Japan’s defense budget is the seventh largest limited to approximately of 1% of its GDP, a constraint imposed by the Japanese constitution drafted at the conclusion of WWII. Japan adopted the constitution in 1946, agreeing in Article 9 to renounce war as a means to settle international disputes limiting expenditures to self-defensive purposes only. Some legislative decisions have broadened the definition of self-defense to include coming to the aid of Japan’s allies in time of war. Japan’s military posture has long been a major issue for Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, who has the votes to change the constitution and make Japan more aggressive in its military operations. Japanese troops are currently training to be sent to South Sudan in November. While justified as a humanitarian mission, the deployment is, in fact, a test case for overseas operations.
On August 3, North Korea fired two nuclear-capable missiles towards Japan, one of which landed within 200 miles of the Japanese coast.
Meanwhile the tensions between China and Japan are heating up with islands in the South China Sea being a disputed territory. Maritime freedom of transit has become a contentious issue. An international tribunal in The Hague recently declared that China had failed to comply with obligations to which it had voluntarily agreed. The decision has escalated the South China Sea conflict. The five uninhabited rocks that make up the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands have become one of the most dangerous flashpoints in Asia over recent years.
Last month Tokyo stated that it had scrambled jets to intercept incursions into the air space it claims in the East China Sea a record 199 times in the second quarter of this year. In July, Beijing accused two Japanese F-15 fighter jets of «locking on» to Chinese aircraft, a highly provocative move as it leads the targeted pilot to believe he is about to be fired upon. This month, the Japanese Coast Guard deployed armed ships against 200 to 300 Chinese fishing boats, allegedly escorted by Chinese patrol ships, which Tokyo claimed were violating its territorial waters around the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands.
In 2014, President Barack Obama declared that the islands were covered by the US-Japan security agreement, effectively threatening China with war if it took any action against Japan’s control over them. The US commitment, and the broader American military «pivot» against China, are aimed at emboldening the Abe government to take a more aggressive stance in the region.
The program of reforms and economic growth, including constitutional change, is underway. It is expected to entail important implications for Japanese defense technology and spending. Implications for Japan’s budget include an increase in defense expenditures, from 1% of GDP to upwards of 2 or 2.5 % of GDP. That increase would give Japan the third largest defense expenditure in the world.
This month the Japanese Defense Ministry will unveil its request for a record budget of 5.16 trillion yen ($51 billion) for fiscal 2017. That’s a hike of 2.3 percent on last year’s budget, and it would be the fifth successive annual increase. The country’s defenses are to stiffen as the neighboring North Korea upgrades its ballistic missile capabilities.
The military technology plan calls for first developing an unmanned surveillance aircraft in the next decade and then an unmanned fighter jet 10 years later, according to a document seen by Reuters.
The budget proposal includes the cost of production of the Block IIA version of the Standard Missile-3 system being jointly developed with the United States to shoot down missiles at higher altitudes. The next-generation missiles will be deployed on Aegis-equipped destroyers of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force. The Block IIA will be able to shoot down incoming missiles at an altitude of 1,000 km or more, compared with roughly 300 km for the existing SM-3s. Japan and the US are working to improve the new model’s capability in response to a North Korean Musudan missile which can fly at altitudes exceeding 1,000 km. Testing will be carried out off the coast of Hawaii this fall, with the aim of beginning production in fiscal 2017. The Self-Defense Forces have a two-tier anti-missile system. Any missiles that make it through the Aegis-equipped destroyers and their S-M3s are met with the ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors. The budget request covers the 100 billion yen cost to upgrade Japan’s PAC-3 missile defense system to roughly double the missile system’s range to more than 30 km (19 miles).
The ministry will also allocate budget funds to acquire an upgraded version of the F-35 stealth fighter – the first strike weapon made by US company Lockheed Martin Corp.
The budget request also includes the cost of strengthening the coast guard in the southern islands of Miyakojima and Amami Oshima. A year ago Japan finalized the purchase of the first five of up to 17 MV-22 Ospreys to greatly boost its amphibious capabilities. Currently only the US Marines operate the MV-22, including out of bases in Japan.
The surface-to-ship weapon would be the longest-range missile ever built by Japan. The new vehicle-mounted, GPS-guided missile system is expected to be deployed to locations such as the southern island of Miyako in Okinawa. With a range of about 300 km, the system will be able to cover the waters around the Senkakus. Experts say the current Type 12 surface-to-ship missiles, which Japan procured in 2012, have a range of roughly 200km.The defense ministry is expected to seek funding for development of the new missile in its initial budget requests for the 2017-18 fiscal year to be submitted this month.
The new developments in Japan testify to the fact that a dangerous arms race is escalating further with huge implications to follow. In the Asia-Pacific region, there is an oversupply of such unresolved territorial disputes: the problem of North Korea; China and Japan; the unique case of Taiwan and the disputes between the six claimant-states in the South China Sea, among other smouldering conflicts. The latter is further compounded by the bilateral defense treaty between the Philippines and the US, and Washington’s position on «freedom of navigation» through waterways which carry 40 percent of global trade and 90 percent of seaborne trade.
The example of Japan is part of the trend. As tensions mount in the Asia Pacific, countries in the region are pouring more and more money into modernizing their militaries. Defense budgets will keep rising, according to IHS Jane’s, which forecasts spending in the Asia-Pacific region will climb 23 percent to $533 billion annually by 2020.
That will put it on par with North America, which is expected to account for a third of global defense spending by then, from almost half now.
The strategic concern for all is the capacity of any one of these disputes to result in a wider regional crisis, conflict, or even war. Arbitration is key to resolving the territorial disputes. Talks and mediation have not worked so far. Still the efforts have not been exhausted.
In May a Russia-Japan summit took place in Sochi. Not everyone was happy about the talks between Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that took place in the Russia’s Black Sea resort. US President Barack Obama had reportedly asked Abe personally not to go to Sochi at all.
Japan is not a country with an abundance of overly-friendly neighbors. Two of them, Russia and China, enjoy close partnership. Russia is the country Japanese Prime Minister wants to pursue a «future-oriented» relationship with «free of any past ideas». With tensions over the South China Sea and the East China Sea mounting, Russia could serve as an impartial mediator needed to settle countless territorial disputes in Asia before things get worse. Given the growing importance of Asia-Pacific region to Russia as an Asia-Pacific power, Moscow has a major interest in preventing any one of the various disputes in the South China Sea from escalating militarily. Russia’s clout in the region is on the rise.
Russia’s biggest advantage is that it has no territorial claims in South East Asia. And, unlike the US that seeks to extend its influence in the Asia Pacific to counter China, and is, in fact, vigorously preparing for a future clash, Russia does not oppose anybody in the Asia Pacific.
It strives to develop good relations with China and Japan, as well as other states of the region. Beijing objects to what it describes as US interference in the South China Sea in support of «third parties». Moscow is a regional actor that does not take sides.
In a broader sense, the Asia Pacific arms race is a problem to be tackled at a highly representative regional forum to foster basic confidence and security-building measures. It could work out mechanisms that could help Asia cope with crises by managing them peacefully and reducing the strategic polarization, like the one emerging between Washington and Beijing.
In Europe the process of creating a security community from Vancouver to Vladivostok has stymied. Instead, Russian and Western analysts now point to Russia’s «pivot to Asia» and the growing Sino-Russian partnership as potentially heralding «a greater Asia from Shanghai to St. Petersburg». Moscow’s «pivot to Asia» may mark something of a milestone in Russian diplomatic and security engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. The impact of Russia’s strategic, diplomatic and economic engagement in Asia is growing; it would be unwise to ignore it. The Russian government has made the East Asia Summit (EAS) a significant component of its regional foreign policy agenda.
The 2016 Russia-ASEAN top level meeting demonstrated both parties’ clear, joint determination «to strengthen the EAS, with ASEAN as the driving force, as a Leaders-led forum for dialogue and cooperation on broad strategic, political and economic issues of common interest and concern with the aim of promoting peace, stability and economic prosperity in the region».
There is much to gain and little to lose if states begin to build a more robust regional institution, anchored in the principles of common security.