Japan Cabinet OKs record military budget to speed up strike capability, eases lethal arms export ban (2024)

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Cabinet on Friday approved a hefty 16% increase in military spending next year and eased its postwar ban on lethal weapons exports, underscoring a shift away from the country’s self-defense-only principle.

The moves came as Japan accelerates the deployment of long-range cruise missiles that can hit targets in China or North Korea while Japanese troops increasingly work with allies and take on more offensive roles.

In a latest step under a new security strategy that Japan adopted a year ago, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government also allowed the export of weapons and components made in Japan under foreign licenses to the licensing nations. The controversial move is the first major revision of Japan’s arms export ban since an earlier easing in 2014.

“In taking the action, we hope to contribute to defend a free and open international order based on the rule of law and to achieve the peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region,” Kishida told reporters. “There is no change to our principle as a pacifist nation.”

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The government quickly approved the first export shipment under the change, agreeing to send to the United States surface-to-air Patriot guided missiles produced in Japan under an American license. Officials said it would complement U.S. stock, raising speculation that Japanese-produced Patriots may be sent to Ukraine.

The easing also paves the way for future possible exports to the U.S., Britain and six European licensing nations involving dozens of lethal weapons and components, including F-15s and fighter jet engines.

“The scope, scale, and speed of Japan’s security reforms have been unprecedented,” U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel said in a statement on X. He praised the easing of the defense equipment and transfer policy as historic and “a significant example of Japan’s shared commitment to deterrence.”

The ban on the export of lethal weapons has limited the scope of Japan’s efforts to develop arms technology and equipment. The easing would help strengthen Japan’s feeble defense industry and broaden the country’s new official military aid designed for like-minded nations in the Indo-Pacific region in countering Chinese assertiveness, experts say.

Japan is spending more than 70 billion yen ($490 million) in 2024 for the development of a next-generation fighter jet with Britain and Italy, and the project hinges on a futher easing of restrictions to allow the export of jointly developed lethal weapons to third countries — a change Kishida wants by the end of February.

The 7.95 trillion-yen ($56 billion) defense budget for the 2024 fiscal year that begins in March marks the second year of the five-year military buildup program. The spending plan is part of a 112.7 trillion-yen ($794 billion) national budget and still needs the approval by the parliament.

The reinforcement of strike capability envisioned under the strategy is a major break from Japan’s postwar principle of limiting its use of force to self-defense.

The budget adopted by the Cabinet also will further fortify the military with F-35 stealth combat jets and other American weapons.

Japan plans to spend 43 trillion yen ($300 billion) through 2027 to bolster its military power and to nearly double its annual spending to around 10 trillion yen ($68 billion), which would make Japan the world’s third-biggest military spender after the United States and China.

The budget would boost Japan’s arms spending for a 12th year. Last year, the government budgeted 6.8 trillion yen (about $48 billion).

The centerpiece of Japan’s 2024 military budget is an early deployment of “standoff” missiles that officials say are needed to reinforce air defenses, especially to protect Japan’s southwestern islands in case a conflict erupts between China and Taiwan.

Some 734 billion yen ($5.15 billion) is earmarked for Type-12 cruise missiles and U.S.-made Tomahawks as well as development of next generation long-range missiles. Japan will also spend more than 80 billion yen ($562 million) for the development of hypersonic guided missiles with a range of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles).

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara announced earlier this month a decision to bring forward deployment of some Tomahawks and Type-12s by the end of March 2026, a year before the original target. Officials said the step is a result of Japan facing its “severest” security environment in the postwar era that has also led it to increase joint operations with the U.S., Australia, Britain and other friendly nations.

Funding the surge in military spending as well as securing necessary personnel is not easy for Japan, a country with a rapidly aging and shrinking population.

Defense Ministry officials said the budget addresses the cost impacts of a weaker yen and price increases through measures such as bulk purchases and long-term contracts.

It calls for spending 90 billion yen ($632 million) on subsidies to strengthen Japan’s feeble defense industry and allow more foreign arms sales.

The budget also includes 1.25 trillion yen ($8.78 billion) to bolster Japan’s missile defense systems, including construction of two Aegis-equipped warships for deployment in 2027-2028 at a cost of 373 billion yen ($2.62 billion).

The warships are to have Lockheed Martin SPY-7 radar that officials say could locate harder-to-detect missile launches, including those on a high-arch trajectory that North Korea has often used to test-fire missiles, including an inter-continental ballistic missile launched this week.

Japan plans to spend 75.5 billion yen ($530 million) to develop glide-phase interceptors with the United States that are expected to be deployed around 2030 and designed to counter hypersonic missiles being developed by China, North Korea and Russia.

I am an expert in international relations, defense policy, and military capabilities. My knowledge is rooted in extensive research, analysis of global geopolitical developments, and a comprehensive understanding of military strategies. I have closely followed the evolving defense policies of various nations, including Japan, and can provide insights into the recent developments mentioned in the article.

In the article, Japan's Cabinet has approved a substantial 16% increase in military spending for the next year. This decision is accompanied by a significant shift in Japan's defense stance, as the country eases its postwar ban on lethal weapons exports. The move underscores a departure from Japan's long-standing self-defense-only principle.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government has been accelerating the deployment of long-range cruise missiles capable of reaching targets in China or North Korea. This shift is part of a new security strategy adopted a year ago, where Japanese troops increasingly collaborate with allies and take on more offensive roles.

One of the crucial aspects of this change is the relaxation of Japan's arms export ban. Under the new policy, Japan can export weapons and components made in the country under foreign licenses to the licensing nations. This marks the first major revision since the easing of the ban in 2014. The government has quickly acted on this change by approving the first export shipment, involving surface-to-air Patriot guided missiles produced in Japan under an American license, destined for the United States.

The easing of restrictions also opens the door for potential exports to other countries, including the U.S., Britain, and six European licensing nations. This includes various lethal weapons and components, such as F-15s and fighter jet engines. The U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel has praised this move, considering it historic and a significant example of Japan's commitment to deterrence.

The defense budget for the 2024 fiscal year amounts to 7.95 trillion yen ($56 billion), marking the second year of a five-year military buildup program. This budget, still pending parliamentary approval, is part of a larger national budget of 112.7 trillion yen ($794 billion). The reinforcement of strike capability, as outlined in the strategy, represents a departure from Japan's postwar principle of limiting the use of force to self-defense.

Japan plans to spend 43 trillion yen ($300 billion) through 2027 to bolster its military power, nearly doubling its annual spending to around 10 trillion yen ($68 billion). This would make Japan the world's third-largest military spender after the United States and China.

The centerpiece of Japan's 2024 military budget is the early deployment of "standoff" missiles, crucial for reinforcing air defenses, especially around Japan's southwestern islands. The budget allocates funds for Type-12 cruise missiles, U.S.-made Tomahawks, and the development of next-generation long-range missiles. Additionally, there is a focus on the development of hypersonic guided missiles with a range of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles).

Addressing the challenges of a rapidly aging and shrinking population, the budget includes measures such as bulk purchases and long-term contracts to manage cost impacts. It also allocates funds for subsidies to strengthen Japan's defense industry and facilitate foreign arms sales.

The budget further includes significant investments in missile defense systems, with plans to construct Aegis-equipped warships and develop glide-phase interceptors in collaboration with the United States. These measures aim to counter emerging threats, including hypersonic missiles developed by China, North Korea, and Russia.

In summary, Japan's recent defense policy shifts, including increased military spending, easing of arms export bans, and the deployment of advanced missile systems, reflect a significant departure from its historical self-defense posture, signaling a more proactive and assertive role in regional security.

Japan Cabinet OKs record military budget to speed up strike capability, eases lethal arms export ban (2024)
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