Photo/Illutration The Air Self-Defense Force’s F-2 fighter jet (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Ramping up defense spending is never an easy sell to the public despite the obvious need to be able to respond to an increasingly volatile security environment and ever more sophisticated military technology.

We urge the government to map out effective plans to beef up the nation’s defense capabilities without taking budget expansion as a given. The plans should be underpinned by a national security strategy that is viable in light of the nation’s economic and fiscal realities and not solely dependent on military capabilities.

The government’s draft initial budget for fiscal 2022, the first spending blueprint for a full fiscal year formulated by the Kishida administration, calls for ramping up defense outlays by 58.3 billion yen ($503 million) to 5.40 trillion yen. That would mark the eighth consecutive year of record defense spending.

A notable aspect of the program is that the Defense Ministry combined spending plans included in the supplementary budget for the current fiscal year, which passed the Diet during the autumn session, and the draft defense budget for the new fiscal year that starts in April into an integrated “16-month” spending package.

Dubbed a “package for accelerating enhanced defense capabilities,” the spending blueprint would finance 6.17 trillion yen in expenditures, marking the first time for annual defense outlays to surpass 6 trillion yen. The figure is equivalent to 1.09 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product, crossing the traditional guideline figure of 1 percent of GDP for an initial budget.

An extra budget is supposed to finance emergency expenses that may be incurred after the initial budget is formulated, such as spending due to natural disasters. In recent years, however, this principle has been brutally gutted. Defense spending is but one example. It is still unusual for funds to purchase new mainstay weapons systems, such as patrol aircraft and missiles, to be included in an extra budget.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi stressed during a news conference that the integrated spending package will secure substantial growth in Japan’s defense spending. This expansion is supported not only by Tokyo’s pledge in a joint statement issued in April by Kishida’s predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, and U.S. President Joe Biden that stated “Japan is resolved to bolster its own national defense capabilities,” but also by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s campaign platform for the Lower House election at the end of October, in which it promised to seek further increases in defense spending with an eye to eventually raising the level above 2 percent of GDP.

The defense spending drive appears to be aimed at impressing audiences both at home and overseas.

The government must ensure that necessary expenditures are accounted for in the initial budget. Diet deliberations on supplementary budgets never take up much time. As a result, the spending plans are not scrutinized by Diet committees devoted to expert issues related to foreign and security policy. The government should not continue with this questionable budgeting approach, which ensures that much of its spending is spared a rigorous review by the Diet. 

Another notable feature of the proposed defense budget is a 40 percent spike in funding for research and development to 291.1 billion yen. The R&D funds include 85.8 billion yen for a program to develop the Air Self-Defense Force’s next-generation fighter jet to replace the F-2. This is a mammoth program that is expected to cost trillions of yen over many years. The preliminary phase will soon start for a joint project with Britain to develop the engine for the fighter. But the government has yet to unveil details of the program in its entirety.

The nation’s fiscal woes have swollen due to social security spending and massive outlays for policy measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the dire fiscal situation, the government forged ahead with greater defense spending.

The amount of increase in the defense budget in the past six years is 3.4 times higher than that for public works spending and 4.8 times larger than that for the education and science budget. On the other hand, efforts to cut costs for the procurement of parts of defense equipment and other categories of expenses remain insufficient.

As it considers the draft budget in the regular session to be convened in January, the Diet should rigorously examine all the appropriations from the viewpoint of cost effectiveness and policy priorities to ensure a wise distribution of limited budgetary resources. 

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 27