TOKYO, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- Japan's defense ministry is seeking a record-high budget of 5.26 trillion yen (47.6 billion U.S. dollars) for fiscal 2018 as the nation seeks to counter perceived regional threats and increase its international security footprint.
The allocations for defense spending in Japan are showing no signs of letting up under hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the latest request marking a 2.5 percent increase from the initial budget for the current year through March.
But while current geopolitical issues may be playing rather well into the hands of Abe, who has made in abundantly clear he wants Japan to play a larger and more significant security role on the international stage, and is eyeing revising Japan's pacifist constitution to achieve this, analysts and scholars have pointed out some inherent contradictions and obstacles to Abe's mission to remilitarize Japan.
DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE
"A hefty chunk of the defense allocation is on purchasing upgraded land and sea-based missile interceptors, that have better range and accuracy," David McLellan, a professor emeritus of postgraduate Asian Studies, told Xinhua.
"The cost of purchasing two of the proposed Aegis Ashore land-based interceptor systems has not yet been factored in and could come with a price tag in the region of 80 billion yen (724 million U.S. dollars) each, not including related costs of infrastructure. And Japan is still mulling acquiring a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD system," he said.
McLellan went on to explain that some 180 billion yen was being sought for missile defense spending alone, on paper, with related costs guaranteeing that this figure balloons.
According to McLellan and a host of other analysts with knowledge of Japan's security issues, this level of spending is disproportionate to any real threat Japan is actually facing, and is, in fact, politically motivated.
"Abe's made no secret of the fact that he wants Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to be internationally recognized as a bone fide military. In fact, this is the very foundation of Abe's goal as a lawmaker and as Japan's leader," maintained political analyst Teruhisa Muramatsu.
"Now, for all intents and purposes it would appear that Japan is in dire need of bolstering its defenses, and to a point, that might be the case. But the latest budget request also includes outlays for a plethora of 'offensive' weapons that, as things stand, are constitutionally unsound and don't sit with Japan's defense-only posture."
"The government's choke hold on a number of media outlets here has also ensured that the public do not always receive a balanced and objective view of the broader security situation in the region and the dynamics of geopolitics," Muramatsu said.
He added that it was at times like these when every conceivable threat, real or magnified, tends to get hyped up by the media and sparks a sense of panic in society.
At times like these, he said, when the government tries to push through a shopping list of unconstitutional military hardware, the public feels it's being taken care of, when in fact this might not be the case.
"My advise to the Japanese public is 'don't believe the hype.' The actual threats that Japan has been facing recently can, if absolutely necessary, be countered perfectly effectively by its current hardware and the necessary upgrades planned, perhaps."
"But a wholesale increase in technology to bolster Ground, Air and Maritime Self-Defense Forces, as recent defense budgets are pushing for, is over and above what is required for Japan's defensive purposes," said Muramatsu.
UNCONSTITUTIONAL ARMS RACE
Other experts believe that Japan's ever-expanding shopping list of next-generation military hardware could intensify a regional arms race, with recent remarks made by Japanese politicians about acquiring "first strike" capabilities, not only controverting the constitution, but more than likely unsettling some of Japan's closest neighbors.
These neighbors, analysts here have said, have persistently called for Japan to rein in its plans for militarization as they are not in the best interests of regional security, Japan's own people, or for getting to grips with heightened regional tensions.
Such tensions, as recent history has shown, will not improve by more saber-rattling and needs enhanced dialogue between stakeholders for the situation to improve, analysts here have attested.
"The direction Japan is moving in militarily is going to draw the ire of its neighbors, who will come to see Japan as the potential aggressor again, rather than the peacemaker it should be based on its own Supreme Law," Asian affairs commentator Kaoru Imori told Xinhua.
"Not helping the situation, aside from Abe's incremental yet hefty increases to defense spending, is the shift in rhetoric from lawmakers of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), including from Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, before he took on his current portfolio, calling for 'first strike' capabilities to take out enemy targets," highlighted Imori.
"What message is this sending the region and how can Japan expect other countries to respond logically, if Japan's remilitarization is going ahead in full view of the international community and in full violation of Japan's war-renouncing constitution?" Imori quizzed.
WEAPONS OF WAR
Among requests from Japan's defense ministry are for weapons systems that, according to defense analysts, have no place outside active battle theaters, of which Japan is not one.
McLellan said the majority of the ministry's latest requests were not defensive in nature, and cited the planned acquisition of Global Hawk drones, two new "compact" destroyers, a next-generation lithium battery-powered stealth submarine, four V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor troop carriers, six F-35 stealth fighters and some 90 million U.S. dollars in funding to develop hypersonic missiles capable of striking enemy bases, as examples of these.
"The budget request is preposterous. Japan is not at war but most of these allocations are for offensive weapons with first strike capabilities. It's as if the constitution has been entirely ignored because of a brief escalation in tensions regionally that will likely settle down soon as the rhetoric between the key players becomes less bellicose," McLellan said.
"When it comes to the Ministry of Finance here scrutinizing the budget request, hopefully commonsense will prevail and it will be radically trimmed and the funds shifted to where they are actually needed in this country.
"What's needed right now is for the government to tackle ballooning social welfare costs in an economy that's mired in debt and devoid of new growth drivers, not for it to spend hardworking taxpayers' money on fulfilling one man's truculent dream of firing up Japan's once beaten war machine.