December 19, 2022 at 13:01 JST
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a Dec. 16 news conference. (Pool)
In speaking about his policy initiative to enhance Japan’s defense capabilities, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida repeatedly said that he would decide on the new capabilities to be acquired, the scale of spending growth and financing plans “as a package.”
But the actual blueprint for the defense budget expansion he has announced is a far cry from the integrated package he promised to deliver.
The administration has decided on a sharp increase in the defense budget apparently in line with a predetermined goal to fund massive spending on costly weapons beyond Japan’s means while failing to develop viable financing plans.
The serious inconsistency between his words and actions cannot be ignored.
In referring to the importance of securing stable revenue sources to finance defense spending at a Dec. 16 news conference to announce new versions of three key security policy documents that lay out the nation’s security policy agenda for the coming years, Kishida said, “We should fulfill our responsibility for future generations. “
But none of the revenue sources he cited is stable or reliable. This is by no means the way we should fulfill our responsibility for our offspring.
One main element in his financing plans would use surplus funds in special budget accounts. But this means diverting a revenue source usually tapped to fund supplementary budgets. In other words, extra budgets compiled in the coming years must be financed by debt.
Kishida also said an additional 1 trillion yen (7.35 billion yen) will be raised in five years through fiscal reforms to slash other expenditures. Since he offered no specific plan to secure such a large savings in the budget, however, this idea is almost certain to end up being pie in the sky.
As for tax increases, another pillar of his financing blueprint, he only presented an outline involving corporate and income taxes. But he stopped short of deciding on the time frame for the tax hikes in the face of fierce opposition within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. That is tantamount to postponing the implementation.
LDP lawmakers who are unwilling to discuss a tax increase while clamoring for a sharp defense spending uptick are extremely irresponsible. But Kishida, who claims to have secured a revenue source with this vague and uncertain tax increase plan, is little better.
In addition, Kishida has decided to issue construction bonds to fund defense spending for the first time in the postwar period. He appears set on utilizing this type of bond, which is usually issued to finance public works projects, to fund building housing facilities and warehouses used by the Self-Defense Forces.
But the action of breaking the unwritten law that has been consistently observed by successive administrations will eliminate one important check on an unrestrained military buildup.
Kishida has broken one promise after another and even ignored valuable history lessons. The series of actions he has taken to push through a radical change in the nation’s security policy suggests a lack of political integrity.
His blueprint raises concerns about a steady and rapid increase in new issuances of construction bonds to finance the defense budget amid a lack of stable and dependable revenue sources.
The Kishida administration cannot develop a viable and reliable plan to fund the expansion of defense outlays because the envisioned buildup will be beyond the nation’s economic power.
The administration first decided on the target of 43 trillion yen of defense spending in the next five years to finance controversial and costly programs for acquiring the ability to strike enemy bases, which will gut the long-held principle of a strictly defensive security policy.
This misguided policy decision will leave serious problems for the future.
The Kishida administration decided on the major shift in the nation’s postwar security policy in such a rash manner. The administration spent only one week on policy debate visible to the public on ways to raise the necessary funds including tax increases.
Any plan for a permanent tax increase should be proposed as part of a clear overall vision for the future of taxation as a whole.
The administration has adopted a convenient but questionable option by deciding to divert the special, temporary income tax to finance the reconstruction from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami without addressing clear flaws with the current tax system, such as taxation on capital gains that favors wealthy taxpayers.
Integrated and meaningful debate is needed to review the proposed programs, budgeting plans and revenue sources related to Kishida’s initiative to beef up Japan’s defense capabilities.
The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 18
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