Upper house campaigns should discuss specific measures to enhance deterrence

The security environment surrounding Japan has deteriorated significantly. Each political party needs to actively discuss what the nation’s defense policies should be.

A Chinese naval vessel and a Russian naval vessel sailed in Japan’s contiguous zone off the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. The Chinese ship seemed to have been tailing the Russian vessel, with some observers saying the actions were to keep Japan in check.

It cannot be overlooked that China, which unilaterally claims sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, acts as if it is defending its own territory.

Unlike the China Coast Guard, the Self-Defense Forces rather than the Japan Coast Guard are supposed to respond to the Chinese military’s actions. There is a growing concern of accidental clashes. It is important for the Japanese government to urge China to exercise restraint.

The Japanese government protested to Beijing but, as Russia does not claim sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, it only asked Moscow for confirmation of relevant information through diplomatic channels. It would be reasonable to strongly protest any action that seems to apply military pressure.

There is no end to incidents that threaten Japan’s safety, including North Korea’s missile launches. However, each party’s arguments in the upper house election campaigns lack a sense of urgency.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party pledged in its manifesto to aim to increase Japan’s defense spending, keeping in mind the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s goal of a defense budget of at least 2% of gross domestic product for NATO members.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) has also set a target of increasing the defense budget to 2% of GDP. The Democratic Party for the People is calling for an increase without mentioning a specific target. No party has yet to step into discussions on specific measures.

It has been pointed out that the SDF lacks ammunition and has outdated equipment. Equipment essential for their mission should be introduced, but the fiscal situation is severe. The budget must not be expanded based on the premise of prioritizing a numerical target.

LDP ruling coalition partner Komeito and the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan have called for a steady buildup of defense capabilities, but they have said almost nothing about what should be done to achieve that. The Japanese Communist Party opposes increasing defense spending.

For many years, Japan has kept its defense spending at around 1% of GDP. However, based on NATO standards, which include the budgets for purposes such as maritime safety agencies, Japan’s figure last fiscal year was more than 1.2% of GDP. Calm, specific discussions are needed on subjects such as the content of the increase in defense spending.

The LDP, Ishin and the DPFP insist that the country should possess the capabilities to counter armed attacks. Komeito has not made its position clear, and the CDPJ is cautious about this.

It is difficult for Japan and the United States, using their current defense systems, to intercept North Korean ballistic missiles that fly in irregular trajectories. Each party is being tested as to whether it will be able to present specific measures for counterattack capabilities to enhance deterrence.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 6, 2022)