Japan, from the pacifist path to the eighth army on the planet

On August 31, the Government led by Fumio Kishida sent the draft budget for the next fiscal year to the State Diet (Parliament) of Japan; a procedure that, taking into account the comfortable majority enjoyed by the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) that he presides, will end up approved without problems.

In the defense chapter there is a proposal to reach 48.7 billion euros, which represents a historical record that continues the uninterrupted upward path that began 12 years ago, when the government of the assassinated Shinzō Abe began.

This intensifies the path marked by Kishida himself to reach 2% of GDP in 2027, aligning with what NATO also demands of its members and predictably placing it among the five countries with the highest defense spending.

Japan abandons the pacifist path

The increase in the defense budget clears up any doubts that may still remain about Japan’s willingness to abandon the pacifist path included in Article 9 of its Constitution, reflecting its renunciation of war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or elimination of war. use of force as a means of settlement in international disputes.

In reality, Japan has long had one of the best armies on the planet, despite formally lacking armed forces (they have been called the Self-Defense Forces since 1954): the Global Firepower Index 2023 places it in eighth position. Although until recently its approach has been predominantly defensive and with a deployment strictly limited to its archipelago.

The reasons that stimulate the insistence on this path have their own name: China, which is, by far, the main source of threat that Tokyo perceives. Beijing’s expansionist desires, very visible in the South and East China Seas, pose a direct challenge for the control of islands located in those areas, first of all, the Senkaku islands (for Tokyo) or Diaoyu (for Beijing), disputed since the 70s of the last century.

Japan’s interest in maintaining its control and China’s in taking it away is not limited to its geopolitical and military importance (China is trying to free itself from the containment that Washington and its local allies exert in these seas), but also entails a geoeconomic interest, to the extent that it is estimated that they are very rich areas both in fishing and in minerals and hydrocarbons.

Added to this is the increase in tension between China and Taiwan, which, from the Japanese perspective, points to greater instability and insecurity if Beijing’s much-talked-about invasion of the island finally takes place one day.

North Korea is the second factor to consider, given the growing wave of missile launches by Pyongyang, some of which have once again flown over Japanese airspace with the consequent public alarm.

Tensions with Russia and rapprochement with the US

To that list we must add Russia, with the dispute over the Kuril Islands unresolved since the end of the Second World War and, of course, we must also mention Ukraine, if only because the Russian invasion of that country is causing an unequivocal current bullish trend in defense budgets, given the obvious realization that conventional wars are not a thing of the past.

From all of this arises – in line with what is established in the new National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy and the Defense Acquisition Program, jointly presented last December – the Japanese need to update its security and defense schemes. And the first confirmation reflected in the aforementioned documents is that Tokyo considers that its current capabilities are not sufficient to deter its potential enemies.

In essence, this judgment explains its renewed arms effort, betting both on investing in its own defense industry and on immediately acquiring in the market (mainly in the United States) the weapons systems that allow it not only to defend itself from possible attacks, but also project its power to other latitudes.

It is in this line that one can also understand his renewed approach to the United States, reflected in Kishida’s participation, along with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, in the meeting called by Joe Biden at Camp David on August 18. A summit in which the three participants have taken effective steps to form what Beijing has immediately described as “mini NATO”, agreeing to hold annual meetings between the three leaders and military maneuvers of their respective armies, as well as a greater collaboration between their intelligence services to confront the common threat (i.e., once again, China and North Korea).

With this scheme of relations – in the case of Japan it is added to its participation in the Quad initiative (along with Australia, the United States and India) – Washington seeks to make Tokyo co-responsible to a greater extent in the work of containing Beijing and, On the contrary, Japan seeks US support for its own security and the guarantees of having a weapons supplier that is still necessary despite its high technological level.

Of course, it cannot surprise anyone that China, the second military power on the planet, is also making a move.

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