Since Japan released three major national security documents in December 2022 calling for a “fundamental strengthening” of its defense capabilities, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s historic cabinet pledge to increase Japan’s long-stagnant defense budget, which for decades has been unofficially pegged at 1%- on GDP has rightly attracted global attention. Indeed, it is likely to be the single most important factor in Japan’s ambitious new national security and defense strategies.
Over the past six months, numerous media reports and expert commentaries have cited these December 2022 documents to argue that the Kishida government has committed to Japan: “doubling» Defense budget until 2027. Claims along these lines have been surprisingly common, especially in non-Japanese language reports and analyses.
Alas, this (now) assumed conventional wisdom remains as wrong as it first appeared back in December. The Kishida government never announced a plan to “double” Japan’s defense budget.
Is it because of a misinterpretation of the announced 2% GDP target? all “National security spending,” or the too-often uncritical comment chamber that permeates many foreign-language commentaries on Japan’s national security issues, claims that Japan plans to double its defense spending, exaggerating the Kishida government’s decision. actually The planned defense budget has increased by 35%.
To avoid misunderstandings and to ensure a healthy public and political debate in Washington and beyond on a critically important issue with major implications for Japanese and US foreign policy, the media and commentators should cease misleading or shorthand references to the (non-existent) Japanese government.” : plans to “double” its defense budget.
Signal versus noise. What the Kishida Government Said Last December (And What It Didn’t)
Japan’s new defense plan for 2023-2027 (link to provisional English translation) calls for: combined 43 trillion yen (about $321 billion) in defense spending to complete the fiscal 2027 defense budget target of 8.9 trillion yen (about $66 billion). In other words, if all goes according to plan, Japan’s defense budget in fiscal year 2027 will be 65% higher than the 5.4 trillion yen (about $40 billion) in fiscal year 2022.[i] As an alternative comparison, the total costs of the new five-year plan (FY2023-2027) are expected to exceed the costs of the previous plan (FY2019-2023) by a total of 56%.[ii]
Clearly, neither the 65% nor the 56% increase projected by 2027 is a “doubling” (ie a 100 percent increase) of Japan’s defense budget.
Claims to the contrary are not only inaccurate. My dozens of meetings with policymakers, academics, analysts and public audiences in Washington and seven other foreign capitals since last December make clear that such claims have led to widespread misunderstandings of Japan’s true intentions.
Accurate estimation of numbers is critical to sound qualitative analyzes of the real-world significance of Japan’s plans. Unsubstantiated claims of Japan’s (defunct) program double The FY 2022 defense budget of ¥5.4 trillion implies a defense budget target of ¥10.8 trillion (about $81 billion) by 2027. Since the Japanese government’s actual target is ¥8.9 trillion, the “doubling” claim is actually a fabrication; extra 1.9 trillion yen (about $14 billion) in spending per fiscal year.
And that’s just the gap between assertion and reality for the final year of Japan’s new spending plan for the 2023-2027 fiscal year. Assuming sustained budget growth over five years, the implied gap between the “doubling” requirement and Japan’s stated intention is wider; up to $30 billion in cumulative defense investments that Japan is not going to make. This is a significant miscalculation, a gap between claim and reality roughly equivalent to Australia’s entire 2021 defense budget.
What about Japan’s pledge to reach 2% of GDP?
Obviously, 8.9 trillion (FY 2027 projected defense budget) divided by 5.4 trillion (FY 2022) is not 2.0. And nowhere in the three documents does the Kishida government claim it will double Japan’s defense budget.
So why are so many claiming that the defense budget is set to “double” by 2027?
Two explanations, which are not mutually exclusive, seem most likely.
- Language misunderstanding and/or inaccuracy; Many media/commentators may misinterpret the plan announced by the Japanese government “Expenses related to national security” (安保结果費) to 2% of GDP by 2027 (2022) as a pledge to raise Japan’s official level the defense budget (防衛費) 1% to 2% of GDP. There is no commitment to double Japan’s defense budget in the three documents. The 2022 National Security Strategy explains the 2% of GDP target as “fundamental strengthening of defense capabilities; and other complementary initiatives” (emphasis added: “防衛力の抜本的剧情ととたます補完するト組をあわせ”). Because this 2% of GDP target includes the defense budget plus a few extra spending categories (such as the Coast Guard budget, certain government infrastructure spending, and private sector science and technology investments), many analysts are comparing apples to oranges. Accordingly, even the more general claim that “national security spending will double” is also misleading, as this inappropriately justifies the more inclusive 2% of GDP versus the 1% of GDP that refers to; exclusively to the official defense budget.
- “Echo chamber” effectespecially in non-Japanese reports and analyses, often driven more by sometimes misleading English-language media headlines than by independent analysis using official sources (often the most authoritative in Japanese).
Regardless, the bottom line is that nowhere in Japan’s three December 2022 documents did the government announce plans to increase the “defense budget” from 1% to 2% of GDP. Rather, the defense budget should be the largest of several budgets gross It is estimated to add about 2% of current GDP by 2027.
The planned two-thirds increase is (still) a very, very big deal
As I argue in a new article in The Washington Quarterly, Japan’s pledge to increase its defense budget by 65% over the next five years is the single most significant result since last December. It is, simply put, a prerequisite for Japan to achieve its national security ambitions. It is both symbolically historic and practically significant, especially after several decades, including the 2012-2020 “Abe era,” during which an important, if underreported, story was that Japan’s defense budget grew modestly to GDP about 1% of throughout the tenure of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Indeed, a major consequence of Japan’s relatively stagnant defense spending in recent years, including the Abe years, has been the emergence of a widely overlooked but yawning gap between successive governments’ national security ambitions and severe resource constraints. It is therefore not surprising that a large portion of Japan’s FY 2023 defense budget is being allocated to addressing long-neglected, chronic issues such as improving ammunition and parts stockpiles, equipment, facilities, and personnel conditions for the Japan Self-Defense Forces.
The FY2023 defense budget that cleared the Diet a few weeks ago makes it abundantly clear that the Kishida government is both serious about rapidly increasing Japan’s defense capabilities and not wasting time. At roughly 6.8 trillion yen (about $51 billion), this year’s official budget reflects a historic 26% annual increase, larger in absolute yen terms than Tokyo’s defense budget growth. over the past 30 years.
Needless to say, after years of relative stagnation in the defense budget, this is all a very (very) big deal. While there are legitimate questions about how much of the five-year plan Japan will be able to fully implement, given competing priorities for limited resources and political, fiscal, and other headwinds, there is no doubt that it is a significant new chapter in the evolution of Japan’s national security. it has already started.
A final word
The commitment by the world’s third-largest economy and a major US treaty ally to increase defense spending by two-thirds in just half a decade is a historic and deeply significant development. Amid a rapidly deteriorating regional and global security environment and balance of power in Northeast Asia, Japan’s planned spending increases are a potential game-changer for both Japan and the US-Japan alliance, as well as their joint efforts to “retaliate strongly.” any unilateral attempt to change the status quo through force or coercion,” in Northeast Asia and beyond.
But facts (and math) are important in assessing the true significance of Japan’s new national security and defense strategies.
Widespread claims that Japan plans to “double” its defense budget continue to confuse more than they clarify. They are clouding public understanding of an extremely important issue that has significant real-world implications for Japan, the US-Japan alliance, East Asia, and the world. Ultimately, Japan’s defense spending is likely to be a fundamental variable in determining whether Japan’s leaders succeed in fully realizing the ambitions contained in Japan’s new national security and defense strategies. Related assessments and debates would be well served by starting with a common understanding of the defense budget goals that Tokyo has actually committed to over the next five years.
Note on numbers.
[i] The 65% estimate comes from the December 2022 FY2027 defense budget target of ¥8.9 trillion over the FY2022 budget of ¥5.4 trillion.
[ii] The 56% calculation comes from dividing the 43 trillion yen total spending figure for the 2023-2027 fiscal year by the 27.5 trillion yen figure for the previous five-year plan. [FY2019-2023]which appeared (now obsolete) 2018 National Defense Program Guidelines