Japan’s Military Spending Increase Comes with Geopolitical Shifts in the Region

On December 16, Japan, one of America’s closest allies in Asia, announced that the nation will double its military spending, reaching 2% of Japan’s GDP by 2027. “In the next five years, in order to fundamentally reinforce our defense capacities, we will implement a defense build-up program worth $43 trillion yen ($314 billion),” Japan’s Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, stated.

Credit: The White House

This increase will catapult Japan’s defense spending, who’s pacifist constitution does not officially recognize the military and limits the nation to self-defense capabilities, to the third largest in the world behind only the United States and China.  

The Winds Have Shifted

According to the BBC, “the changes mark the most dramatic overhaul to Japan’s security strategy since it adopted a pacifist constitution after World War Two.” However, these changes are largely due to the recent geopolitical shifts that have taken place since Japan released its previous version in 2013.

The primary driver behind the proposed increase is China, which the new strategy calls the “greatest strategic challenge ever to securing the peace and stability of Japan.” Much of the military buildup centers on Japanese concerns on being dragged into a conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan,  a self-governed island only 70 miles off Japan’s southwestern islands. There are also concerns about North Korea’s missile capabilities as Pyongyang has fired more than 50 missiles in the past three months, including a ballistic missile over Japan in October, which raised anxiety among the Japanese.

Perhaps most importantly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early February influenced Japan’s spending priorities. In June, Prime Minister Kishida noted in a speech that “Ukraine today could be East Asia tomorrow.” Russia’s war in Ukraine spooked Japan. As the National Security Daily noted, not many suspected that “Russia would be the accelerant” to pushing Japan to begin spending more on defense. Yet, as the Ukraine war enters its tenth month with no signs of abating, Japan fears Russia could turn on East Asia next.   

Money and Support

The increased defense spending has not been without challenge, however. One question that remains is how Japan will pay for the increase in military spending. Mr. Kishida does not want to raise deficits to pay for it, and suggested that future increases in corporate and other states may be the path forward. The plan will likely move forward with a combination of increase or otherwise appropriated taxes. Mainstream income and consumption tax hikes, however, appear to be off the table. How exactly Japan plans to pay for this ambitious endeavor remains to be seen.

Interestingly, for the first time in decades, it is not public support that stands in the way of modernizing Japanese defense capabilities. This increase in military spending is largely supported by the public. The triple threat of China’s growing aggression toward Taiwan and the larger Indo-Pacific region, Russia’s war in Ukraine, and North Korea’s missile launches have pushed Japan’s public toward favoring the increase in defense spending. After decades of resistance and adherence to its pacifist constitution after Japan’s devastating past during World War II, recent polls show that more than half of Japanese citizens now support some military buildup. For once

Why Should the United States Care?

The recent announcement is the latest in a long-term effort for Japan to reduce its dependence on U.S. security. Japan’s recent announcement delighted its American allies. The United States, which spends approximately 3.5% of its GDP on defense, has been pushing its closest allies, particularly Europe and Japan, to take more responsibility for their own defense instead of relying on the American security umbrella which has protected them for decades.

Even better for the United States, Japan’s pledge to raise its defense spending to 2% of its GDP will put the key American ally on par with members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. As the American ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, recently commented, the changes represent a “tremendous milestone” for both Japan and its military alliance with the United States. At long last, these changes will allow Japan to reach the military capabilities worthy of a close U.S. ally and a country that carries a significant amount of clout it holds on the international stage.

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