Expert Panel Holds First Meeting on Japan’s Defense Buildup; Discussions Expected to Include Budget Size, Funding Sources

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The main gate of the Defense Ministry is seen in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

The Defense Ministry has held the first meeting of an expert panel established to discuss the drastic strengthening of Japan’s defense capabilities.

The panel aims to examine steps to strengthen defense capabilities based on the government’s three fundamental documents on defense, including the National Security Strategy, which was formulated in December 2022. It will strive to identify problems and have its findings reflected in government policy.

At the meeting on Monday, one participant raised the possibility of increasing total defense expenditures for the five years from fiscal 2023 at about ¥43 trillion, with an eye on the weak yen and soaring prices.

The panel was established in line with the National Defense Strategy, which stipulates that the government should receive expert advice so it can “plan and draft strategic, flexible defense policies.”

The 17 experts include panel chair Sadayuki Sakakibara, former chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren); Shinichi Kitaoka, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo; Jun Sawada, chairman of NTT; Shinsuke Sugiyama, former ambassador to the United States; Satoshi Morimoto, former defense minister; and Toshikazu Yamaguchi, president of Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings.

The panel plans to set up subgroups to discuss individual issues to promote its discussions.

Among the issues expected to be taken up are the appropriate size of the budget, how it will be spent and measures to secure financial resources, including the possibility of raising income, corporate and tobacco taxes. The panel is also expected to verify the progress of specific defense policies, such as the development of dual-use technologies that can be used for both military and civilian purposes, and the introduction of an “active cyber defense” meant to proactively thwart serious cyber-attacks before they occur.

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara called on the participants to discuss defense spending from fiscal 2028 and beyond.

“I hope this panel will also be an opportunity to examine how to proceed with discussions over [future defense spending] beyond the period of the ¥43 trillion budget,” he said.

The defense minister likewise stressed the importance of developing and promoting the defense industry by strengthening defense capabilities.

“It’s essential to win public understanding by presenting the virtuous cycle between security and economic growth,” he said.

Sakakibara hinted at the necessity to review the scale of the planned budget spending through fiscal 2027.

“Given the rising prices and exchange rate fluctuations, I wonder whether it’ll be possible to strengthen defense capabilities and equipment within the framework of ¥43 trillion,” he said. “It may be necessary to take up the issue, without rejecting a review as taboo.”

Regarding the rising procurement costs for defense equipment due to the weak yen and other factors, the government maintains its position of boosting defense capabilities within the planned amount, as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has made clear.

“We’ll make thorough efforts to further enhance efficiency and rationalization,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters on Monday. “We are not considering reviewing the defense buildup plan.”