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The Will, but Not the Way, to Increase Japan’s Defense Budget

Sensing that there are growing threats to Japan and its neighbors, the Japanese public recognizes the need to develop a greater capacity for deterrence. If the world really is entering a new era of hard power, Japan’s “peace constitution” and soft power may no longer be sufficient to ensure national security.

TOKYO – Following Japan’s defeat in World War II, the United States took pains to ensure that Japanese militarism could never again pose a threat to the Asia-Pacific or the world. As in Germany, these efforts were profoundly successful. For almost eight decades, Japan has eschewed foreign adventures and violent conflict. Pacifism was not only enshrined in its constitution; it also became deeply rooted in its political culture. By relying on America and its network of alliances and global partnerships, Japan could focus on itself, building economic strength rather than military, emerging as one of the world’s largest and most advanced economies.

But over the past decade or so, the geopolitical environment has grown more dangerous, and Japanese leaders have increasingly recognized the need for a change. Some have proposed abolishing Article 9 of the constitution, which stringently limits the use of force to self-defense. This has been a contentious topic, owing to sharp divisions on the matter within the Japanese electorate. Nonetheless, in the face of threats such as North Korea’s nuclear program and Chinese revisionism, public support for deepening Japan’s defense-policy coordination with America has grown.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Japan ranked tenth globally in 2022 military spending (in current US dollars), putting it behind not only the US, China, and Russia, but also India, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and South Korea. In relative terms, Japan spends only around 1% of its GDP on defense, leaving it at 106th in the world, far behind the US (3.45%), the UK (2.23%), France (1.94%), Italy (1.68%), Germany (1.39%), and Canada (1.24%).