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Japan approves record $56 billion military spending

December 22, 2023

Japan has approved record levels of defense spending in a major shift from its postwar approach to military spending. Japan will also loosened arms export controls for the first time in nearly a decade.

Japan's CH-47JA Chinook touches down in Miyagi-Prefecture, Japan on November 23, 2023
Japan will also be loosening some of its weapons exports laws as wellImage: AFLO/IMAGO

Japan's defense spending will increase by more than 16% next year under a record military budget.

With Japan facing a regional threat in the shape of North Korea, the cash injection is intended to accelerate the deployment of long-range cruise missiles.

The budget adopted by the Cabinet also will further fortify the military with F-35 stealth combat jets and other American weapons as Japanese troops increasingly work with allies and take on more offensive roles.

The 7.95 trillion-yen (roughly $56 billion or €50 billion) defense budget for the 2024 fiscal year that begins in March, marks the second year of a five-year military buildup program under a new security strategy that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government adopted a year ago.

Japan move echoes Germany's military shift

The announcement signals a major break from Japan's postwar principle of limiting the country's use of force to self-defense. The defense budget is part of a 112.7 trillion-yen national budget plan and still needs parliament's approval.

Germany, another major defeated power in World War II, has also been looking to expand its military spending and activities for the modern era in recent decades. The most recent and major catalyst to this process, which began with deployments in places like Kosovo and Afghanistan, was  Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, after which Germany has increased its defense budget, reaching a total spend of just over €60 billion (if including supplementary funds not in the government's main budget) in 2023. 

Japan plans to spend 43 trillion yen by 2027 to bolster its military power and to nearly double its annual spending to around 10 trillion yen.

The budget would boost Japan's arms spending for a 12th year. Last year, the government budgeted 6.8 trillion yen.

The move is the first major revision of the arms export ban since it was initially eased in 2014. The Japanese Foreign Ministry said the change would contribute to reinforce the bilateral security cooperation and the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific, but opponents said it would let Japanese-made weapons help in escalating conflicts.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (second from the left) inspects military aircrafts of Japan Air Self Defense Force at an annual military review at the Iruma Air Base in Iruma, suburban Tokyo on Saturday, November 11, 2023
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (second from the left) has been investing heavily in defense for the past yearImage: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO/IMAGO

Japan also loosens weapon export controls

Japan also relaxed arms export controls on Friday, for the first time in nearly a decade, after lifting an outright ban on all military exports in 2014.

With the new rule, Japan "will be able to export arms which were domestically produced under licence of a foreign company to the licensing country," a national security official in the prime minister's cabinet told news agency AFP prior to the cabinet approval.

It is a move that would enable the US ally to sell missiles it manufactures indepently for the US Patriot missile defense system to Washington. This in turn could help the US with dwindling stocks amid large-scale donations to Ukraine. However, Japan is expected to stipulate that the missiles it sells to Washington must be stationed in the Indo-Pacific region. This could still allow Washington to relocate munitions it has in Asia at present.

"The appropriate transfer of defence equipment overseas will contribute to ... international peace and security, and will also strengthen cooperation with allies and the US in security fields," a government document said after the rule was approved by the cabinet on Friday.

mds/msh (AP, AFP)