Nor­mal­iz­ing Ja­pan's mil­i­tary isn't a straight sprint, it's a set of hur­dles

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - “Nor­mal­iz­ing Ja­pan's Mil­i­tary Isn't a Straight Sprint, It's a Set of Hur­dles” is re­pub­lished un­der con­tent con­fed­er­a­tion be­tween Fi­nan­cial Nige­ria and Strat­for.

Ja­pan's mil­i­tary may be com­ing around on the idea that the best de­fence is a good of­fense. Since the end of World War II, Ar­ti­cle 9 of the coun­try's con­sti­tu­tion has strictly lim­ited the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Ja­panese Self-De­fense Forces, pro­hibit­ing bel­ligerency and mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion. Tokyo, how­ever, has been slowly broad­en­ing the scope of its mil­i­tary am­bi­tions over the past two decades, tak­ing steps down a path to­ward com­plete nor­mal­iza­tion. The process has not been seam­less. Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, for ex­am­ple, has had to ad­just his am­bi­tious time­line in the face of pop­u­lar op­po­si­tion. But beyond the po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges, larger hur­dles loom.

Tip­toe­ing To­ward Rear­ma­ment

Tokyo has been re­vis­it­ing the con­sti­tu­tion to ex­pand what the mil­i­tary can and can­not do. Though for­mally amend­ing the doc­u­ment is still years away, rein­ter­pre­ta­tions of its ex­ist­ing lan­guage have given the Self-De­fence Forces more free­dom to de­fend Ja­pan abroad and to come to the aid of its al­lies. The forces also have be­gun build­ing up new, more of­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Even so, the Ja­panese mil­i­tary is geared to­ward de­fen­sive op­er­a­tions. The Self-De­fence Forces still lack land-at­tack cruise mis­siles, bombers or the abil­ity to pen­e­trate en­emy air de­fences.

To­day, as North Korea races to com­plete a full-fledged nu­clear ar­se­nal and China's mil­i­tary power con­tin­ues to grow, Ja­pan has been forced to re­con­sider its po­si­tion. Tokyo has be­come in­creas­ingly un­will­ing to rely en­tirely on Wash­ing­ton's mil­i­tary and has be­gun weigh­ing the ben­e­fits of ac­quir­ing of­fen­sive weaponry, such as land-at­tack cruise mis­siles. Dur­ing talks with the United States on Aug. 17, in fact, De­fence Min­is­ter It­sunori On­odera said that Ja­pan in­tends to re­vise its guide­lines for na­tional de­fence to en­able its mil­i­tary to ob­tain and use weapons to strike en­emy bases.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

But two ob­sta­cles stand in Tokyo's path to­ward this goal: money and man­power. After years of un­der­in­vest­ment in the mil­i­tary, Ja­pan is strug­gling to re­place its old and out­dated equipment, let alone to make ex­pen­sive up­grades to its an­tibal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fence struc­ture. Although the coun­try will al­most cer­tainly ramp up de­fence spend­ing dur­ing its next five-year fis­cal plan – cov­er­ing 2019 to 2023 – money to help build out the armed forces' of­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­i­ties will be hard to find. The Ja­panese de­fence bud­get is un­likely to grow much faster than it has in re­cent years, at a rate of 0.8 per­cent to 1.5 per­cent, since the Min­istry of Fi­nance firmly op­poses boost­ing mil­i­tary spend­ing. Ja­pan's of­fen­sive de­vel­op­ment ob­jec­tives, more­over, will have to com­pete for fund­ing with its numer­ous other de­fence needs.

The tight bud­get, in turn, makes it hard for the Ja­panese mil­i­tary to draw new re­cruits. More and more, the na­tional gov­ern­ment must com­pete with the pri­vate sec­tor for per­son­nel. But pro­vid­ing the salaries and ben­e­fits nec­es­sary to make a job in the mil­i­tary ap­peal­ing for young work­ers is an ex­pen­sive en­deav­our. Fur­ther­more, the num­ber of peo­ple el­i­gi­ble for re­cruit­ment to the Self-De­fence forces – in­di­vid­u­als from 18 to 26 years old – has de­clined by al­most 40 per­cent in the last two decades. The average age of SelfDe­fence Forces per­son­nel in 2010 was 35.1 years, more than five years higher than the average age of U.S. mil­i­tary mem­bers. The Self-De­fence Forces' numbers have been no more aus­pi­cious in re­cent years, de­spite the mil­i­tary's at­tempts to re­cruit more women. To cre­ate new of­fen­sively ori­ented mil­i­tary units, Ja­pan's armed forces will need more mem­bers; the mil­i­tary is short­handed as it is, with a staffing rate be­tween 85 and 95 per­cent. Re­ly­ing more on un­manned tech­nol­ogy and weaponry of­fers a so­lu­tion to this prob­lem, but the highly skilled work­ers needed to op­er­ate and main­tain the de­vices are most likely to choose jobs in the pri­vate sec­tor.

Nev­er­the­less, after two decades of slow but steady progress, com­bined with Py­ongyang's un­yield­ing nu­clear mis­sile de­vel­op­ment and Bei­jing's armed forces ex­pan­sion, Tokyo will be loath to give up its quest for mil­i­tary nor­mal­iza­tion. Its fis­cal and de­mo­graphic lim­i­ta­tions will force Ja­pan to ap­proach its goal slowly and me­thod­i­cally. In the mean­time, how­ever, the coun­try can rely on the de­fen­sive strength of its ca­pa­ble mil­i­tary, and on its al­liance with the United States. Though the hur­dle race to­ward a nor­mal­ized mil­i­tary will be chal­leng­ing, the ex­tra time it de­mands won't be too much of a bur­den for Ja­pan.

Mem­bers of the Ja­panese Self-De­fense Forces

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