous neighborhood, in close proximity to China, North Korea, and Russia.

Tomohiko Taniguchi, a professor at Keio University and former special advisor to the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, tells DW News that the move is long overdue. He reminds us that Russia is one-third the economic strength of Japan, but China has grown to 4 or 5 times its size economically. Neither of these nations has exactly been a bastion of democracy, and both countries, as well as the North Koreans, continue to invest in growing their nuclear weapons arsenals. Taniguchi says the move to increase defense spending and seek offensive weapons is a “significant and belated action.” 

A Japanese submarine flies the flag of the land of the rising sun. Screenshot from YouTube and DW News.

One can only help but wonder if this move on the part of traditionally (since the cease of hostilities in WWII) pacifist Japan will only serve to increase growing tensions in the region. When posed with this thought, Taniguchi fights back laughter while reminding us that tensions are already being raised daily by China and Japan’s latest moves are in response to that. He notes that Russia continues to build up its military forces on the eastern end of the nation.

The results of nationwide polls in Japan show that over 60% of the people feel there is a growing need to strengthen their defense forces with the help of its “allied network,” including the United States. Currently, we have the largest ever military footprint in that nation, providing us with a strong base of operations in the region if military actions would need to be taken. But it’s not only the US; India, Australia, the UK, France, and Germany are joining forces as Japanese allies in these tense times.

A Palpable Threat

According to sources at The Washington Post, Japan’s new national security strategy would include a counterstrike capability to preempt enemy attacks. This is a stark departure from their 1956 policy of only considering strikes as an absolute last resort. Government officials state that they feel missile strikes against their nation have risen to the level of a “palpable threat,” necessitating the offensive capabilities.

Japanese ground self-defense forces make their way to a waiting v22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. They may be en route to the JS Izumo, which is being converted into a light aircraft carrier. Screenshot from YouTube and DW News.

In recent years the Japanese self-defense forces have sought to improve their amphibious and naval warfare capabilities. Part of these improvements involved the acquisition of several v22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft from the United States to be kept aboard the JS Izumo light aircraft carrier, which is as long as one of their World War II carriers and can facilitate the takeoff and landing of five helicopters simultaneously. In addition, the Izumo is being modified to allow for future operations of the F-35B Lightning II.

In the feeling of the current Japanese government, the use of counterstrike capabilities remains constitutional if it is in response to an imminent attack. Lawmakers realize this blurs the fine line between “imminent self-defense” and “first strike.” 

Defense Spending to Double

Plans through fiscal 2027 call for the island nation to double its defense spending to roughly 10 trillion yen (about $73 billion USD) by that year. This would make them number 3 globally, behind the US and China. There is one issue here, however. An annual increase tax plan for the Japanese people to fund the defense spending failed, but the plan was passed without full knowledge of how it is to be funded.

One thing is for sure, part of that money will be used to acquire long-range missiles capable of impacting the Chinese mainland. The Japanese are looking to purchase US-made Tomohawk and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles. Construction of Standoff missile sites is currently underway at undisclosed locations.